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ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigeria's national women's soccer team, the Super Falcons, demonstrated outside parliament on Wednesday to demand they receive unpaid bonuses for winning Africa's international championship an eighth time.
More than a dozen members of the football team, decked out in the national colours of green and white and bearing placards, protested outside the National Assembly in the capital Abuja together with their supporters.
The demonstrations came on the day President Muhammadu Buhari, who earlier in the month had tweeted his congratulations to the team, read to parliament a record spending plan for 2017. That budget aims to lift the ailing economy out of its first recession in 25 years.
"I'm not happy at all because these children are trying for our country," said Okpeke Lanre, a football fan at the protest.
"I'm pleading with the government to come to their aid to pay them their money so that this country can move forward," she said.
At the beginning of the month, the Nigerian team beat Cameroon 1-0 to take home their eighth women's Africa Cup of Nations.
Since they returned to Nigeria on Dec. 4, the players had been camped at a hotel in Abuja and have refused to leave until their demands are met, saying they were promised allowances and bonuses for winning but have yet to be paid.
The Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) said on its official website last week it would pay the Super Falcons, though it asked that the team understand "the money is not readily available at the moment".
"Severe economic challenges" prevented the payments being made, the often cash-strapped organisation said. The NFF added it had last year paid the Nigerian under-17 boys' club who won a world tournament and the Olympic men's soccer coach, after they had voiced dismay at not receiving money owed.
Despite the NFF's promises, the Super Falcons protested outside parliament on Wednesday.
"Leaders of Nigeria we are not asking to be celebrated but to be paid our entitlement. Pay us what we've worked for," wrote Super Falcons player Onome Ebi on her official Instagram account, alongside images of the demonstration.
"We are not animals but humans that sacrifice for our nation, all we seek is our right to be paid what we worked for," she said, asking whether the treatment is because they are women.
Reporting by Abraham Archiga and Sharon Ogunleye in Lagos; Writing by Paul Carsten; Editing by Alison Williams