The women’s football scene in Nigeria and indeed Africa could not have developed to the level at which it is till now without the passion, productivity and selfless service to the growth of female football in Nigeria. ABIDEMI WILLIAMS writes on the efforts amazons who were involved in women’s football development in Nigeria.
Nigeria’s female football is recognized around the world as Africa’s best women’s football side because of the achievements of Nigeria’s women at the continental and global stage of womens football. It took the efforts of some individuals, especially women who can be referred to as Amazons of women’s football in Nigeria and internationally. They had the vision for the development of women’s football and they tenaciously pursued the dreams. They invested time, resources and faith into helping the development of the nation’s women football sides and the result can be seen in the Nigeria Womens Football League and the Super Falcons whose records in Africa would stand for a very long time. Women’s football in Nigeria had also seen the establishment of wome’s teams that mostly became the source of players for the national among who are Pelican Stars, Omidiran Babes, Rivers Angels and other top clubs sides in the country.
Among the names that are prominent with female football development in Nigeria is that of Princess Bola Jegede and Gina Yeseibo whose pioneering development prgrammes indeed helped to develop female football in the country. Prior to the late 12970s and early 1980s, it is rare to see women soccer players especially in Nigeria where socio-cultural and societal norms and values makes it difficult to allow women, girls participate in such a strenuous sports like football. Jegede and Yeseibo might have however seen things from a different perspective and till date, Nigeria has been the beneficiary of these ladies idea. Their effort through the establishment of womens football clubs and other areas of football that they were able to invest every resources they could part with for the growth of the game.
Falcons has got the best history of women’s football because most if not of Falcons members past and present have played women’s club football in Nigeria even before the allure of overseas football just like most of their male counterparts. In the Nigeria Womens Football League, there are many teams both at the premier level and the other divisions in the structure. All these started with the duo, Princess Jegede and Yesibo.
When the name Jegede comes up what many lovers of womens football would remember is that name “Jegede Babes”. The businesswoman established the club in the early 1980s and if one takes a look at the past and present players of the female national teams and club sides, over half of the ladies that have worn the colours of the Falcons have passed through the corridors of Jegede Babes Football club. What this businesswoman did has brought progress to the nations through the establishment of state-owned womens clubs and those from individuals. Jegede Babes would always have a pride of place in Nigeria’s football history due to the pioneering efforts of the owner, Jegede. The result was that from the nucleus of Jegede’s club and others that were spewing up, many pioneer members of the national female team participated in the first world womens Championship in China I 1991 and that was the stepping stone for the first generation players and those following them as Nigeria’s ladies announced their presence on the international scenes.
Jegede Babes has produced players like Mercy Akide, one of the prominent players of the Falcosn once played for Jegede Babes; Ann AgumanuChiejine, Blessing Ibeji, Maureen Madu, Sarah Okotie Eboh, and Patience Avre among others.
Jegede Babes will always remain indelible in the hearts of Nigerians who value the essence of development in Nigeria’s women football and especially that of the Falcons and the NWFL.It was the first woemns club that won the womens league in the 1990s.
Another notable personality in the development of womens football in Nigeria, Africa and the world over is Alhaja Ayo Omidiran of the ‘Omidiran Babes’ since 1997. The club was one of sides that many Nigerian national teams player have played for in the recent past and present. Alhaja Ayo Omiiran later became involved in Nigeria Football Federation programmes in female football development in Nigeria. The Osun state born lawmaker later veered into politics where she won herself federal lawmaker seat representing the Ayedaade/Irewole/Isokan federal constituency in Osun State.
The passion that the Omidiran has over football led her to the establishment of Omidiran Babes and the club has produces stars who went ahead to represent the National team and even at international club levels too. Omidiran was Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Sports at some point in her political career. And in 2002, she was made a member of the NFF Board till 2005
Omidiran’s club and her activites in the NFF especially on women’s football cannot be brushed aside as she has proved herself in the world of Nigeria’s and Africa’s female football sector. Though her club, Omidiran Babes has been involved in the league especially in the 1990s, yet the club did not win any title in the NWFL as it were. One of the fundamental issues with club football especially female ones in Nigeria is the issue of funding and it is one of those challenges that womens football have been experiencing in Nigeria. Alhhja Ayo has been able to bridge the gap to some extent by bringing in many youngsters like OnomeEbi amongst others who have played for the team in the 1990s and till date.
Another personality that has played a very important role in Nigeria’s female football fraternity is Aisha Falode, the boss of the NWFL. As the head of the NWFL, she has introduced innovative ideas into the running of thr female football sector presenty, she has been been involved in the football world since the early 2000 where she was handling football programmes, especially in the area of woemns football at the African Independent Teleiveison whey she handled various sports programmes including women’s football.
Also member of the media committee in the Confederation of Africa Football,CAF and National team co-ordinator of female football in Nigeria, she has been very active on the continent too. For a sports personality of her stature, she said that she does not take her job with levity in an interview.
I’m the chairperson of Nigeria Women Football League. That is one assignment I do not take lightly. It’s an opportunity for me to make my impact in administering the game, even though it’s the same passion and dedication that I’m putting into the work,” Falode said.
Falode was appointed the head of the NWFL in 2017 and ever since then she has been a keen supporter of the female national teams and sides development especially at the international level. Recently, the former broadcaster has also supported continental football competition for women especially in Africa.
After CAF president Ahmad Ahmad said that CAF would introduce CAF Womens Champions League in 2021, she has been very vocal about it and has also said that, that would do anything to make a Nigeria female club side to win it while expressing her beliefs in NWFL teams.
“We will not only win it (Champions League) but we will prepare for it,” Falode said.
“The maiden edition for that matter and we started women football in Africa, let it also be said that the maiden edition of the CL was won by Nigeria.
“This time we are asking you (Amaju Pinnick) again, that we don’t want to compete in the CAF Champions League for women for fun.
“And we have fantastic teams in the NWPFL. We have teams who have produced a lot of players for the national teams. We will need to encourage these teams. We’ll need to play more competitive matches,” Falode said.
Falode has always stressed the need for the sports ministry to support the female football sector and it is in this area that she has contributed immensely to the development of womens football in Nigeria and Africa.
Another entrant into the club of the amazons is Oluchi Tobe-Chukwu who was recently appointed into the nation’s football setup. She was appointed as the Media Officer of the Senior Women National Team, Super Falcons.
Tobechukwu was once a footballer too and she played for clubs like Hamza Queens, Flamming Flamingos and Ibom Angels before she returned back to further her education Auchi and Lagos respectively. She’s an avid star of the womens league in Nigeria and being a recent appointee of the NFF. Having been a reporter for many years, she is a high degree of the knowledge of the womens league in Nigeria.
“You cannot mention amazons in the Nigeria female league with names like Jegede, Omidiran, Rasheedat Adedeji, Aisha Falode who made sure that female football developed in this country,” She said.
“I only reported football from the female angle but this people invested in it and today, see the female clubs we have in Nigeria, it started with them in the 1980s.
“These people that I have mentioned have done a lot for the development of womens football in Nigeria and I would say this, what they have done over the years are here with us and we have seen the benefits of investments in sports especially women’s football clubs and even within the national teanal teal Falcons,” Tobechukwu said.