For the first time in recent memory, Nigerians are not watching the on-going Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) football competition on terrestrial television. But DAVID ADUGE-ANI, Abuja, OLAOLU OLADAPO, Lagos; MIDAT JOSEPH, Kaduna, ALIYU YUSUF, Zaria, NNAMDI MBAWIKE, Enugu and ANAYO ONUKWUGHA, Port Harcourt report that the situation has translated to a windfall for cable television viewing centres and pubs across the country.
After missing out on the last edition of the competition jointly hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria is back with the elites of African soccer competing for the biggest football prize on the continent - the Africa Cup Of Nations.
Nigerians, though, are not watching the matches live on local television stations because the Broadcast Organisation of Nigeria (BON) apparently stonewalled the broadcast rights owners, LC2 of France, over the latter's 6 million euro (about N1. 24b) price tag for the live telecast of the matches in Nigeria.
This development, though, has not separated soccer-loving Nigerians from joining the party via cable television. To be sure, cable viewing centres and bars across the country are reaping bountifully out of the situation with the apparent upsurge of patronage of these small businesses nationwide. In fact owners of pubs in the country, especially in Abuja, are cashing in on this windfall to increase the prices of their alcoholic drinks, even pepper soups.
Viewing centre in the nation's commercial nerve centre are enjoying huge patronage as the matches of the AFCON group stage hot up. It was a rainy day last week Monday but ardent football supporters in Lagos defied the elements to watch the Super Eagles played a one-all draw with Burkina Faso.
Proprietor, Godbless Viewing Centre, Mr. Kunle Adetayo, said the "Good Lord" has been kind to him for the inability of BON to strike a deal with LC2 and secure the broadcast rights.
"I have been making money, since the competition started because people have been patronising us in large numbers." Adetayo who claimed to have graduated from the Lagos State University told LEADERSHIP WEEKEND at his viewing centre at Okikiola Street, Ikeja.
He said the upsurge in patronage has necessitated an extension of his makeshift tent to accommodate more viewers from the neigbourhood.
According to Adetayo, "our patronage has doubled just as profits since AFCON started. I thank God. I made the biggest sales ever since I started operating this centre the day Nigeria played Burkina Faso.
Adetayo added: "I hope to make more money throughout the competition. And since it has brought good fortune to me, I wish that the Super Eagles would continue to do well in the tournament so that I will keep making money."
Similarly, another viewing centre operator, Mr. Lekan Olatunji, said: "I recorded a huge patronage on Monday night during Nigeria versus Burkina Faso match. Nigerians were enthusiastic that the Super Eagles would win that match. I had to increase the entrance fee from the normal N70 to N100 per head. My viewing centre had the 300 seats completely paid for, unlike other days before the commencement of the AFCON 2013."
Viewing centres across Enugu state are having a field day too. Some of their operators who spoke with LEADERSHIP WEEKEND confirmed that they are reaping bumper harvest from the on-going AFCON.
LEADERSHIP WEEKEND gathered that the operators charge between N30 and N50 per match. One of the owners of the centers who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of anti-piracy officials said: "I make thousands of naira per match here. Our take also increases tremendously when Nigeria played."
But some Enugu residents have expressed dismay over their inability to watch Nigerian matches in the comfort of their homes.
Mr. Samuel Aniegbo, told LEADERSHIP WEEKEND that he was disappointed that Nigerian stations were not showing the AFCON matches despite the participation of the Super Eagles in the tournament.
He appealed to the government to step in and resolved the problem, saying: "It is not good that Nigerian television houses are not showing the matches".
Another Super Eagles Supporter and businessman, Mr Ikechukwu Ogbonna said the development was "quite sad and disappointing."
Operators of viewing centres and watering holes in the nation's capital have been smiling to the bank since the AFCON got underway, following an upsurge of patronage.
Mallam Danjuma Yakubu, who operates a viewing centre at Gwagwa in Abuja Municipal Area Council, said he has increased his gate fee for the AFCON matches.
He has also added extension to his viewing centre to accommodate more people, "yet the rate of patronage is still high."
Yakubu disclosed: "I paid N100,000 into my bank account, which I realised from people who watched the match between Nigeria and Burkina Faso last Monday."
Also, a garden operator at Jabi disclosed that since the AFCON started he has recorded high sales of beer and pepper soup. He added: "We thank God for this competition because it has really helped to increase patronage here every match day. We hope that BON would stick to its guns too in future to enable those of us in this make more money,"
But a football fan who declined to give his name told LEADERSHIP WEEKEND at a Wuse viewing centre that he would have preferred to watch the matches in the comfort of his home, instead of "overcrowded viewing centres. We all know the present insecurity situation in the country. It not safe for me to leave my house at this hour to come and be struggling with people here whom you don't even know to stay in a viewing centre like this. There is no security here, but we have to stay because we have no alternative."
Another football fan, Dim Mkpu, who was spotted in a viewing centre at Utako said: "It is pity that I cannot watch this competition from my home, unless I go to viewing centres. These centres are usually jam-packed and full of people of different characters.
And after the matches, one would then leave here to face terrible traffic going home. After the last match between Nigeria and Burkina Faso, the traffic congestion that built up was terrible."
While some Nigerians have lamented over the refusal BON to acquire the broadcast rights to the AFCON, owners of viewing centres in Kaduna are rejoicing over the development, as they enjoy good patronage. Food sellers are also enjoying patronage at these viewing centres as football fans patronise them more than before now. Akara, groundnut, and sugarcane are the favourite in the viewing centres across the "Crocodile City."
Proprietor of a viewing centre, Matthew Gwaza who spoke with LEADERSHIP WEEKEND in Sabo, said: "Though some people are not happy with the situation, I make more than N10,000 from every match."
According to him, "I charge 50 naira per individual and I been having more than 200 spectators at every match."
Also, Abdulkarim Bello, the proprietor of another viewing centre in Kawo said: "Business is moving. "I made good money from my centre as people come in large number to watch matches here and they pay any amount I charge."
But a football fan who gave his name as Anthony condemned the inability of BON and LC2 to agree on the broadcast right fee, saying: "The situation where Nigerians are not allow to watch their country plays through NTA, AIT, Channels and other broadcast stations is worrisome and embarrassing."
But Madam Gladys, a petty trader at a viewing centre in Barnawa said: "I am happy selling sugar cane here. The viewers come out at the half time to buy my sugar cane and I am making good sales."
A groundnut seller at another viewing centre, Alhassan, told LEADERSHIP WEEKEND: "I pay N50 naira per match to sell groundnut during matches, and the people here have been patronising me very well."
Football fans have been flocking to viewing centres in this university town to follow the Super Eagles at the AFCON. A manager at one of the centres on Makarfi Road, Tudun Wada area, Ahmed Mohamed, said the inability of local stations to show the matches had turned out to be good for his business.
"Although we have a capacity of 150 spectators, we do not get less than 200 football fans now, especially when the Super Eagles are playing. In fact crowd control and securing the property of viewers have become a major headache for us now because of the increase in patronage.
But Mohamed added: "I must confess that I am disappointed that the matches are not being shown on local television stations in Nigeria going by the status of Nigeria as the Giant of Africa in all ramification."
Also, Mallam Sale Garba a resident of Hanwa Village in Sabon-Gari and a football fan, said the broadcast feud was "uncalled for," adding that it should have been resolved "especially when countries like Madagascar, Guinea, Cameroon, Niger are busy televising the tournament to their citizens."
Residents of Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital and its environs have been struggling for seats at various drinking spots and other relaxation centres to enable them watch the on-going AFCON matches visits to some of the relaxation centres in Rumuola, Rumuigbo, Old GRA and Old Port Harcourt Township showed that football loving residents come out in their numbers every evening to patronise the drinking spots in order to watch the matches.
At The Tent, a relaxation centre located along Omoi-Orosi Road in Rumuigbo, a football fan Mr. Kingsley Williams, told LEADERSHIP WEEKEND that he had spent close to N30,000 on drinks alone since the AFCON started to enable him and his friends watch live matches at the drinking spot.
Williams said: "As you know, Nigeria did not get the right to televise live matches unlike before when we watch the matches on AIT and NTA. I have no other choice than to come to beer parlours like this to watch the matches.
"I am a lover of football and I can do anything to enable me watch all the group matches live. So far, I have spent close to N30,000 on drinks alone so that my friends and I can watch all the matches."
At The Brewery, a drinking spot located along Victoria Street in the Old Port Harcourt Town, the proprietor, Mr. Tamunosi Kalio said he had not increased the prices of drinks despite the increase in patronage due to the AFCON tournament.
However, Kalio said he had to procure additional chairs and tables as well as instruct his staff "to ensure that anyone that comes around here to watch the live matches must buys drinks."
Olaolu Oladipo, Anayo Onukwugha, Nnamdi Mbawike, Midat Joseph, David Aduge-Ani and Aliyu Yusuf