Amaju Pinnick, the President of the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, must be a Magician.
In the midst of probably the poorest period in the history of Nigerian football he has managed to shine some bright light on it.
At a time when Nigeria’s football fortune is in free fall, with the national Under-20 team failing to qualify for the African Youth Championship, the Super Eagles failing twice to qualify for the African Cup of Nations and their global FIFA ranking plummeting to its lowest level ever, and with the rumour of his possible impeachment by some disgruntled board members floating in the air, the embattled president executes a perfect coup de grace. He successfully pulled the genie out of the bottle and delivered a masterstroke in football diplomacy!
Amaju did what no other Nigerian federation president in history had ever done. He brought the two most powerful personalities in global football to Nigeria and assembled 17 other African federation presidents to the party to join him in honouring the visitors.
He also successfully arranged, with the support of the Minister of Sports, that the august visitors meet with the President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, and extract an iota of interest in football matters from him. That, I assure you, is no mean, or easy feat.
Nigeria was not commissioning any notable football project. The country was not hosting any major international football event. The country was not bidding for, or proposing to, host any event.
So, in the absence of any of the above, how did Amaju now do it? How did he get the new FIFA President and the newly appointed Secretary General to leave the still-unfinished business of FIFA scandals and reforms in Zurich and to come to Nigeria on a social visit without a cause of major significance? Or am I missing something?
Days after the visit, I am still lost regarding what the visit was really about beyond the cloud of some political maneuvers that I sense could be the real reason. Could all this be connected to the several seats opening up both in CAF and in FIFA?
I digress a little.
It was heartwarming to find that a football matter could attract President Buhari’s comment, far from the several more challenging socio-economic and political issues in the country. He never says much, and, so, on the state of football, he said just enough to assure Nigerians that reforms in football administration in the country are also important in the re-engineering that his government is carrying on in the country at the moment.
The FIFA President also revealed, to everyone’s shock, when asked later by a journalist what FIFA was doing about the endless crisis in Nigerian football administration, that he was not aware before he came to Nigeria that there was an ongoing crisis in Nigerian football. It was unbelievable. FIFA is not aware of any crisis?
What about all the series of published letters emanating from the FIFA secretariat on the crisis? What about the threats of a ban by FIFA that often halted every attempt to right the wrongs in Nigerian football?
It was shocking to a lot of people but definitely not to those of us who always knew and had said it, over and over again, that FIFA never got involved in the internal affairs of its members unless when invited by its member federation to do so!
What this means is that every time FIFA had threatened to sanction Nigeria, it had been because the leadership of the federation had run to FIFA to report that a third party (usually the sports ministry or the law courts) was interfering in its internal affairs and needed protection. That’s when FIFA would issue a standard warning of a sanction! We invited them and invited the threats.
That’s a digression also, back to the FIFA president’s visit again.
The issue of the assembly of 17 African federation presidents ignites deeper inquiry. Beyond the courtesy of the visit, there must have been a bigger agenda for this uncommon assembly.
It was a friend that drew my attention to the elections for two vacant African slots in the FIFA Executive Committee coming up this November. For 17 out of 53 members in CAF to meet quietly and take a stand three months to the elections, is a great strategic move indeed.
It would be interesting to know who the wheeling and dealing would produce in the end with several persons even within the limited assembly that I know having their eyes on either of the two slots in FIFA. Of course the elections into the CAF Executive Committee will also be coming up, I believe, next year and zonal and sub-regional alliances are critical for the elections.
So, a meeting held in Abuja amongst 17 members wrapped around the visit of the President and Secretary General of FIFA is a great strategy and a very powerful statement indeed.
For whatever it is worth, Amaju Pinnick has played a good hand and must feel very proud that he was able to put all this together. How far this will take him in achieving his dream of a place either in the CAF Executive Committee, or/and a seat in FIFA, remains to be seen.
But for now he should be very pleased that he has developed political clout at the highest level of football administration.
Whilst congratulating him for executing this masterful diplomatic dribble, it is also important he does not take his eyes off the dwindling fortunes of Nigeria’s national teams. Without doing something about Nigerian football first and quickly, his path to his ambitions may not be as smooth and as sure as they would be were Nigerian football to be well and healthy.
Clearly though, the visit deflected attention from the decline in Nigerian football and allowed his star to pierce through the dark clouds and shine ever so briefly.
Well done Amaju, I wish you well.