Defender Osinachi Ohale says Nigerian players are “grateful” after each being rewarded with US$10,000 (£7,800) by the country’s government for reaching the last 16 at the Women’s World Cup.
The Super Falcons’ discipline propelled them through a group containing co-hosts Australia and Olympic champions Canada before they were eliminated on penalties by England after a 0-0 draw.
Nigeria’s first lady Oluremi Tinubu, the wife of president Bola Tinubu, praised the “unbreakable spirit and unwavering strength” when she hosted team members and officials at the presidential villa in Abuja before announcing the unprecedented reward.
“We are grateful for this unexpected gesture because for several years we’ve been winning the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (Wafcon) and I can’t remember us being honoured or rewarded this way,” the experienced Ohale told BBC Sport Africa.
“We appreciate the federal government for their support and encouragement. And we also thank Nigerians for the remarkable support during the tournament.
“Nigeria is a country where the public appreciate good things. When you do something good, they will show appreciation, and when you don’t do well, they will still show it – they will forget the good things you’ve been doing, so that’s how it is,” she laughed.
“I’m just happy we were able to put a smile on their faces.”
Floodgates finally opening?
It is not only the federal government that has been hosting or rewarding players of the nine-time African champions – in direct contrast to years gone by.
On multiple occasions in the past, the team has fought for money owed to them – to the point of even boycotting training ahead of a match last year.
The governor of Imo state, Hope Uzodinma, also met four players from the state – Chiamaka Nnadozie, Tochukwu Oluehi, Desire Oparanozie and Ohale – handing out $10,000 to each and promising the quartet a piece of land.
Back in July, Uzodinma gave six players from Imo $6,300 (£4,940) after they helped the Super Falcons reach the 2022 Wafcon semi-finals in Morocco.
“Uzodinma is like a father and has been showing his support throughout the tournament,” Ohale added.
“We can’t really thank him enough because it goes a long way to show that now people are really watching games. I’m happy and grateful for the rewards.”
Players have also been feted in Osun and Lagos, with Lagos governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu using social media to proclaim that the team’s performance “has ignited a new era of enthusiasm for women’s football in Nigeria”, bringing a “truly remarkable” unity to the country.
Meanwhile, Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) president Ibrahim Gusau has assured the team they will receive their 2023 World Cup prize money in addition to unpaid bonuses, allowances and expenses dating back to 2021.
Last week, global players union Fifpro revealed it was helping Nigeria’s women in a dispute with the NFF, but Gusau was unhappy about the timing of the intervention, reiterating in a local radio interview that the players are already entitled to $60,000 (£47,000) each from tournament organisers Fifa.
“If you have an outstanding (debt) for over two years, is that the time that you create distraction for yourself?” he said.
“It is only when we have the money that we can use it to pay such kind of payment.
“We can use the prize money we are getting from Fifa to pay any outstanding and the coach of the Super Falcons. That is what we will do.”