NFF Elections: Not time for mere politics — Fred Edorah

The real contest for the presidency of the Nigeria Football Federation, come September 20, appears to be between the incumbent President Amaju Pinnick and Aminu Maigari who had been there from 2010 to 2014.

Maigari had however been distant, after his tenure, from the struggles of Nigeria football against Chris Giwa and Sport Minister Solomon Dalung, even though his name is in the suits at the Jos courts.

Surprisingly, he re-emerged only recently when he wrote to disown the counsel contracted by the NFF, a move seen as calculated to pull the carpet from under their feet and weaken the NFF defence.

Stakeholders have wondered at Maigari’s decision to create more difficulties for the NFF instead of being part of the solution in support of his younger successors to strengthen the institution. That wonderment is answered by his curious bid to return as president. But question is, what would have been the fate of the election he now enters had he succeeded in the suspected conspiracy or had the current leadership not fought doggedly to sustain the institution?

Notwithstanding, Maigari sure has his regards in the Nigeria football family. Seen as amiable, his tenure witnessed a number of national teams successes. These include the victories of Super Eagles at the 2013 AFCON and the Golden Eaglets at the 2013 FIFA U17 World Cup, second place finish of the Falconets at the Germany 2014 U20 Women World Cup and Super Falcons return to win the women AFCON.

There were also failures including, amongst others, the non-qualification of both the male and female teams to the 2011 All Africa Games and London 2012 Olympic Games, absence of the Super Eagles at the Gabon 2012 AFCON, the weak start to the AFCON 2015 qualifiers which left the Super Eagles with one point from possible six, culminating in their eventual elimination.

In comparison, the Pinnick team, albeit with the Giwa distractions and Dalung’s hostilities, also recorded U23 bronze finish at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Super Falcons back to back victory at both the Namibia 2014 and Cameroon 2016 Women AFCON, return of both the male and female teams to the All Africa Games with a bronze finish for the men in Brazzaville 2015, the Super Eagles qualification for the 2018 World Cup without the hitherto permutations after failing to qualify for the 2017 AFCON, and a second place finish at the Morocco 2018 CHAN, amongst others.

However, for now, the critical requirements for the rebirth of Nigeria football go beyond the pitch. What the NFF needs today is a leadership with strong vision, creative resourcefulness, youthful energy, diplomatic skills and corporate suave to build financial stability, strengthen its independence, and assert itself locally and internationally to enable it pursue the fundamental technical development programmes.

The stakes are somewhat different and high now. The focal points for development have shifted considerably and, respectfully, it is difficult to see how Maigari can apply at this time.

Curiously, he comes into the race with the burden of having been impeached for alleged financial impropriety and administrative arbitrariness, with accusations that he ran the Glass House with a cabal which alienated many of the board members, thus constraining team work and common purpose. The accusations, true or false, remain undischarged and just how that sits well with the new direction is a worry.

For very long, the critical issue with the NFF as an institution has been the wanton interference and disruptions of its proceedings, with successive leaderships – from Ibrahim Galadima to Sani Lulu to Maigari himself – embarrassed out of office at the whim of the sports establishment. This made easy because of their utter dependence on government subventions and intervention funds for operations.

As such, it was possible for then Sports Minister, Samaila Sambawa, to disband the Super Eagles at the Mali 2002 AFCON without a word by the NFF. They went into the competition without any fund to pay players bonuses, allowances and flight ticket refunds. The players kicked until the Sports Commission brought funds to them in Bamako, consequently took charge and fouled the team chemistry. That experience plagued Nigeria football for years, distorted the transition in the national team, leading to their failure to qualify for the Germany 2006 World Cup. Taiwo Ogunjobi was Secretary General at the time.

Fourteen years later, at the Brazil 2014 World Cup, the Super Eagles camp came into the same turmoil. Maigari and his men waited for Sports Minister Tammy Danagogo to fly $3m intervention fund to them in Brazil. While the sharing on the eve of the crucial second round game against France distracted the team, the control of the fund itself became a cause of dispute between the NFF and the ministry. This led to the interferences on the 2014 NFF election, throwing up the Chris Giwa situation which the Pinnick team inherited.

Not only have they succeeded, through domestic and international diplomacy, in building an understanding with the government and FIFA to protect the sanctity of the NFF, the Pinnick team have launched a reasonably successful marketing drive to unlock the revenue potentials of Nigeria football and now steadily guaranteeing its financial independence. These are imperative landmarks for the sustenance and efficiency of technical development programmes and projects necessary for on-pitch successes.

In demonstration of their acumen, they brought in new top rank sponsorships to not only raise the needed funds to prosecute the 2018 World Cup campaign, but also with sign ons for the various national teams for next three to five years. While such embarrassing defaults in players allowances, bonuses, flight refunds, travel difficulties and coaches’ salaries are now past tense, the Pinnick team bent backwards to raise funds to pay off salary backlogs owed several coaches of various national teams by previous boards.

Notable too, is the Aiteo sponsorship of the FA (Challenge) Cup which was without a sponsor for over a decade. The Aiteo deal comes with greater value with the establishment of Football Houses across the zones, six of which have been completed so far. The Football Houses are to serve as befitting centers for the effective coordination of football development down the grassroots.

Their functioning is expected to impact nationwide on the youth development programme designed to maintain a steady nurturing of young talents in the Under 13 and Under 15 Future Eagles Project. With Zenith Bank on the sponsorship, its success is already showing with about six of the youngsters featured in the Golden Eaglets squad to the U17 tournament in Niger Republic.

Side by side propelling the national teams and deepening youth and grassroots football is the need to expand the knowledge base of football officials, and the sponsorships have enabled the NFF to send Nigerian referees, coaches and administrators, at different times, to capacity building courses in the UK.

In contrast, the Maigari board didn’t seem to achieve much in marketing. Not only was it unable to attract reasonable sponsorships, it lost many of the sponsors it inherited from the previous Lulu regime, including kit sponsor, Adidas.

Adidas declined to renew the deal, quoted at about $7m as signed in March 2010, for reasons of the dwindled reputation, on and off the pitch, of the Super Eagles and the NFF itself, as well as the failure of the leadership to protect the sponsors benefits from ambush.

The Pinnick team have dexterously smarted from the Adidas disappointment to strike a new deal with Nike and, with a spot on re-branding, the Super Eagles became the toast of global football fans, eliciting the sales of over 3m Super Eagles jerseys ahead of the World Cup.

The conversation with Nike has now been elevated towards increased fee to the Super Eagles and the establishment of a Nike production factory in Nigeria. The aim is to create more jobs in pursuance of the vision of the new NFF to make football integrally contributive to the national GDP.

In achieving these feats, the Pinnick team deployed globally reputed service providers with cutting-edge technical know-hows and contacts, re-organised its governance to embrace global best practices in financial administration and submitted to personal and group integrity checks, all counting for the renewed confidence of local and international sponsorship brands.

It is especially interesting to see how the current NFF has played Nigeria into the heart of global football power base, with a number of our nationals commanding relevance in various key policy, organizational and technical decision making organs of CAF and FIFA. This movement led by President Pinnick only needs the support of true stakeholders to be sustained and advanced. To seek to dismantle the progression for reasons of raw politics or mere envy only draws the nation back and it will take years to recover lost grounds.

With a departure from cabalism, team work and unity of purpose among the principal officers, within the board and, indeed, with the congress, have aided the construction of the new architecture with which the NFF has attained these strides. The board and the congress have been seen to be pulling in the same direction in pursuit of a clear vision and standing together through challenging times like in the heat of the NFF crisis.

The central focus of their politics has been for the good of football, and not about the primordial sentiments of region, religion or ethnicity. With this, they have led the fight and dug deep towards rescuing Nigeria football from the inhibitions inflicted on previous regimes. With the NFF Bill now passed by both chambers of the National Assembly, awaiting harmonization and transmission to the President for assent, suffice to say they are steering the ship of Nigeria football towards a new lease of life.

Given this refreshing outlook, the coming elections can only be for the congress to consolidate on the stability of the NFF towards advancing the new order for which both fans, the organised private sector, the government, international brands and the political leadership of world and African continental football have found renewed hope on Nigerian football. To discountenance this and distract from the positive direction would only amount to taking one step forward and two steps backward.