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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