BY KUNLE SOLAJA
Beyond the on-field results which speak volumes, the most noticeable situation in Nigerian football today is the relative peace and stability that the Nigerian football administration now enjoys.
It is a return to sanity, a far cry from the administrative chaos that pervaded the country’s football for over a decade. Almost since 2002, Nigerian football organisation had been bedevilled with internal strives that usually attracted global attention. On at least three instances, the country’s football governing body had been at brink of suspension apart from the actual short term suspension imposed in October 2010 and lifted just before a scheduled 2012 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Guinea.
Stability has returned. Great thanks to the man who declared that his candidacy at the September 30, 2014 election was propelled by passion and burning desire to serve. Amaju Melvin Pinnick, a relation of the famous Patrick Okpomo who is believed to be the most successful secretary general of the Nigerian football governing body, admitted that Okpomo was his mentor when he was growing up.
“At about age four, Uncle Pat took me to the National Stadium, Lagos for the first time. I remember one time telling him that I would one day be the head of football administration. I am glad that has come to past”, he remarked.
Pinnick, who becomes the first sports administrator to be honoured at the prestigious annual The Sun Awards, is recognised for chains of achievements within a short period in office. He is the brand custodian of seven national teams he superintends.
At 43 as at September 2014, he became the youngest man to mount the NFF saddle in recent time. Not just that, he is achieving successes within a very short time. Pinnick was barely 25 days old on the saddle when the Falconets won their ninth African title, defeating Cameroon 2-0 in the final in Namibia.
Five months later, another brand of the nine under his custody, the Flying Eagles won the African title for the seventh time in Senegal while the Dream Team also followed up at the same Stade Leopold Senghor in Dakar Senegal.
So within a space of 14 months, he has had two African titles and a world championship under his belt. Even though the Super Eagles missed qualification for 2015 African Nations Cup, it was a carryover of the problems from the preceding administration.
Pinnick brought forward the experiences he had garnered both in business and sports development into the advancement of the NFF. A University of Benin graduate of Political Science and Public Administration, Pinnick had attended many sports related conferences and seminars that are now imparting in his handling of football administration in the country.
A cardinal point in his campaign in 2014 was the creating of an atmosphere of stability and peace through various developed models. He also promised to reduce to appreciable level, litigation and cases involving the NFF.
There is now a far cry from the preceding administration when there was a riot of litigations. Within Aminu Maigari’s first 19 months in office, there were 24 cases pending in different courts. It is almost 17 months into Pinnick’s administration. There is relative peace and the various football leagues run smoothly.
The establishment of stability was well captured in his opening remark at the Annual General Assembly of the NFF last December in Abuja. “ … It has been a year of reconciliation. We have made efforts, most of which have been fruitful, in reconciling warring parties in several facets of Nigeria football: the Nigeria Football Supporters Club, Players’ Union, within and among leading football Clubs and between Governments and State Football Associations. The efforts are ongoing in several areas but we are glad at the strides we have made”.
In the year under review, Pinnick embarked on capacity building to reposition virtually every aspect of Nigerian football. Marketing took a pride of place as his administration was able to secure kitting deal with the world leading sports kits manufacturers, Nike, at a time global brands were reluctant to partner with the NFF.
“Our capacity building programs for referees and coaches have had tremendous positive impact on the League and the various national teams. Our referees now get appointed for various international assignments.
“Some friends, at home and abroad, have asked me recently the secret behind our teams scoring from dead-ball situations. I have refused to tell them. Of course, our investment in the PROZONE software is beginning to yield dividends. And without any gainsaying, the remarks of the Chairmen of State Football Associations who travelled to the United Kingdom for a four-day leadership summit show clearly that we are on the right path with our plans for truly developing the game from the grassroots, thereby building a sustainable football culture in our country”.
There were also several elite courses for referees, coaches and administrators last year. Those courses kept Nigeria’s leading lights in these fields up to speed with the demands at international level.
As an entrepreneur, Pinnick was the founder of Brownhill Investment Company and nurtured it from a single structure support service provider to a multi service provider in the oil industry. Prior to his becoming the NFF president, he had garnered experience as 2nd vice chairman of Delta Football Association in 1999, rising to be the first vice chairman in 2002 and becoming the chairman in 2005.
As chairman of Delta Football Association, his administration through 100% private sector initiative, built a state-of- the- art Delta FA Secretariat named after Patrick Okpomo. As the executive chairman of Delta Sports Commission, he led Delta to win two of the last three editions of the National Sports Commission and nurtured a formidable and sustainable structure that has ensured an almost dominant control of sports in the country. With the template already put on ground, Delta will remain the leading sports stars’ factory for the country in the next 10 years. The signs are clear. Virtually every leading athlete in the state has a back up star waiting to take over.
For instance, the celebrated Blessing Okagbare is already being trailed by Ese Brume who won the 2014 Commonwealth Games gold medal in Women’s Long Jump following the withdrawal of Blessing Okagbare who opted to concentrate on winning the medals in the sprints.
In the period Amaju headed sports administration in Delta; the state was the major supplier of sports personalities in Nigeria and was also the undisputed leader at successive National Sports Festivals. At the London 2012 Olympics, 12 of the 78-man team of Nigeria were from Delta State.
Of the 11 gold medals Nigeria won at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, six, more than half, were won by athletes from Delta State. Nigerians should therefore eagerly expect a massive transformation in the administration and development of football which is undoubtedly, the national sport.