Amaju Pinnick, the Nigeria Football Federation president, may have many shortcomings, but having a driving ambition will hardly be one of them.
The Warri-born football administrator has been on a meteoric rise – not only in Nigeria, but in the space of world football politics, and he has honed his sights on becoming just the eighth Confederation of African Football [CAF] president since 1957. For emphasis, no Nigerian has ever held the top post as the seven presidents have hailed from Sudan, Egypt, Ethiopia, Cameroon, and Madagascar.
Pinnick was one of a few voices that created the force that toppled Issa Hayatou after a 29-year reign that saw Madagascar’s Ahmad Ahmad installed as CAF president in 2017. Ahmad appointed Pinnick as his first Vice-President but they have since had a public falling out, which has seen both men turn into bitter adversaries. The result was the Nigerian sent packing from his CAF seat in July 2019, when Ahmad tersely revealed, “I’ve changed my cabinet.” With that statement, the battle lines were officially drawn.
Last week, it was revealed that Ahmad may have fallen foul of some FIFA rules, and he is very unlikely to return as CAF president with elections scheduled for March 2021 in Morocco. But time is ticking for the presidential contenders, who have to throw their hats in the ring as the deadline is November 12.
In an interview with in October, Pinnick disclosed he was consulting widely before making his pitch for CAF’s top seat as he also revealed he will not run for a third term as NFF president. “I have paid my dues; let someone else continue.”
Having paid his dues in helping Ahmad into the exalted position as the CAF top man, will Pinnick consider himself as a candidate for the top post? “Nigeria must be a global player – not only on the field but off the field as well,” Pinnick said, revealing why he wants to contest this top post.
“Nigeria must be up there,” Pinnick reiterated, pointing upwards] “in FIFA and in CAF – we must play a very integral role. When I go for my meetings [in CAF], people listen because I am a Nigerian.”
For two people who were very close [speaking up to eight to nine times a day] to now have a relationship so broken down that both are looking at the other as a treacherous fellow, Pinnick explained, “When you keep giving advice and at the end of the day, your advice is not being taken and you now see the repercussions.”
“If I wanted to be a yes-man, I will still be there, but will my conscience allow me? You want to live for posterity–today, everyone is talking about Nelson Mandela because he lived for posterity. Today, he is a reference point. Let Amaju Pinnick be a reference point tomorrow,” he added that the refrain may be, “hey, we don’t like him, but he says the truth.”
He then added, “I am still consulting but like I said, Nigeria must be a big player in FIFA and CAF. There are a lot of speculations I want to run for the presidency of CAF – I will not say no or yes. We are consulting and the consultations are going very well. There is a FIFA council position, which was the original plan.”
The Nigerian in Pinnick also made him reveal the underground agreement of some CAF members that the presidency should move from francophone to anglophone Africa. “The Arabs had it, for 34 years, it has been with the francophone so logically, it should come to the Anglophone.”
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Since Ahmad became CAF president in 2017, he has been at loggerheads with and sacked his general secretary, who reported him to FIFA, his finance director and his first vice president.Although Pinnick said he might support another person for the seat, the CAF representative from Liberia, Musa Bility, told Brila FM, “We’ll make sure Pinnick wins and I know Pinnick will beat him, so it’s an easy battle, because Ahmad knows Pinnick is capable of beating him.”
“I don’t have power over Pinnick running for the office,” Bility continued, “but he’s the right person to contest against Ahmad, just like Ahmad was the right person to push out Issa Hayatou.”
Ruling out Pinnick from snagging CAF’s top post next March will be an obtuse thought. Like they say in Nigeria, ‘Warri no dey carry last’ and the NFF president has history in overturning overwhelming odds. He did it in 2014 – overpowering more favoured candidates to become NFF president, though this CAF hurdle looks like a higher one but his opponents will do very well to accord him some respect.