The Sun Sports Per sonal it y for the Year 2015, A M AJU M EL VIN PINNICK speaks to the duo of Kunle Solaja and George Aluo on what propelled him to take the office of the President of the Nigeria Footbal l Federat ion, NFF.
He bares his mind on what The Sun Award means to him; His vision for Nigerian football; Problems & prospects and the business of running the football federation.
You have been voted the Sun Sports personality of the Year. What does this award mean to you?
PINNICK: It means quite a lot to me. Don’t forget we are in a country where a football administrator comes under heavy bashing everyday not because those bashing you have any hatred for you as a person but because of the intensity of the love they have for football.
So when you see a very reputable company like the Sun giving you an award, you cant but cherish it. In fact the morning I learnt of the award, I read a few things on line that got me very upset and pained. I even called my wife to tell her that I was going to do a re think over the NFF job because of the insult one was getting. She actually encouraged me not to allow stuffs like that bother me, only for me to board a flight and in the aircraft I opened the Sun newspapers I bought and saw my picture as one of the newspaper’s award winners. It lifted my spirit for the rest of the day, so the award means a lot to me.
What are your visions for Nigerian football moving forward?
PINNICK: I came into office as NFF president with a very clear vision of what I want to do and I must tell you that after one year in office myself and my colleagues on the board have started doing that. The first thing we have tried to do is how to re build the league which is the future of Nigerian football. We needed to get the fans back to our stadiums, we needed to train and re train our referees. My happiness is that the steps we are taking is beginning to have an immediate impact. Apart from doing well now in the domestic league, our referees are now getting international recognition. They are now being called to duty at the international scene. A Nigerian referee officiated in the final of African Beach Soccer competition. We are also training some of our coaches. Some of them were in England last year as part of our capacity building efforts. We are training them to be technically sound. We are using technology to prosecute our matches now. This is the trend now, I mean what is happening globally. This is the major factor in winning games now. A coach must be able to properly analyze a game. We have also acquired what is called the Pro Zone soft ware. Our focus is basically on capacity building and technology.
We are also looking at the grassroots . Our U-17 team, we are monitoring them very closely, we want to see the program being dangled at them by the various clubs. We don’t want the present U-17 that conquered the world in Chile to just come and go. A colleague of mine, a president of one of the European soccer federations told me in Chile that if we keep this Golden Eaglets together that we will win the World Cup in 2022. This is exactly what we intend to do. We went to Chile with players that are truly U-17, very young and energetic. Look at Iheanacho scoring a hat trick in Man City and doing very well. Look at Nwakali and Chukwueze moving over to Arsenal. A player like Ighalo is doing very well at Watford. He is still young, so we want a smooth transition. We will do our best to actualize this.
Our only challenge is that of funds, the economy is down and it is affecting our football. A friend of mine told me recently that I’m the most unfortunate NFF president. I came at a time when the game is facing serious challenge globally, talk about the crisis in FIFA, I came at a time when we face several court cases, going all the way to CAS, for nine months we were in court. We came at a time when there was a transition in government and as you know the new government needed to settle . We also came at a time when the economy is very, very poor to say the least. In spite of all these, we have resolved to forge ahead. It has given me a new vista on what to do. To re strategize in the area of marketing. We are now trying to unbundle some of our big sponsors to make them work under a consortium, we are doing all we can to attract more sponsors, but the truth is that the economy is not helping matters. Take a look at the Falcons, we were on the verge of concluding a sponsorship deal with a company that was to pick up the bills of a foreign coach for the team only for the company to say we should hold on be cause of the down turn in the economy.
One thing Nigerians must understand is that we cant win every tournament. England for instance is the home of football, but come to think of it, when last did England win a major soccer tournament. That was way back in 1966, but they don’t call for the head of those running their football. Here what we need is encouragement rather than being castigated when we fail to win. We have a total of 11 national teams and all of them call for equal attention and with the poor economy it is not easy to fund them.
We working towards achieving that goal and the goal is to make sure we qualify for every major tournament. And not just qualifying, but doing very well.
We didn’t do well at the just concluded CHAN 2016. And the focus has now shifted to AFCON 2017 qualifier and the Russia 2018 World Cup. Nigerians are worried ahead of these qualifiers, given the way Sunday Oliseh’s team has been playing. Are you scared we may not make it to Gabon and Russia?
PINNICK: First we must all acknowledge that African football has come of age. There are no more minnows in African football. Of the twenty teams that have qualified for the final round of the World Cup qualifier there is none you can dismiss as an upstart. Is it Gabon that has the African footballer of the year, or is it Equatorial Guinea that we saw play fine football when they co hosted AFCON with Gabon, is it DRC, or is it Cameroon? These are the twenty best in Africa. But what we have going for us is the passion, we have the talents and we also have a leadership that is planning ahead. I can tell you that while CHAN was going on in Rwanda, we had already started planning how to prosecute the crucial AFCON qualifier against Egypt in March. As we speak, we have gone round to sensitize the people in Kaduna for total support, we have gone to see the government and plead for her support and all that. Even if the match against Egypt is tomorrow we are ready in terms of logistics put on ground. We are very desirious of winning that game and doing the same in Cairo. Worst case scenario we take four points out of the two legged affairs. As I said, our target is the six points and It is doable given the caliber of players that we have. To me, once we put our acts together and get things right, there is no country in Africa we can’t overrun.
After the Warri elections that brought you in, we thought the crisis in our football has ended, but that is beginning to rear its ugly head again. How do you intend to handle the situation?
PINNICK: Let me start by disabusing the minds of Nigerians who were worried and rightly so when the sports minister, Solomon Dalong called for the peace parley in Abuja. The minister is a man who has no hidden agenda…he is an amazing personality that I can tell you. I have worked with the minister for like two months now and I have come to realize that he is radically different from others. He is a man that believes in fairness and justice. He called that meeting because he shouldn’t just throw a petition written by a group under the carpet. That does not suggest he wants to hand over the NFF to Giwa. Personally I feel the minister called that meeting in a bid to ensure that all stakeholders are on the same page. You know when Mandela was ruling South Africa, he said if we don’t give room for everybody to be part of us, then we are not human beings. I would want to describe the step taken by Dalong as adopting the Mandela principle. To me personally, everybody that has something to contribute to Nigerian football is welcome on board. We need to carry everybody along. Anybody that knows the antecedents of the sports minister will know that he is a man to be trusted.
For some time now, Nigeria has not been hosting any major international soccer competition. Are you thinking in that direction. Any plans to bid for one?
PINNICK: Yes, we are looking at that, but we are also looking at the economic situation.
But let me tell you and happily too that Nigeria will be hosting the African Beach Soccer Nation’s Cup this year in Lagos. CAF has seen the success of COPA Lagos and decided to give us the provisional hosting right. There are a lot of benefits that come with hosting such international meets, it’s just that it is too capital intensive .
One day, your tenure will be over. What would you like to be remembered for?
PINNICK: I would like to be remembered for the technological innovations we are bringing into the game. I would like to be remembered for the results we are getting. The laurels being won. I m also looking beyond laurels, like I said I would want to be remembered as a person who ended the era when we had to go and play games blindly. You can we that now, before we go for games, we do our analysis, make scientific permutations on how to counter your opponent. I want to be remembered for bringing a lot of innovations into Nigerian football.
What of in the area of marketing. This was an area in which you did very well back home in Delta.
PINNICK: Thank you very much…as a matter of fact, my vision is to take Nigerian football to a level where for the first time government will be isolated from funding our football activities. As I said earlier, we came at a very wrong time but we are still pursuing our strategy of taking the game to the corporate bodies for sponsorship. Our budget in a year is about 4 to 6 billion which I believe we can achieve if we have the enabling environment and support, especially from you , I mean our media friends. Once we are focused, we will get result. One thing that drives sponsors away is the bashing we get daily from the media. Just recently, a sponsor wanted to invest about 2 million dollars in the league with the LMC, but they have now reduced to just 300,000 dollars saying they want to watch what is going on, no thanks to the stories being churned out daily on crisis in NFF and all that. The sponsors said they thought all the fight in NFF is over. If we get support from the media I believe we can achieve getting 4 to 6 billion from sponsors. I m not saying nobody should investigate me, I m not saying we shouldn’t be transparent….we should. Football is big business and we should run it as that. If we do, we won’t be running to government every time for money. Government can then channel it’s money to other areas of need. The country is facing a lot of developmental challenges. We are not saying we shouldn’t be criticized, but such criticism should not be destructive. It is destructive to say NFF officials are thieves when we have not stolen a kobo. Look at the media in England, you hardly see them say anything negative about Team GB. They know that if business is booming for the FA , things will also boom for their tabloids.
Our clubs have not been doing well in the continent. Does this in anyway worry you?
PINNICK: Our approach has been wholistic. We are doing something in that direction. The root problem of our club football is that of ownership. Who are the owners of our clubs? State governments. Only few are privately owned. Virtually none is community based as we have in Europe. Look at what IfeanyiUbah is doing with his club. Bringing Brazilians here, going to Ghana for pre season. You can see it is being run as business. The same thing with Giwa FC. State governments on the other hand have to pay workers salaries, meet up with their electoral promises. So the first challenge is to see how to change the pattern of ownership. How do we get that done? It is to get the people involved. Take Enyimba for example, 20 percent of Enyimba can be owned by the Abia state government, while the people take 80 percent. That way the club can upgrade its facilities. Make the stadium people friendly, make it a destination where people can go. The club can then elect their own president. We are developing that template. A partnership template. Club Membership template. You can be a gold, silver of bronze card carrying member of a club which is renewable every year. Check out Ariaria market alone in Aba. If the traders there are card carrying members of Enyimba, the club will be swimming in millions. As card carrying member, you have express pass to the stadium. You have the club’s replica jersey and seasons ticket. Thank God recently I had the privilege of meeting with the chairman of the governors forum. I told what we are doing about this and he was very excited about it and he said he was going to call us for a meeting and then make a presentation. Once we are able to solve that problem our clubs will stand on a strong footing. If IfeanyiUbah for instance wins the league, he would want to conquer Africa and he has the financial capacity. State governments can put the kind of money a club needs to do well in Africa.
Nigerians have frowned at the recent decision of Congress that only its members can aspire to be on the board of NFF. Don’t you think that decision runs foul of the reforms now being preached by FIFA?
PINNICK: Well, don’t forget what congress said is basically what obtains even in FIFA and CAF. Nobody can come from anywhere to vie to be on CAF or FIFA executive. You must be coming from a football constituency as a stakeholder. Some kind of affinity with football, either as a referee, coach, sports journalist , club owner etc. Here at home, we are actually not trying to shut out anybody. We just felt that people should go through a process. At the end of the day, if the congress decides that they want to amend the process based on the feelings of stakeholders, why not. I m only one person in the congress. If congress decides to take a second look at that I won’t have any problem with that.
Back to your person, is being the president of NFF in anyway taking its toll on you?
PINNICK: It is, especially my young family. But what I m doing in NFF is something driven by passion. I love the game and since I didn’t play it I felt I should be part of its administration. And one thing I must say here is that my desire to run Nigerian football started right from when I was a kid. I had an uncle who was deep into football administration, the late Patrick Okpomo. Okpomo grew up in my father’s house, my father trained him. Though there is no biological relationship, Okpomo was like one of us. Till date his room is still there in our family house in Warri. As a kid, I was always following Okpomo to the stadium and when Okpomo became the NFF Secretary General I remember telling that one day I will be the chairman of the FA. So, that has been the feeling for me for a very long time. Okpomo mentored me. I have equally been close with the likes of Gen Oneya, Sanni Toro and Dr Adamu.
However, I m still focused on my business, my company is up and running. We are into oil, we do support services for oil companies. The truth is that you cannot come from my own area of this country and remain a poor man, once you know you onions because there is what you call local content which one can tap into. One thing we don’t do is getting ourselves involved in government contract . I m also lucky my wife is Ibo from Abia state. She is very creative and business minded. She has an events management outfit. So she is holding forth very well and running our business when I m not around to take charge because of my involvement in football. We are also diversifying, we are going into properties, agriculture- grass cutter farming. We are looking at doing things that will sustain the family. I have a family that I love so much. I have my lovely wife and my four lovely kids. My first son who is 14 is schooling in England and the other two are here in Lagos at St. Saviors, while the last baby is still to start school. My happiness is that what I m doing in football is not affecting our business because my wife is very competent. She is running our business as CEO perfectly well. The only thing is that I m always being away and not getting to stay with the kids the way I should. But I m enjoying what I m doing and my wife is giving me all the support. My desire is to change the face of football administration in the country. I know it is a game that unifies the country. You know whenever there is a football match involving the country, there is a natural seize fire from the Sambissa forest to the creeks.
Finally, can you let us into how you unwind?
PINNICK: What I try to do in all my homes is to make it a very comfortable place to be. As I said, I love my family, so what I do is to create time for us to watch movies together, time to go to the gym together, time to swim together, time to pray together. Apart from that I read a lot. I read extensively, in fact there is no book about the history of this country that I have not read. I have read all books about Nigeria. Don’t forget my first calling is Political Science and Public Administration. What I do is try to be with my family and creating leisure here at home. We are very well bonded.