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Benedict Peters, Ahmad Ahmad: Two leaders with one vision for African football

The partnership between Aiteo and CAF is sure to deepen football on the African continent, Bonny Kant writes.

When Ahmad Ahmad became the president of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) in May, he did something strange. He refused to accept a salary.

Another African from Nigeria, 5,205km away from Ahmad’s home country, Madagascar, is making his own sacrifice. His name is Benedict Peters, the Executive Vice Chairman of the Aiteo Group. Peters is bankrolling football projects in Nigeria and at the continental level.

Ahmad and Peters have a passion for football, and they believe that it is a sure bet to getting millions of young Africans engaged and liberated from some of the dangerous ills of the society.

Ahmad wants to bring back confidence in African football. While contesting for the CAF presidency in early 2017, he stated his vision for the continent, and part of it is his desire to promote inclusiveness, improve governance, increase transparency and develop African football by reinvestment.

Ahmad has not concealed his desire to reinvest CAF’s resources into the development of football across the continent. He stressed that “CAF is not here to make money to enrich itself.”

Convergence of visions

With the sealing of a sponsorship deal between Peter’s Aiteo Group and Ahmad’s CAF, there was some sort of convergence of goals between the two men.
Ahmad has found someone with a shared vision in the Energy company’s founder, Benedict Peters. These two men, head two different organizations, from two different African countries, and yet, have a joint vision to take African football to the next level.
Peters is regarded as the 17th richest man in Africa by Ventures Africa. He is sitting atop what many now regard as the largest indigenous petroleum company by output in Nigeria. Peters sees football as a veritable tool for change, unity and progress. He also sees the sport as challenged. Finance, and poor publicity on the continent has stalled to growth of many local leagues.

“Ask any young African if they are a football fan and they will surely say Yes,” he wrote for the Huffington Post recently. “But ask them which team they support and the answer is more likely to be Manchester United, Barcelona or Real Madrid, than Rivers Angels, Accra Hearts of Oak or Canon Yaoundé,” he added.

Benedict Peters has placed himself at the right spot to determine history and change this circumstance. For the past two years, the Aiteo Group has been investing heavily in football in Nigeria. A N2.5billion (About $7million) deal with the country’s football authorities eased the payment of salaries for the National team coach and other football officials. Aiteo also gave special bonuses to players of the National team, the Super Eagles, during their World Cup qualifiers.

The company also took over the sponsorship of the local federation cup, the oldest football tournament in the country. The competition has now been rebranded Aiteo Cup, and the prize money for the winners increased five-fold. The deal with CAF to sponsor the football awards, shows that Aiteo has stepped up its engagement in football from the National to the Continental level.

Ahmad’s ascension to CAF leadership was a surprise to many. The suave gentleman from Madagascar defeated a long-term sit-tight president, Issa Hayyatou in May 2017 in an unprecedented election. Hayattou had administered CAF with an iron fist for 29 years, and had often been elected unopposed.

In 2017 Ahmad emerged president by riding on the pedestal of change and promising administrative reform, financial transparency and a potential reorganisation of CAF competitions. It is therefore, not a coincidence that under his administration, the CAF Awards has a new sponsor.
Ahmad comes from Madagascar, also known as Malagasy Republic. The Indian Island nation is not known as one of the great footballing countries in Africa. It has never qualified for the FIFA World Cup, nor the Africa Cup of Nations. Of all the 7 presidents of CAF since inception, only Ahmad comes from a country that has never played in the Nations Cup.

Like Ahmad, Peters’ ascension to power, money and fame was not a straight path. He has his origin in Asaba, capital of the oil-rich Delta state in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region. It is a region that produces the bulk of the country’s oil wealth but has been devastated by oil spillage, infrastructural neglect, poverty and armed conflict.
Peters was born in December 1966, just a few months before the commencement of the Nigerian civil war; a brutal conflict that engulfed the South-Eastern and Niger Delta regions of the country.
The bitterness of the war continues today as many South-Easterners call for secession. Yet football is one of the things helping to heal the wounds. Peters emerged from all this to become one of the richest men in Africa.
Unlike Peters, Ahmad was a footballer and a politician. He played for Club des Finances de Antananarivo and AC Sotema Mahajanga, both in Madagascar in his younger days but was not ever selected for the national team.

After a brief career in coaching, he ventured into politics and later became one of the youngest ministers in his country when he was appointed Sports Minister at age 34. In 2003, he emerged the head of Madagascar’s Football Association(FA) and has remained so. He was later became the Vice president of the Malagasy Senate in 2015.

Similarly, Ahmad’s country has witnessed conflicts. In 2009, Ahmad was already at the helm of the Malagasy FA when Mayor of Antanarivo, Andry Rajoelina launched an assault to oust President Marc Ravalomanana, pushing the country into crisis.
Madagascar’s history of revolutions and counter-revolutions must have inspired Ahmad when he declared that he would bring change to African Football.
According to Peters, “more than anything, football crosses cultures and unites. If economic bridges can be built in trade; then cultural bridges can be built in sports.”

In January 2018, the CAF awards for African football will be held in Accra, Ghana. It will be the first CAF awards under the leadership of Ahmad, and the first to be sponsored by Peters’ Aiteo. They are two men from separate places in Africa but with similar visions for Africa. The cooperation between these two is expected to build the bridge that will unite Africa through football.

A sports analyst, Kant lives in Johannesburg, South Africa.


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