We featured a special guest on our exciting exclusive football series. Ubong Bassey caught up with Aisha Folade, the Chairlady of the Nigerian Women Football League (NWFL). She extensively shared how her league board have performed since their take-over and her proposal for a CAF women’s club competition…just not the Champions league.
LM: Let’s get to know you, shall we?
Aisha Folade: My name is Aisha Folade, I hail from Edo State. I am an NCE graduate of Physical and Health Education from Abaraka College of Education. I bagged a Bachelor’s degree in Physical Education and further with a post graduate diploma in Mass Communication all from the University of Lagos (UNILAG) in Lagos State. I am the Chairlady of the Nigerian Women Premier League (NWFL), Confederation of African Football (CAF) media committee member and member of Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) executive committee. I was the executive Producer and Anchor of my TV Sports programme, ‘WOMEN ON THE BALL’ on African Independent Television (AIT). Also, I worked briefly with the Graduate Telephone Operators Scheme of the Nigerian Telecommunication Limited (NITEL).
I grew up in a polygamous home, my mother had 10 children but we lost the youngest child in a terrible motor accident in 2002. In all, we were 19 children born to my father and I am the 7th child in the family.
LM: Over the years, professional women footballers in Nigeria have been plagued by various contract issues with their respective clubs as they are paid little or no salaries without match bonuses, sign on fees and other incentives. What is being done by your NWFL-led board to address this problem?
Aisha Folade: On the issue of players contract, since the 2014/2015 season, the Chief Operating Officer (COO) Ayo Abdulrahman introduced the players contract system which is a 22-page document into the running of the league from 2016. This running contract is implemented and streamlined on the basis of the club and players rights, disciplinary issues, salaries and take home pays for the players etc.
On the issue of salaries and take home pays, we are stressing to the clubs that no matter how little the money is, they must respect that agreement and pay their players when due. This bad tendency of clubs of not paying their players promptly or at all, is a norm over the years in the Nigerian women league and there’s a gradual system we are using in tackling it. You cannot make drastic changes else, the system will crash.
With time, my board through the COO will make this 22 -page contract paper public, so the clubs and players know that the contract is binding. We must be patient and deliberate in this process.
LM: Most stadia like the Uyo Township stadium and others used by NWPL teams are in deplorable conditions. Some teams play on local school pitches. Is there anything done to look into this?
Aisha Folade: This season, Ibom Angels played only one game which was versus Rivers Angels at the Uyo Township stadium when we got reports of the very bad and unplayable surface of the stadium so, we reacted and advised the club to get an alternative venue suitable for subsequent home games. The management of Ibom Angels immediately complied and got the Itam Sports Center in Uyo as their adopted home stadium.
Heartland Queens play their home games at the Nekede Federal Polytechnic stadium in Owerri. The Sa’adatu Amazons Soccer Club play their home games at the Federal Polytechnic mini stadium in Minna. My board had an idea to approve games to be played on the pitches of Polytechnics and Universities of higher learning to encourage more women fans to support the women games. This idea in the long run will discover young talented women footballers who are already in tertiary institutions to develop a motivation for the sport.
For Sa’adatu Amazons, the management pleaded with us that their clubs’ relationship with the home fans at the Polytechnic College in Minna is massive so moving their home matches away will not augur well. Remember, the Minna Township stadium is undergoing renovation and the NWPL and its clubs are not as financially buoyant as the men’s Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL). These are the criteria we considered in selecting and approving match venues in the premier league.
LM: In terms of match officiating this season, it’s been improved compared to previous seasons. Does your board still organize grade ‘A’ referees training courses to upgrade Nigerian match officials on the job?
Aisha Folade: The training, re-training and appointment of match referees in the league is the sole responsibility of the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF). There have been few circumstances where there have been questionable calls in league matches by referees. The Women league board has noted, acted upon them and forwarded it to the Referees Appointment Committee of the NFF. They (NFF) act on it to make sure that personnels appointed as referees are competent enough to carry out their jobs as professionals but that does not rule out that appointed match officials are also human and prone to error(s) especially in the heat of the game.
But, making sure those errors are negligible is the primary goal achieved. In cases where the home team or away team feel that they are hard done by, by the level of officiating, they can put their protests in writing, forward it to us then we look into it objectively. When we are through analyzing the antecedence surrounding the officiating, we forward it to the NFF as they have the final say and judgement.
LM: What is the Nigerian Women Football league (NWFL) and its sister leagues in other African Countries doing for Women Football as regards the creation of the CAF Continental Club Championship?
Aisha Folade: The creation of the Continental Championship by CAF is a pending issue that has been on the table of the women committee for Confederation of African Football (CAF). Nigeria has been doing well in the promotion of Women Football in fact we are the first country to start playing the Women League in Africa.
Since then till now, you can count the number of women playing active football in running leagues around Africa. Yes!, it sounds great on paper to start a CAF Continental Championship but you must consider the practicality of making such advocacy. The countries in Africa playing women football in their leagues are not enough to create a competitive continental championship.
I think what we should be talking about for now is for the few African countries that have a running women league to come together and have a club championship for FIFA where all the winners from the respective leagues will organize a tourney for 1 or 2 weeks to play for the Champion of Champions Women Club winner of Africa. This will be more practicable for me than running a Continental Women Championship for CAF, as it will be capital intensive in terms of logistics and also considering the number of teams involved.
LM: What has your board done to curtail the cultural and religious bottlenecks in the development of the game in Nigeria?
Aisha Folade: Religious and cultural biases in the women game in Nigeria is still a challenge. In Nigeria, you have to tread carefully and diplomatically on the line of culture and religion. We have top teams in Northern Nigeria like Adamawa Queens and Nasarawa Amazons who play very well.
I remember sometime in the year 1998 or 1999 when Kaduna State was selected as one of the venues to host the African Women Championship as it was known then. There was a packed stadium filled with passionate fans. Even fans outside the stadium who could not gain access into the stadium had to climb on electric poles to watch the game. The number of women inside the stadium were not up to 10 persons as these women were only the match officials of the game.
We advocate that there should be freedom for women to participate in any sport of their choice, not just football. Introducing Sports to our younger women in schools would have been the best bet to spur up their passion but religious hurdle is still there to cross so we have to be careful on that.
LM: There are match delegates and assessors in the Nigerian Professional Football league (NPFL). Can’t such be replicated in the NWPL?
Aisha Folade: I do not think it is fair for the NWPL to be judged side by side with the NPFL. We all know the changes that happened with the resilience of the officials of the Interim Management committee of the Nigerian Football Association (NFA) (now the Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL) of the NFF). To make it work is paying off today.
Expecting this board that was inaugurated just five months ago to begin assigning independent match assessors and delegates to match venues on match days will add value to the quality of the league no doubt, but it will come at a cost. That cost will be the financial implications and we do not have the muscle to do that yet. That is the right thing to do but for now we rely on the judgement of the referees and match commissioners.
Much appreciation to our colleagues in the media who have given us tremendous support in terms of league coverage on different platforms from various match venues this season. They give us live feeds on the matches which we (NWFL) synchronize with our reports. These reports we feed our partners (Radio and TV) in the news to propagate the coverage of the women league. Kudos to many passionate match reporters who individually sponsor themselves to match venues across the country to cover league games. With time, we will appoint match assessors and delegates to cover especially big matches among teams then we build on that to spread to other venues.
LM: On a final note, the issue of the missing money meant for the sponsorship of the season opener between Sunshine Queens and Ibom remains pertinent. What is the latest on recovering the looted funds from the Ondo State Football Agency (ONSFA) by your league board?
Aisha Folade: This is a sad one with ONSFA because people who have been trusted with the responsibility to run the agency do not only shy away from their duties but have gone about it in a shady and fraudulent manner. It was very shocking to me to find out that a football agency would be involved in the activities where men will negotiate for the sharing of funds meant for the opening game of the season that was specifically given for a purpose and proposal.
I told them that these monies were to be paid into the NWFL bank account and whatever is left will be used to continue running the league. We have presented our case to the Governor of the Ondo state who happens to be a lawyer and explained that nothing was given to us to run that opening game. Even the wife of the Governor was live at Akure Township stadium to witness what happened. We pray that all these corrupt officials are arrested and brought to book according to the law.
LM: It was nice having you with us. Thank you for your time
Aisha Folade: You are welcome!!