This will be my last piece on my FIFA election odyssey, an experience so brief but yet so rich and beautiful. I deliberately choose to look on the brighter side of that adventure, the side that celebrates the “audacity of faith’, that leaves the legacy of self belief in the capacity of our youths to dream big and be anything they choose to be by simply ‘daring’.
My philosophy teacher tells me ‘not to curse the darkness but to behold it, for underneath it is a hidden treasure’. I rest my case on that wise counsel.
Now let me look at the main issues of the entire project.
To start with, I knew that to become the president of FIFA was never going to be a stroll in the park. It would take tears, sweat and blood as we are already witnessing in the unfolding drama in FIFA.
Everything tells me that the drama of the 2016 FIFA Presidential election has not ended.
I was taken off the plane as it prepared for take off, left holding on to the straws of my ambition by those who were themselves not prepared to embark on the journey and would not let anyone else do so.
Short as my part was in the drama, it was a great experience whilst it lasted. I saw the resurgence and the celebration of hope in many people. It was going to be a blockbuster script of an adventure where Nigeria would have created unprecedented global excitement by daring to be the first black country in the world to climb the Everest of the politics of football administration.
A few months ago such an ambition would have been considered a heresy, but by the time of the deadline for submission of documents last week, Nigerians were brimming with determination and the winning spirit. All of that has come to naught, no thanks to a few persons that may have chosen parochial self-interest ahead of national interest.
I want to put the records straight for the purpose of history only. Everyone involved will confront their own demons, as they will reap abundantly from what they have sown, so say all the Holy Books. So, permit me to state some of the fundamental facts without going too deep into the details of all that transpired.
Sepp Blatter had just resigned five days after winning yet another re-election.
The stage was set for a massive purge of most of the executive members of FIFA following the unprecedented corruption scandal that had engulfed the organisation. There was an opportunity for Africa to produce the next president because what the situation demanded was a brand new, untainted leader with the right pedigree and credentials!
I took the bait and for the first time in my life I did all the preliminary political strategizing and background consultations. Most importantly I prayed for God’s guidance before embarking on the most challenging of journeys.
I was very aware of the several odds against me. To start with, I am not considered a friend by the NFF, because I do not belong to the system that has been controlling the strings of Nigerian sports since 1993 when Chief Alex Akinyele, without knowing the import of what he was doing, committed the gravest and greatest error in the history of Nigerian Sports by appointing a sole administrator for the Nigeria Football Association.
That innocuous decision eventually led to the financial asphyxiation of all the federations, transformed the NFA into a body that even the government that funds it could no longer control, converted FIFA into a monster that makes Nigerians to catch cold any time FIFA coughs. Nigeria has now inherited a 4-yearly ritual at its federation elections that would make the corruption scandal in FIFA look like child’s play.
Being a writer and a newspaper columnist compounds my own matter. You cannot be an honest critic and have many friends left in the football system. So, I am not many stakeholders' friend because of the views I express in my writings that would sooner or later not favour them.
That’s why I am not Amos Adamu’s friend in the true sense. That’s why he could come out, fresh from his global suspension, when he should have quietly lived his life without drawing too much attention to himself, and championed the cause of convincing former Governor Orji Uzor Kalu, to run for the FIFA presidency, and for all Nigerians to support him and not me.
He threw caution to the wind! Amos Adamu would never support me under any circumstance and I know that fact.
I am not Sepp Blatter’s or even Issa Hayatou’s favourite person in football. There has not been a more virulent critic of both men about their perpetual stay in office and their absolute control over national football federations with the awesome power of incumbency at their disposal.
In the case of Amaju Pinnick, I know he respects me a lot. Like so many others in the football system, he appreciates my humble contributions to football and, like the others, he would rather I stayed away with my ‘puritanical’ ways, and not stir up the dust of the activities in that agency of government.
So, against all these odds, my chances of getting a straight-forward nomination by the NFF were slim. What happened in the end, therefore, did not come as a complete surprise.
My only hope was based on the change mantra of the new political dispensation in the country of which I was a major actor in my community. I believed the reforms in all other sectors would infect sports enough to ensure that no one dared deal with sports issues with the impunity of the past.
I believed that the fear of PMB would affect attitudes in sports. I was wrong. Otherwise the shenanigans and rigmarole that went on in nominating me for the FIFA election would never have taken place.
The NFF President went on television several times and promoted Orji Kalu’s candidacy and suggested that the NFF were considering who to nominate between the two Nigerians that had applied for nomination. Orji Kalu issued a press release on the final day of submission of documents to FIFA, that he never indicated or applied for nomination.
So, why the seven-week charade about who the NFF would nominate? Not even once did they contact me or respond to my letter despite my public protestations.
Even at the last minute when they finally did on Thursday October 22, four days to the deadline for submission of documentation, they did not give me any nomination letter. They did nothing. The information was leaked to the press after Amaju called me, for the first time in seven weeks, to tell me that he was going to call his board members and convince them to nominate me.
The NFF were made to nominate me by the pressure coming from government when it got to know that the deadline was only two–working days away. Left to the NFF, they would never have responded, and as has been wont in sports since 1993, nothing would happen, no one will raise any issues, the victims of their inaction can go jump into the Atlantic and die!
With even more pressure from government, what did they still do? The letter addressed to FIFA and copied to my mailbox was sent to me at 2pm on the final day of submission, October 26, following my protestations to various persons in government and even outside it. At that point even if I was a magician, I could not have got five endorsements from 5 different countries in the 10 hours to midnight of the final day.
That Amaju volunteered to seek the endorsements, as good intentioned as that may be, was really to fulfill all righteousness, that the NFF did all it could to support me. He knew it could not be done, with the forces of opposition around him in Cairo – Issa Hayatou sitting and observing every African federation president, and the presence and influence of Amos Adamu, who had a preferred candidate, not me.
I stood no chance of getting any country to endorse me.
Whereas, the endorsements could have been done weeks earlier when I traversed the West African coast, spoke with several of my friends in CAF, and hired a European consultant to seek out fringe European countries that could accept me as an option to Michel Platini should he fail to be accredited.
What every federation president I spoke to wanted was a letter showing that the well-publicised but non-existent ‘crisis’ in Nigeria about whom the country was nominating had been resolved. Was it Orji Kalu, supported by the NFF publicly, or myself? No one would grant an endorsement when Nigeria had not nominated me, that was my dilemma.
Interestingly, as Amaju Pinnick was seeking endorsements for me on the final day in Cairo, Orji Kalu’s aides in Nigeria issued a press release stating that the former governor never applied for nomination from the NFF in the first place, and curiously, at the same time, was withdrawing from the FIFA race. He thanked all those that had had been clamouring for him to contest!
That is a statement that speaks volumes about the whole shenanigans that played out. Were Nigerians being taken for a ride by the NFF? Or what?
That’s why I believe that Nigerians must not allow this to go the way of old, where people in government just did whatever they wanted with impunity and got away with it.
Nigerians must look beyond the personalities involved and focus on what could have been lost through this impudent action – sending the wrong message to the youths that they cannot dare to dream, that individual interest supersedes national interest, and that we can forfeit our rights to take a decision for our own good to a foreign power for paltry economic patronage.
That’s why it is important that an enquiry be set up to look at the cause of this colossal wastage of a life-time opportunity that had no stakes attached, nothing to lose but a whole world of opportunity to gain.
The Federal government, the National Assembly, the National Sports Commission, must probe and investigate what really happened so that such would never repeat itself again.