Nigerian football battle: For Pinnick, the real war is still to come
That, one hopes, will be that. A Presidential directive for the rule of law to be enforced saw Chris Giwa, long-time claimant to the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) Presidency, ousted from the Glass House by operatives of the Department of State Security (DSS) last week.
The prayer among the majority of the nation’s football stakeholders is that it brings an end to a tiresome saga, the latest incarnation of a malaise that always seems to crop up every World Cup year. The cure for this strangely punctual confusion is almost always the threat of a ban by FIFA. It works like a charm every time, but it is frustrating that it always has to come to that.
Amaju Pinnick, the incumbent who enjoys the support of the world football governing body, can now breathe a little easier. However, he is not out of the woods just yet; on the horizon is the expiration of the tenure of this current board, which will lead to fresh elections in September.
Pinnick may have gotten out of this particular bind, but as NFF President, his track record is decidedly mixed.
There have been successes, most notably in the organisation and prosecution of the just-concluded World Cup in Russia. For the first time ever, there was no rancour whatsoever at the Mundial, no furore over salaries, allowances and bonuses, all thanks to some groundbreaking sponsorship agreements with the private sector.
There is also the ‘Future Eagles’ project, with a national under-15 side offering a sort of conveyor belt to churn out talent in a way that had not been done before.
However, the feeling persists that Pinnick has really only succeeded with the Super Eagles, and even that is hardly an unqualified success.
Nigeria failed to qualify for successive Africa Cup of Nations under his watch, a thing pretty much unheard of in the annals of Nigerian football.
There was also the whole debacle regarding vanished match balls ahead of a crucial qualifier against South Africa in Uyo, which was predictably lost 2-0.
That was a facepalm moment, no doubt, but it paled in comparison to the clerical failure which saw Nigeria docked points in World Cup qualifying for fielding a suspended player. To this day, no one within the NFF has received so much as a slap on the wrist for these shortcomings.
Move away from the senior men’s national team and the tales become less amusing and more shocking. The female national side, the Super Falcons, went an entire year without playing a single game back in 2017, after winning the Africa Women’s Cup of Nations the year before.
They then rebounded with a frankly absurd 8-0 friendly defeat to France, with Pinnick admitting in an interview with the BBC that his NFF let the team down.
The tale is even more gloomy when one moves down to the youth sides. Images emerged in June of the under-20 female national team, the Falconets, crammed into an 18-seat Toyota minibus, all 30 of them, some sitting on others.
The under-17 male team have had to manage amidst a shortage of balls, and both they and their under-20 counterparts continue to play matches in older edition Nike kits, while the rest of the world fawns over the Super Eagles eye-catching jerseys.
All of that is to point out just how much of an uphill climb it will be for Pinnick going forward, even with a great deal of goodwill from most of the public and local media. Unfortunately for him, the general population are not eligible to vote in the upcoming polls in two months’ time.
He will instead have to answer to his Executive Committee members, and concerns over his interpersonal and management skills will likely come to the fore once again. He might find then that getting commercial sponsorships – however lucrative they may be – don’t do much good when one gets down to the nitty-gritty of politics.
There has never been a two-term NFF President, ever. It seems now that the spectre of Chris Giwa has been staved off, Pinnick has only won the battle. The war, whether or not he has done enough to defy history and return as NFF head, is still to be decided.