Air Peace/NFF Partnership: A New Dawn for Nigeria’s Sports, by Chidiebere Nwobodo
Nigeria’s sports has repeatedly suffered in the past not only as a result of inadequate funding from government but private sector seeming neglect and apathy towards investing in the nation’s sports development. Sports, especially football is the most unifying factor in Nigeria today. With the growing tendencies of polarization of the polity across ethno-religious divides, one of the avenues to pull this nation together, albeit continuously, is to ride on the Nigerians’ unalloyed love for football, to find and nurture a meeting point of unity, peace and harmony amongst the nation’s citizenry.
Chief Allen Onyema, as the propelling force behind Air Peace’s meteoric rise to stardom in the aviation industry, has stroke the chord again. He has chosen to stick out his neck in his usual manner to bring hope to Nigeria’s football vis-a-vis national teams—the only umbrella that still binds us together as one people with collective destiny. Onyema via Air Peace has decided to be part of the solution not a member of choir of lamentations or hordes of vile critics.
Recently, Air Peace entered into a deal with Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) to be the Federation’s official airline sponsor of the national teams. It is a four-year agreement worth over N300 million per year; renewable annually. This is a milestone for the nation’s football in particular and sports in general. I can remember vividly with nostalgia that some of the challenges Super Eagles and other national teams used to have hinged on flight related issues, whenever they were going for a major tournament.
Imagine what happens to the morale of players when they encounter flight difficulties: delays, cancelations, ill treatment by foreign airlines, etcetera. In some cases, as a result of non availability of flights, the national teams used unsafe routes just to get to their destinations, thereby endangering their lives and wrecking their psyches ahead of crucial games. Whenever this shameful development occurs, it rubs off negatively on the image of Nigeria as giant of Africa in the comity of nations.
Once the spirit of players is dampened, it will definitely show in their performance of which turn out, poorly. With this strategic synergy between Air Peace and Nigerian Football Federation (NFF), it is a new dawn in the nation’s sports. Nigeria’s flag will be waved proudly at international fora as a result of new steam of motivation and vigor of inspiration that Air Peace has brought through this partnership. National teams can now be assured best of flight services with ultramodern brand new planes—Embraer 195-E2s, in Air Peace’s fleet.
There is a national pride when a country’s national team is not only airlifted to a major competition abroad, but it is done by an indigenous airline which is also one of its major sponsors. Imagine for a moment what happens to psychology of our national team members, upon landing in a foreign land for a major competition, and they are being given glorious welcome at the airport by beautiful amazons attired in Air Peace’s regalia—a replica of what transpired in Lagos during Nigeria/Liberia match—when gorgeous Air Peace hostesses ushered the players into the stadium.
It is like going for conquest having at the back of your mind that patriotic spirit as epitomized by Air Peace’s dazzling hostesses is solidly behind you. This is one of the strategies of victories in sports—being treated like a victor even before the competition begins. Before now, our national teams were given denigrating treatments undeserving of any team that worth its salt. If they were not complaining of inadequacy of jerseys, they would be distraught as a result of poor allowances.
Air Peace’s entry into the fray will definitely change the fortunes of our national teams. Funding for the teams will be increased by this synergy. Running cost—as expended in flights, will be reduced. Most importantly, the morale of the team members will be boosted. As a teenager in secondary school, I can still recall how my school’s football team used to be in high spirit, especially when we were going for a competition using our school buses.
We sang, shouted and rejoiced. The mood was electrifying. The euphoria was out of this world. It was not same, periodically when we hired buses to convey our teams to venues for major competitions. This is the childhood passion for sports Air Peace Airline has begun to recreate in our national teams via this partnership with Nigerian Football Federation (NFF). Having our biggest indigenous airline—the largest in West Africa, with all its paraphernalia, convey our national teams to competition is a huge morale booster.
Chief Allen Onyema’s unbridled patriotism did not start today. Before emergence of Air Peace, he has been human capacity builder, lover of the youths, peace maker, conflict manager cum neutralizer, and unapologetic nationalist. He preaches unity and love of country even when it is not politically correct to do so. His courageous role in resolving militancy in the Niger Delta, is a story many Nigerians are not yet acquainted with—and should be told comprehensively in a separate article, probably in the future.
His rescue mission in South Africa at the heat of xenophobic attacks of Nigerians living there, still resonates in the minds of Nigerians. Onyema had to abort his sleep after a busy day to be at the airport by 2am of the next day, just to make a soothing and inspiring speech to Super Eagles traveling to Cape Verde. He reminded them that the unity Nigerians still find in football was the last string holding us together. And that they should work hard to make it stronger by putting smiles on the faces of the nation’s football lovers.
He cemented his rousing speech with a promise of N20 million to the team if they won. And worked! Super Eagles triumphed over Cape Verde. Upon return to the country, Chief Allen Onyema redeemed his pledge to the team. This is the motivation national teams need now. And Allen Onyema is leading the pack of private sector titans in this regard to support our national teams—by extension, our youths. There is great potentials for Nigeria in sports if the right environment is enabled. This is exactly what Air Peace is orchestrating.
Some people might be insinuating what could be the motives behind Onyema’s zealous patriotism—very rare in our country today. Like Abraham Lincoln, Onyema has chosen not to ask of what Nigeria can do him but what he will do for Nigeria. He has repeatedly demonstrated this selfless spirit of patriotism in the past.
When a fledgling nation is pummeled by bankruptcy of patriotism and patriots, anyone that embodies this virtue becomes a subject of innuendoes and conjectures—even bile falsehood. One must not be nursing political ambition to engrave indelible footprints of legacies in uplifting his nationhood. Statesman does not need a political office to make a change.
History is fair to him. Chief Allen Onyema has done it before by pioneering amnesty for Niger Delta militants; of which resolved the protracted crisis and restored peace in the oil-rich region. He floated Air Peace Airline with sole aim of creating jobs and making Nigeria home to fastest growing indigenous airline in sub-Saharan Africa. He recreated that Nigeria-first spirit when he rescued stranded Nigerians abroad during Covid-19 pandemic.
Using platform of Air Peace, and strategic partnership with NFF, Chief Allen Onyema is set to redefine the nation’s sports as exemplified in the national teams. He is set to do it again. This is not about brand enhancement for Air Peace—or publicity stunt for Onyema; but a golden era of the national teams. It has given a new leaf of life to the nation’s sports development, especially football.
Chidiebere Nwobodo writes from Abuja