By John Egbokhan
In the space of three years, President of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Amaju Pinnick has gone full circle in the ladder of football administration, that sees him now occupying a seat in the Executive Committee of the Confederation of African Football.
From his very humble beginning as vice-chairman of Delta State Football Association, the 47 years old Pinnick, has risen from grace to stardom, courtesy of his election into the all-powerful CAF body on Thursday in Addis Ababa.
Pinnick, a former Chairman of the Delta State Football Association and Delta State Sports Commission, first shot to national limelight in the early 2000s when he steered Delta State to emerge top of the medal table at the National Sports Festival.
Delta’s victory at Nigeria’s mini-version of the Olympics Games, came amidst stiff opposition from States like Edo, Rivers, Ogun and Lagos.
He also masterminded Delta’s victory at the 2009 festival in Kaduna, where against all odds, the Big Heart State retained its leadership position on the medal podium amid titanic battle from Edo and Ogun, two states, whose sports were then controlled by Brown Ebewele and Bukola Olopade respectively.
Having conquered all at the state level, Pinnick, who history has it was the first State FA chairman to oversee the construction of an ultra-modern complex for the Delta State Football Association, forayed into national football administration in 2014, when he joined the train to become the President of the NFF.
His entry into the August 30th election held in Asaba came at almost the 11th hour, following confirmation that the then incumbent President, Amani Maigari, who was under intense pressure, had opted out of the race.
It is on record that Pinnick, had in the days before Maigari’s withdrawal, openly campaigned for the latter to continue superintending over the administration of football in Nigeria. It was only after Maigari backed out that Pinnick jumped into the fray and against all odds, defeated other contestants like Taiwo Ogunjobi and Dominic Iofa in the election.
But no sooner had he started to settle down in the Glass House did his political adversaries start coming out with plots and schemes to frustrate his good efforts to take Nigerian football to new heights.
His detractors came in different shapes and colouration but their objective was to make life difficult for him to reshape Nigerian football for better performance. They instituted various law suits against his administration as critical times that the Super Eagles were bidding to qualify for the Nations Cup in 2015, which unfortunately Nigeria failed to reach.
The plan was that with poor results the Sports Ministry and Nigerians will rise against the Pinnick-led NFF but like a cat with nine lives, Pinnick withstood the tidal wave. Even another failed bid by the Eagles to qualify for this year’s Nations Cup, was still not enough to bring down his credibility rating as the same team, were doing well in the FIFA 2018 World Cup race, which by far is a bigger and more important tournament for Nigeria.
Buoyed by Eagles impressive run in the World Cup race, Pinnick threw his hat into the race to become a member of CAF Executive Committee, the highest decision making body in the continental football-ruling body.
He not only declared his interest but said he was going to vote for a change at the top of CAF,, pointing out that he was supporting Madagascar FA chief, Ahmad against Issa Hayatou.
“CAF needs a new generation of leadership, following the change at the top of the world governing body FIFA”, said Pinnick, who cited “post election differences between FIFA President Gianni Infantino and Hayatou, which are irreconcilable.”
Continuing, the Delta-born football administrator, who joins the late Orok Oyo and Amos Adamu as the other Nigerians to get into the CAF exco said: “You have to listen to a larger audience instead of just a tiny cabal, you have to know it goes beyond you. I will definitely work with him if he wins but my prayer is we need a bridge builder and that person is Ahmad.”
But surprisingly and rather alarmingly, this statement was met with smear campaign by some persons, who dubbed themselves as Nigerians in CAF, who described Pinnick’s quest as self-seeking and ill-timed.
The likes of General Dominic Oneya, Dr Amos Adamu, Amanze Uchegbulam, Sani Lulu Abdullahi, Aminu Maigari, Dr Bolaji Ojo-Oba, Paul Bassey, Aisha Falode and Barrister Chris Green petitioned the Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung to call Pinnick to order, noting that the Presidency of Issa Hayatou will serve Nigeria’s interests better than the unknown Malagasy Ahmad.
‘’We do not remember Mr Ahmad visiting Nigeria to solicit or canvass for votes nor do we have any record of Mr Ahmad’s pedigree in the running of football in Africa that would have led Mr Pinnick to dangerously throw all of Nigeria’s eggs in his basket. We stand dangerously threatened.
“The same cannot be said of CAF President Issa Hayatou, FIFA Senior Vice President, who overtime has been a pillar of support and true friend of Nigerian football and whose service to the round leather game cannot be disputed given the giant strides that football in the continent has taken especially in the areas of sponsorship and partnership, and the spread of the game to all nooks and corners of the continent’’, added the group in the well-circulated release..
And after getting wind of the goings-on, Dalung summoned a meeting with the NFF Exco, where a position on which candidate, Nigeria will support at the Match 16th poll. After hours of pitching by the contending parties, the Sports Minister mandated Pinnick to vote for his candidate of choice, a massive vote of confidence for the NFF president.
Despite this clear mandate, different shenanigans continued playing out, with new talk of the Minister directing Pinnick to consider regional interest, but Dalung’s media aide debunked such.
Loved abroad, it seemed rather shocking, that Pinnick was being undermined by his very kinsmen.
Having criss-crossed about 35 countries soliciting for votes, the NFF boss felt confident of emerging victorious against Anjorin Moucharafou from Benin Republic, who he floored by 32 to 17 votes, to secure a coveted seat in the CAF Exco.
It was also soothing that his candidate for the Presidency, Ahmad, upset longest-serving CAF President, Hayatou by 34 to 20 votes, justifying his change for African football slogan in the campaign days.
It is rather instructive that Pinnick fought a brave fight even when the dark clouds were hovering round him. He never for once allowed the schemes of his political opponents to distract him even as his NFF exco members, except Chris Green, stood firmly in support of their courageous President, who openly dared Hayatou, the supposed lion of Africa to an open contest and emerged unscathed, capping a remarkable rise from grace to stardom narrative for the NFF President.