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by Olatunji Saliu

ABUJA, Dec. 7 (Xinhua) -- The Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) has said it is now battling funds shortage and unable to offset some of its bills, including payment of wages to officials and players.

The NFF attributed its shortage of funds, and inability to pay those on its payroll their salaries, to the severe economic challenge of the oil producing African nation.

"The Federation is not happy about owing players and coaches," an official statement said.

The NFF admitted it was owing its management and staff, players and coaches, hoteliers and travel agents. It called for understanding and support of those owed "until the situation improves."

Local media on Wednesday reported that players of the female national football team which last Saturday defeated Cameroon to win their eighth African Women Nations Cup title had vowed not to leave the team's camp in Abuja until all their emoluments were settled by the football authorities.

The female team, claiming that the NFF failed to pay their camp allowances, match bonuses and coaches' salaries, also rejected a directive to vacate their hotel.

Their coaches have not been paid for over eight months.

Local experts said the present situation is likely to affect the country's football development in future, noting with the shortage of funds more challenges might crop up.

The NFF said in spite of its financial challenges, it was making necessary arrangement to pay the players and officials of the female team, officially called Super Falcons, all their entitlements for winning the AWCON.

The money for this, however, is not available at the moment, according to the statement released by the NFF.

"There is no gainsaying in the fact that there is a severe economic challenge in the country now and all organizations, whether government or private, are feeling the pinch. But, it is not government's doing.

"We know we have financial commitment to the players and officials of Super Falcons, and we have not at any time stated otherwise. But the money is not readily available at the moment," the statement said.

The NFF said it would do the needful as soon as funds were available, explaining it had a similar challenge with the male national soccer team and other age-grade teams but it paid the wages at a more convenient time.

"We will pay them all monies they are being owed as soon as we receive same from government, just as we paid the national under-17 team's players and officials who won the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Chile last year, after the tournament," the statement said.

Saddened by the situation, Super Falcons' midfielder Francisca Ordega expressed regret playing for Nigeria, saying she would have opted for another country.

The 23-year-old, who plays for Washington Spirit football club in the United States, told reporters lack of support and funding was the major challenge of Nigerian football.

"If I had not played for Nigeria at the national team level, trust me, I would have played somewhere else," she said.

She added if the situation did not improve on time, Nigeria's football might have bigger challenge to grapple with in the future.

Mohammed Sanusi, the NFF's secretary general, said various measures were being taken to find a permanent solution to the issue of owing players and coaches.

He told reporters the NFF is awaiting corporate sponsorship to improve its finances.

"We are also working to get monies outstanding from former sponsors of the national teams, to complement what we are expecting from government," he added.

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