Nigeria won the African Women’s Cup of Nations (AWCON) for the 8th time after a 1–0 win over Cameroun in Yaounde. The winning goal was scored by Desire Oparanozie for Nigeria to retain the trophy they won in Namibia two years ago. This is the third time Nigeria is defeating Cameroun in the history of the AWCON competition, the Lionesses lost the AWCON title to Nigeria in the 2004 edition when lost 5 – 0, then in the 2014 edition, Nigeria beat Cameroun 2 – 0 courtesy of goals from Asisat Oshoala and Desire Oparanozie.
Nigeria won AWCON the title in 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2010 and 2014 but lost two editions of the competitions to Equatorial Guinea in 2008 and 2012. The Super Falcons have shown dedication over the years by qualifying for every tournament. They have won the tournament back to back by staying consistent, a feat which has been arduous for the Super Eagles. But the Super Falcons are still underappreciated and often disrespected compared to their male counterparts.
The Super Falcons returned to the country on Sunday after their victory but not without allegations of shoddy treatment by the Nigeria Football Federation. NFF officials and sports minister, Solomon Dalung, reportedly travelled on a chartered flight to Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon where the Super Falcons played their final match against the tournament hosts. The football officials and the sports minister allegedly left the stadium for the airport without meeting with the victorious Nigerian team. According to sports journalist, Jessica Amadi, who was with the team, while the Super Falcons were made to travel to Douala by road, the administrators left on a chartered flight. The journalist on Sunday stated that flight arrangements were later made for the team.
The African champions who flew to Douala for a connecting trip to Nigeria, however, had to travel without their bags due to the size of the Camair-co plane used in conveying the team. The team’s luggage were therefore transported to Douala by road. Amadi, in a series of posts on her Twitter page, reported that the Nigerian High Commission in Cameroon expressed its disappointment with the manner the NFF officials conducted themselves.
But this has been the narrative for over a decade, former Nigerian star, Vera Okolo also spilled the beans about the dismal way the Super Falcons were treated by the NFF at the 2004 African Women’s Championship in South Africa. She spoke about her displeasure at the welfare of the players while on duty for their country. The former African Women Footballer of the Year nominee lamented how the Nigerian Football Federation abandoned the team in terms of match bonuses and feeding. She explained how the team overcame these challenges with help of Nigerians in South Africa.
The Super Falcons have won the Women’s Africa Nations Cup more than any other country and made it to every Women’s World Cup since the FIFA competition began in 1991. Despite the honours the women’s team has won for the nation, they are still being treated as second-class citizens compared to their male counterparts who failed to qualify for the African Cup of Nations kicking off in Gabon at the start of 2017 and have failed to qualify for two consecutive editions. News reports stated that the Falcons were paid a paltry 10,000 naira each after they successfully booked a ticket to the 2016 Africa Women’s Cup of Nations which is in contrast with the men’s team, whose players get paid 800,000 naira each for a draw and 1 million naira for a win. The women are also reportedly still owed their bonuses for qualifying for last year’s World Cup in Canada. The women received 100,000 naira for every match won at the World Cup, while the men got 760, 000 naira. And while the male team was lodged in five-star hotels, the women’s team was regularly kept in substandard accommodation, said Nnamdi Okosieme. But this scenario is not peculiar to Nigeria alone. The USA women’s national team stepped up its case for equal pay during a segment of CBS’s 60 Minutes, landing a spot on the traditional post-NFL Sunday show and claiming that women deserve to be paid not just the same as the men, but more.
For a long time now, the Super Falcons have been playing for peanuts and the poor treatment of the women’s football team by the NFF is another symptom of the rot of gender inequality that has eaten into many sectors of society. The Super Falcons deserve to be given as much respect and appreciation as their male counterparts, and it is high time Nigeria started celebrating her football heroines.