AFTER SEVERAL WEEKS of the traditional turmoil, the long drawn 2014 election crisis in the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) finally reached a significant point with the election of Amaju Pinnick as the new president on Saturday, 30 September in Warri, Delta State.
(I choose to tag the election as “significant” rather than “conclusive” because, at the time of writing this, a court case was still pending in Jos and factional NFF president Chris Giwa’s camp were still threatening fire and brimstone. But, with minister of sport Tammy Danagogo -hitherto a Giwa faction backer – also a respondent to the charge of contempt of court for allowing the Warri elections to go on, logic suggests that the Giwa camp will soon fold up).
Pinnick, de facto sole administrator of sports in Delta State as chairman of both the State Football Association and the State Sports Commission, won a landslide victory in the second ballot of the FIFA-sanctioned NFF elections with 32 votes from 44, leaving his opponents to share the crumbs. Taiwo Ogunjobi, Dominic Iorfa, Amanze Uchegbulam and Mike Umeh were simply no match for the Pinnick juggernaut. Another aspirant, Shehu Dikko, could not even make it to the starting blocks and was disqualified.
Before the Warri vote, I had deliberately watched from the sidelines while the tupsy-turvy tussle for the control of Nigerian football lasted because I decided early on that writing on the subject was a waste of my time. The 2014 election crisis was no different from the 2010 and 2006 election crises during which I had written tons of articles in this column suggesting ways of breaking the logjams and preventing a future reoccurrence. This year, I was determined to not stress myself. I decided to “siddon look” and simply wait for the “Last Man Standing” to emerge from the rubble of the tussle. Out came Amaju Pinnick and I am ready to follow him as the new president of Nigerian football.
Admittedly, there are many questions about Pinnick’s election. Was he the best candidate for the job? Probably not, although that question itself is subjective. Was he the most popular amongst the contestants? Certainly not, never mind what some hypocritical voting members of the NFF Congress would say in the public. But, was Pinnick the most politically favoured candidate? The answer to that is a categorical “Yes.”
Let’s face it. The NFF elections have always been dictated by politics and it will always be. Even during military regimes and before the advent of the NFF Statutes, whoever was handpicked as “government candidate” from among the four government nominees into the Nigeria Football Association (NFA) board as it was called then, ultimately emerged as chairman.
With politicians now running the Nigerian polity, of course the NFF president’s office is bound to be influenced by politics, irrespective of what the football statutes say. Sometimes, it is tribal politics, regional politics, religion politics, party politics or money politics. The last two variants were decisive in Warri but I’m not going to criticize Pinnick for that. If the other contestants had any political advantage, I’m sure that they would have used it, too. Enough said.
What is important now is what Pinnick does with Nigerian football. Will he take us forward or backward? Still in his 40s, he is clearly the youngest president we have had in recent times and I hope his youthful zeal will mean fresh ideas coming into our football management and development.
My closest encounter with Pinnick was a couple of years back when he invited me as one of the resource persons at the Delta State Sports Summit in Asaba. On a human character index, Pinnick will fit in either as confident, very confident, over-confident, arrogant or brash, depending on who does the rating. However, my personal impression of him is that he is a “very confident” young man who must act with great wisdom and tact so that he doesn’t become over-confident or arrogant.
That taken care of, I feel that Pinnick will cope just fine as NFF president because he is very exposed, knowledgeable, experienced and an achiever as his records in charge of Delta State sports show. He is also cerebral and very, very articulate.
Most people who aspire to positions in the NFF and other government agencies have only one goal in mind: to enrich themselves, full stop! I am hopeful that Pinnick does not belong in that category because I know, from my visit to his home in Asaba, that he is financially comfortable.
By virtue of his position in Delta Sports, his free access to the state governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, and his own private business concerns, Pinnick is not a poor man who should be desperate for a financial breakthrough at the NFF. Unless greed overtakes him, which would be quite unfortunate and ruinous to him, he is comfortable enough to resist the urge to line his pockets with NFF money. He must therefore be content with the pride of his new position, and limit himself to the legitimate perks of the office which are quite numerous and generous anyway.
Pinnick must be credible in order to promote good business practices and to set a good example of accountability in the management of NFF funds. Officials taking extra good care of themselves and their circle of friends with funds entrusted in their care, while preaching patience and patriotism to footballers is one of the major problems with Nigerian football. Of course, there will be many hungry and greedy people around who will goad the new president on by telling him, “this is your time, enjoy it.” He must resist such sycophants.
However, the most important area where I hope Pinnick will make a marked difference as NFF president is in the marketing and sponsorship of Nigerian football. We may not win a FIFA Under-17 World Cup or another African Cup of Nations title during his four-year tenure. But if he succeeds in commercializing the game to a level where we become far less dependent on government funding, financial autonomy will ultimately lead to political autonomy for the NFF. The rancour that traditionally characterizes the NFF elections and general administration will become less pronounced and he may well become the first president to win a second term in office since tenured FA administration was stabilized in 1993.
My final word here is on Pinnick’s immediate predecessor Alhaji Aminu Maigari who was set to clinch a second term until spanners were thrown in his works. In my opinion, and I said so previously in this column, Maigari would have fully deserved another four years in office considering his overall performance and run of good results.
Although he didn’t eventually succeed, it will be on record that he put up a very good fight against supposedly “superior officials” who had “government approval to reorganize” (euphemism for ‘sack’) the NFF but lacked the tact, the clout and the right candidate to deliver the project without incurring a FIFA ban. That, in a nutshell, was what caused all the recent crises in our football.
In the end, Maigari sacrificed his personal ambition, but he became the king-maker for Pinnick and most members of the new NFF executive committee. Pinnick can go several steps further four years hence if he builds on Maigari’s legacy and delivers on his own mandate. After all, he is the Last Man Standing!
Keshi Walks Tight Rope
THE FIRST major assignment for Amaju Pinnick’s NFF executive committee is what to do with Super Eagles interim coach Stephen Keshi: To renew or not to renew his contract which expired after the 2014 FIFA World Cup?
I am probably one of Keshi’s staunchest supporters so I must be careful what I say so that his sworn enemies will not exploit it to their advantage. After he surprisingly won the Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa and followed it with a World Cup qualifying ticket last year, I suggested that his contract should be extended as a reward to encourage him to do more. At the World Cup in Brazil where he led Nigeria to the Round of 16 for the first time in 16 years, I still thought he did enough to deserve an automatic extension to his contract, despite a lot misgivings (mine inclusive) about his team selection.
However, the tide has changed dramatically against Keshi since he lost 3-2 to Congo in Calabar last month in our first qualifier for the 2015 Nations Cup finals in Morocco. It was Nigeria’s first competitive home defeat in 33 years. The subsequent goalless draw against South Africa in Cape Town has been a scant consolation. Not even the crisis that was ravaging the NFF at the time is accepted by many as justification for the Eagles poor performances. In fact, many Keshi critics say the crisis exposed the coach as the NFF was not on hand to cover his inadequacies.
A coach is probably as good as his last result and Keshi must admit that he is walking a tight rope as far as retaining his job is concerned. To start with, I think he has lost the financial bargaining power which he held before now and his team’s performances and results in the up-coming double-header with Sudan will be critical.
My suggestion is that both parties should suspend contract negotiations until after the Nations Cup qualifiers. Keshi should prove that he is still motivated for the job even after his recent successes while the NFF should decide whether it is willing to continue backing the coach’s methods. It will be unwise for the NFF to sign a long-term contract now and find itself bogged down by a hefty compensation if it is compelled to review Keshi’s position which will become untenable should he fail to qualify for the Nations Cup. Equally, Keshi must reassess his situation and decide whether he can work with the new NFF hierarchy.
What I will never subscribe to, though, is whittling down Keshi’s power to select his team as has been suggested in some quarters. I insist that the NFF technical committee is only an advisory body with no powers to interfere with the coach’s team selection, whether it is Keshi or anybody else. Only the coach, with inputs from his assistants, must select the team: that is the standard practice all over the world. But if you reckon that he is not doing the job well, you may sack him, not start dictating team sheets to him. I stand firmly by my position on this matter. Barka de Sallah.