By Ben Edokpayi
Nigerians often view philanthropic gestures by corporate bodies with cynicism. This attitude is not out of place considering how often both the government and corporates make outlandish promises to transform the lives of individuals and groups which turn out to be mere soundbites devoid of any meaningful follow-through.
Scepticism about sports-oriented altruistic gestures is particularly high because of the trail of failed promises left by key stakeholders in whom much confidence had been reposed by some of our country’s finest in the industry. Take the late Rashidi Yekini for example. After his yeoman’s job putting Nigeria on the international spotlight during the African Nations Cup in 1994, he was promised a house by the government which was never actualised until he died in penury back in 2012. This misplaced abandonment was so profound that it even took the personal intervention of Senate President Bukola Saraki to rescue the late footballer’s aged mum from squalor mid-last year. He went out of his way to have her apartment renovated, ensuring her personal upkeep personally.
A trip down memory lane throws up the same story of abandonment for late football greats such as Sam Okwaraji, Muda Lawal, Stephen Keshi, Uche Okafor and Thompson Oliha. Okwaraji is well-nigh forgotten despite his enormous contributions to the game until his untimely demise on the field of play. His spirit is only kept alive by a memorial football game in his honour sponsored by an APGA governorship aspirant in his hometown of Imo State. The story is no different for late Super Eagles midfielder Oliha who left behind a family struggling to survive despite being promised N1 million by the Kwara State Football Academy. Sadly, the donation is outstanding 4 years after he passed on. Taken for granted while alive, the families of all these football heroes were assured financial assistance and immortality which all went up in smoke as soon as the eulogies stopped coming.
Viewed in this light, Aiteo’s sponsorship of the Super Eagles has rightly dominated headlines in the past few months. It is even more commendable when we consider how frantically the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) shopped for sponsors when Glo pulled out of its 10-year sponsorship contract with the football body and no sponsors from the telecommunications industry were forthcoming. When the respected energy conglomerate signed a 5-year contract with the NFF to sponsor the Super Eagles in a deal worth N2.5 billion over the next 5 years, many applauded the gesture but were sceptical about follow-through consistent with their experiences from previous sponsors.
Barely two months down the line, Aiteo has walked its talk, giving us a reason to believe in Nigerian football and the genuineness of corporate Nigeria yet again. News making the rounds has it that through the instrumentality of Aiteo’s sponsorship, the NFF has paid an impressive 27 coaches their outstanding salaries with a whopping N100million from the first tranche of the funding agreement. According to reports, the salary of the Super Eagles’ manager Gernot Rohr has also been settled up to date from the forex component of the sponsorship. God enough, all the payments were deposited directly into the beneficiaries’ accounts through the NFF’s consultants Financial Derivatives, which adds a measure of credibility to the transaction.
Aiteo is not necessarily the first company to make this move, nor will it be the last. Nonetheless, its Executive Vice Chairman Benedict Peters deserves our commendation for disproving that corporate bodies are all talk and no substance. Let’s also bear in mind that Aiteo is not drawn from a sector traditionally associated with sports promotion. All the more reason to applaud this gesture which has not only wrested control of the beloved sport from telcos, but also created an avenue for industry-wide contributions towards the growth of Nigerian football.
The NFF deal is by no means the first philanthropic move Aiteo will be making. Recently, the energy conglomerate also donated N100 million worth of office supplies to the 16 Brigade in Bayelsa State, and is currently in talks with several stakeholders across the economic spectrum on how to make a considerable difference in cash or kind that will positively impact the citizenry.
Time and again, Aiteo has argued that CSR is more than just an acronym but simply the way it does business. As such, it has supported whole communities and groups over the years through informal grants and donations, seed capital and philanthropy. Its support of the Super Eagles should be seen in that light and given all the commendation it deserves.
Edokpayi is a Benin-based sports enthusiast.