Ex Falcon star Vera Okolo recently gave a shocking revelation concerning how a country with enough resources could not take care of her players. In an interview with vanguard, she disclosed that while on national duty, they were hungrier than the poorest Nigerians to the extent that they resort to drinking “Garri”. Adding to the fact they were fed poorly, she went on to reveal that the team wasn’t paid its bonuses for the African Women’s Championship in 2004 and 2007, they had to make do with very few kits and it got so bad that Nigerians in South Africa donated food to the team. However, the then governor of Rivers state, Peter Odili saved the situation by taking the responsibility of paying the bill for their meals.
The super talented player who played for Delta Queens was part of the Super Falcons squad that won the 2004 African Women Championship in South Africa. In an interview with Vanguard, Okolo said:
“I cannot imagine a team representing a country as popular and blessed as Nigeria, to go for a tournament like that and be treated shabbily. If I open up on the terrible things that happened in South Africa, you will pity the players and heap praises on us,”
“We played that tournament with two pairs of white jerseys and one pair of green jerseys. Those were what we played with for over two weeks. In fact, I played two matches with groin injury, all in the name of wanting to win for Nigeria.”
The former player who is now attending the Nigeria Institute of Sports also detailed how the ladies were owed their due pay.
“Normally, when you go for such tournaments, as long as you win, you get your match bonus after the game. But it was a different ball game in South Africa. After winning our first match, we got to the hotel, expecting our bonus. It started from the kits. After giving us three jerseys, we asked why, they said they were bringing kits from Nigeria, that we should make do with what we have. We said no problem as we were focused on retaining the cup.
“It was strange but we told them that it was not really the jersey that plays the game but the players. On match days we avoided exchanging jerseys. It became a crime to do so. We told them that we were not going back to Nigeria without the cup. And when the bonuses were not being paid after wining our matches, they became deeply worried and we rose to tell them not to allow that to weigh them down.”
“Even in Algiers 2007, it happened. Before most of our matches, we drank garri. But we felt good even with it. After the tournament in South Africa, Kikelomo Ajayi who was our captain was mandated by us to go and meet the officials to pay us the bonuses but we were shocked when she returned to tell us that they said we should go back to Nigeria to collect the money.
“That was when we said no, that if we got to Nigeria, they would not pay. Experiences have shown that our officials don’t stand by their words, so we refused to go back home until the money was paid.
“Even when the embassy officials said that we were on our own and they would only provide for our breakfast, we were not moved. It was at that time that Nigerians in South Africa knew of our plight and said that as long as they were alive that we would not lack anything good in South Africa.
“They were bringing us food; in fact, we had so much that we were even giving out to visitors and friends. We had more than we had during the tournament. They said we should have told them all this while but we were not supposed to wash our dirty linens outside. But it just got to that extent that we could not hide it any more.
“There was a time that the former Governor of Rivers State, Dr. Peter Odili had to intervene. He called (Peterside) Idah, when he heard of our travails, to feed the players and send the bill to him.
“It was like that until the money was now given to us and immediately, they said we should pack to go to Nigeria.
“Then President, Olusegun Obasanjo gave us N1m each, after hearing what happened.”