Nigerian women's players protest non-payment

Pelican Stars protest
The protests happened on Monday and Wednesday

Players from Nigeria's most successful women's football club, Pelican Stars of Cross River state, have been protesting outside Government House over salaries that they say have not been paid for 10 months.

Three-quarters of Nigerian women's teams are state-owned and therefore dependent on the state's government for wages, including Pelican Stars.

Their male counterparts have been paid, one of the players - who held five-hour demonstrations on Monday and Wednesday - told the BBC.

Pelican Stars are one of Africa's top women's football clubs, having won seven Women's Premier League titles in Nigeria.

But the players said they are not sure the state still wants the club to exist.

"It has really been a big shock for us, maltreating the female team in Cross River like this," one player told BBC Sport Africa under anonymity.

"We got relegated three years ago in the 2017/2018 league, so we played pro league last season to qualify for the Premier League.

"Unfortunately, to date, we have had nothing - our bonuses, our allowances from last season - and no news about anything, or hope coming forward for it."

Salaries

The State's Commissioner for Sport, Offa Aya, conceded that the state's male professional teams, such as UNICEM Rovers, have been paid, but said that this was due to some private individuals helping out with donations.

''How will we discriminate against our daughters? We are going to pay them," he said.

"We asked them to exercise a little patience - they were not the only ones involved.

"There were other clubs, like Ayade Babes and Canaan Table Tennis, whose payments were settled last - they wouldn't allow us to arrange the account to start paying, then they went on to protest," he said.

"There are private individuals who have adopted some these clubs, like UNICEM Rovers, but for the Pelicans, we are still begging for people to assist us.''

The Pelican players insist that the lack of payment is discriminatory as their salary backlog of at least N60,000 ($165) per month dates as far back as June 2019, when salaries for April to June were paid to them prior to their 2019 Christmas break.

"That is the reason why we have to take this bold step to go to Government House.

''It's like Pelican Stars is dead - or maybe the state governor does not want the team anymore.

''We don't know. We just want to get information. Maybe, if he wants the team, fine. If he doesn't want the team, we should go home.

Protesters hold up banner
Players said they have been deeply suffering because of the non-payment

"And we are hungry," the player added.

As the coronavirus pandemic sweeps the globe, some of the players have taken up skills such as hairstyling and sewing in order to survive, while others depend on monetary support from families and friends, including fellow female professional footballers.

However, the club chairman Sam Kombor told BBC Sport Africa that the players are owed eight months of salary, instead of 10, as their backlog dates from August 2019.

''If we knew that placard they wrote 10 months, we would have corrected them," he said.

"I am the chairman of the club. They are also owing me, but the truth remains that it is eight months from August 2019.

"We will pay and are hoping (to do so) probably towards the end of next week because we run subvention and it is from that subvention that we pay salaries. So that subvention was not released to the club. That is why we owe.

"The commissioner said there was a fiscal error, a misunderstanding."

Protests over unpaid salaries has been a recurring theme in Nigeria's women's football scene both at club and national team level for many years.

Experts believe that it's one of the reasons why women's football development has stagnated over the past decade in Africa's top ranked women's football nation.

At the 2019 Women's World Cup in France, the Super Falcons of Nigeria staged a sit-in protest over unpaid salaries and bonuses after their Round of 16 elimination to Germany.