By Toyin Ibitoyin
My Presido, long time no see. I join our President, Muhammadu Buhari, in congratulating you on your election as a FIFA Council member.
This is a big feat in football administration. Getting into a unique group, made up of just 37 people at the highest level of decision making for the world’s most popular sport- football is a massive achievement.
Without doubt, this makes you one of the most influential and authoritative voices of the sport, not just in Nigeria and Africa but also globally.
Since knowing you, after a respected senior colleague and mentor, Onochie Anibeze introduced us about two decades ago, I can boldly reveal that your rise to the top has not surprised me although I must also admit I am pleasantly amazed at its speed.
My presido, I remember the days of little beginnings when you started out as just a member of the Delta State Football Association(DSFA), then became the vice chairman and later the chairman. You also got appointed as the Chairman of the Delta State Sports Commission(DSSC).
As chairman of DSFA, you made telling impact with the excellent organisation of the Delta State FA Cup, the enduring partnerships with the private sector for the State league and other grassroots football development programmes.
The Delta State FA had the reputation of hosting the best State FA Cup competition in Nigeria. The final was always broadcast live on Supersport. I witnessed some of these games live…infact, on many occasions other State FA chairmen would rather be at the Delta State FA Cup final than be at theirs.
And then, I stand to be corrected on this one, the DSFA became the first State FA to have its own football house, built without government funding. The house is called the Patrick Okpomo House.
Late Patrick Okpomo, a quintessential football brain, a former Secretary General of the Nigeria Football Association(NFA) was one of the earliest influences on your life. As your uncle, the late Okpomo inspired you and made you aspire to be an international sports administrator and steadily you are now living the dream.
It is believed in many quarters that Issa Hayatou, the former President of the Confederation of African Football(CAF) was an understudy to Patrick Okpomo before rising to the top of the African football ladder. Late Okpomo was very highly respected in FIFA and CAF. He must be proud of what you have become now.
Amaju, you are a good illustration of that wise saying that you become the company you keep.
You worked as Personal Assistant to the FIFA President Sepp Blatter in the build up to the 1999 World Youth Championship, now called the FIFA U20 World Cup, that Nigeria hosted.
What about the years spent on self development? The numerous international sports and football expos, seminars and conferences in different parts of the globe that you attended, helping you to build relationships with top sports personalities and stakeholders.
It is easy for some people to see you at the top today and assume it was all down to luck, chance, destiny or those you know but having interacted closely with you for many years I think you prepared and nurtured your luck.
There is no doubting your passion, drive, enthusiasm and determination. Sometimes, you are even ready to go it alone.
One of the most memorable moments of our interactions was in 2013 when Delta State hosted the Annual General Assembly(Congress) of the Nigeria Football Federation(NFF). You had confided in me several months before that you would want to be the chairman of the NFF Electoral Committee for the elective congress scheduled to hold a year later(2014). All you wanted to do was organize a free, fair election devoid of interference.
Immediately you informed me of this plan, I knew it would not fly because it would breach the FIFA Standard Electoral Code on the qualifications needed to be part of the Electoral Committee of its affiliates but I played along until the day you were indeed announced as the chairman of the committee.
On Sports Tonight, a highly analytical, no holds barred show that I anchored on Channels Television, I knocked your membership of the Electoral Committee, pointing to the relevant portions of the FIFA Standard Electoral Code that disqualified you. You felt betrayed by my actions because it led to your being dropped and replaced by another person.
The 2014 NFF elections were the most turbulent elections ever. There was so much confusion and lots of crises. Even a few weeks to it nobody knew what was in the offing. The problems were mounting, the permutations were changing on a daily basis. No body was sure of who was contesting as dark clouds hung over Nigerian football.
Presido, you did not even have any inkling that things would eventually work in your favour.
I dare say that if you had remained the Electoral Committee chairman as announced in Delta State during the 2013 NFF congress, the crises that engulfed our football after the 2014 World Cup may have consumed and knocked you out of the 2014 NFF elections eventually.
Sometimes, insisting on things being done the right way leads to greatness.
The story of your election into the CAF Executive Committee in 2017, the opposition from the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports, the backstabbing from some of your colleagues and the many risks undertaken are the tales for another day, same for the happenings at CAF mid 2019 when you fell out with the former CAF president Ahmad Ahmad.
With the benefit of hindsight, it now looks like the 2019 falling out was the best thing that happened to you. I salute your doggedness and ruggedness in weathering these storms.
But Amaju, let me sound some notes of caution.
Getting to the top is very tough, yet it is not as difficult as staying there. In less than seven years, you have worked your way right to the zenith, transforming from a State to National to Continental and then International figure. A lot of hardwork, determination and perseverance made it happen but one wrong move and all could be gone. Please be very careful….watch and pray.
I have read some comments from people talking about the FIFA or CAF presidency as the next step for you. Please don’t listen to them. It is an unhealthy idea, very premature, a terrible set up, a deadly ploy and trap. Please stay focused, totally committed and loyal to your present assignment.
As you may have observed, what opens the doors to bigger opportunities are how well present tasks and assignments are carried out. Be more service oriented than you have ever been.
Let your giant strides keep you more humble. Be magnanimous in victory. Never rub your successes in the faces of those who lost out of the process.
Now let me highlight some serious issues.
People are arguing about the benefits of your victory to Nigeria. Opinions are divided. Some say this is nothing but a personal victory for you, others believe Nigeria, will somehow, be the better for it. You have to decide which is true…Personal or National. I think it should be both. You must ensure that balance.
It should not just be about getting more Nigerians into key positions or committees in CAF and FIFA alone, it is also about laying enduring structures for the development of the game in Africa generally and Nigeria specifically.
It is expected that developmental projects and facilities will be drawn to Africa, and Nigeria will not be left behind in the scheme of things, although in a fair and legitimate manner.
Finally Amaju, let me conclude by revealing this weakness of yours. You cannot keep a secret. While this has both positive and negative effects, it is important you learn to keep a more deliberate watch over all you say henceforth. You are now an international influence, your every word carries weight and value. Do not drop them any how. Do not be caught off guard. Resist every temptation to be boastful or haughty.
If you take note of, and avoid, these pitfalls, I have no doubt you will not only succeed on this new assignment, you will climb higher.
Stay safe and stay blessed.
Toyin Ibitoyin, former Super Eagles spokesman