AITEO Cup Round of 64 game in Port Harcourt between Akwa United and Hope of Glory FC

By Ufuoma Egbamuno

Nigeria is a very complex country. So complex that you have to climb mountains to do things that should at best be basic.

Our football isn’t any different. That is why we have arrived at the semifinals of the flagship competition of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), yet it doesn’t look like anything is actually happening.

When energy conglomerate Aiteo Group got the rights to the Nigerian Federation Cup in July 2017, it was heralded with a lot of fanfare. I remember applauding the NFF as led by Amaju Pinnick for a job well done.

Truth be told, it is a herculean task to get corporate Nigeria to be a part of football in Nigeria, especially as the people in charge of football over the years, haven’t done enough to attract these sponsors.

So when the Pinnick led board signed that 2.5 billion naira deal in July last year to sponsor the now christened AITEO Cup, it was a great step in the right direction.

Somehow, the 2017 edition of the tournament fell below the expectations of how a tournament of that magnitude should be. Put side by side with the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) last season, it was really nothing to write home about.

As an On Air Personality, OAP on duty, unlike the NPFL that I could log on to social media and get results, it was a herculean task getting updates or results about the competition. Only the final which took place in Lagos had some semblance of an organised competition.

When questions were asked last year about the shoddy job done in terms of organization, the response from the NFF hierarchy was that the late signing of contract with AITEO meant a lot of things could not be done within that short space of time.

A plausible explanation that could pass.

Fast forward to the 2018 edition and one of the worst football tournaments ever is what we are witnessing. It's great that football power houses Rangers International and Kano Pillars have qualified for the final and there is some semblance of expectation ahead of the game in Asaba.

But let's take a pause and go all the way back to when the AITEO Cup 2018 started.

A tournament that is supposed to be the flagship of the NFF did not have a recognised calendar. Games are scheduled and postponed at will. Up until Monday, 9th of October, no one was certain when the date of the final would be. I know colleagues who planned trips to Uyo for the Super Eagles game with the intention of heading to Asaba for the final of the AITEO Cup. Now, they have to plan all over again.

Sponsors, Aiteo do not seem to have a media plan for a tournament which produces a continental representative for the country.

The Sharks FC Stadium: Looks like a grassroots football tournament
Port Harcourt hosted the Round of 64 and 32 games of the competition without something as simple as a pitch panel of AITEO or any of the NFF sponsors in the stadium. Stop for a minute and let that sink in. A colleague told me there was no difference between those games and the numerous grassroots tournament we watch regularly in the Garden City.

I was part of the organisers of the Brown Ideye Challenge two years ago. That grassroots football competition had more fanfare and publicity than the AITEO Cup which supposedly has five hundred million naira sponsorship for this year.

To make matters worse, this year’s edition had a team, supposedly serving a two year ban from the NFF, participating.

Yes, you read right! A team banned for two years still found its way into the competition, one year into the ban.

Kogi United’s inexplicable participation in the 2018 AITEO Cup this year still leaves a lot of unanswered questions. It remains one of football's biggest mysteries.

Last season, the team from the Confluence town were handed a two year ban by the NFF after violence erupted in their game against Rangers International.

That ban - plus fines to the club as well as some of its administrators -was well publicised. So you wonder how that same team still got the go ahead to feature in a competition it was banned from.

As I write this, there has not been a single explanation from the NFF.

I spoke to a member of the Kogi State FA who told me the ban was appealed by the state FA. According to him, there was a waiver given by the NFF which wasn’t as publicised as the ban.

When I sought to know if there was a documentation to back up this claim, he told me in clear terms that, that was beyond his pay grade. Neither the Kogi State FA Chairman nor the Secretary who he referred me to, has agreed to comment on this situation.

A source in the NFF told me in confidence that the mistake was from the football house as the committee which put forward the ban didn’t pass on the judgement to the competition’s department.

Laughable isn't it?

How incompetent can a football organisation be that it gave a judgement but a department within its fold didn’t get the memo?

Well, it is the same football house that is yet to tell the Nigerian public how a suspended Shehu Abdullahi played the last World Cup qualifier against Algeria – a move that could have cost us a ticket to Russia 2018.

From where I sit, I am tempted to ask, what exactly does AITEO hope to get from sponsoring the AITEO Cup?

The last time I checked, the energy conglomerate isn’t a charity organisation who just dole money out.

A competition that has been haphardly organised two years in a row doesn’t make for good PR.

A competition that has its first televisied game with empty stands despite one of the biggest teams in the land, Kano Pillars, in action doesn’t make for good Return on Investments.

But, there are still three more editions to go. All hopes aren’t lost.

The NFF and AITEO needs to sit down and fashion a proper plan for the AITEO Cup. We cannot continue to have this SHAM of a tournament and claim we are moving football forward.

If foremost journalist, China Acheru and his team can organize, with so much fanfare and publicity, a grassroots competition for Super Eagles striker Brown Ideye for less than seven million naira, then the NFF with 1 billion naira sponsorship from AITEO for the last two years has no excuse.

Because, to tell the truth, the 2018 edition of the AITEO Cup is nothing but A SHAM!
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  1. Like your first statement reads, Nigeria is a very complex country.

  2. I read to the end!

    Interesting and insightful piece!

    *Ghanaman signing out*