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Nostalgia and the politics of the NFF Awards

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The class of 1994 Super Eagles at the NFF-AITEO Awards at the Eko Hotel, Lagos… on Monday.

Dressed in the best suits and evening gowns, the Nigeria Football Federation Awards ceremony on Monday night was a gathering of the who’s who in African football.

As the legends of the 1994 Super Eagles squad made a glorious entrance on to the Eko Hotel stage to receive commemorative orbs, the nostalgia of their feats from 25 years ago left everyone mushy.

A pace-setting team in international football for Nigeria, the 1994 squad built by Clemens Westerhof won the country’s second Africa Cup of Nations title in Tunisia and qualified for its first ever FIFA World Cup at the United States of America where it reached the Round of 16 playing a brand of football that was filled with swagger leaving many mesmerized.

Now aged yet sprightly, 14 members of the squad attended the awards while the deceased Rasheed Yekini was represented by his daughter as the memories of their achievements rolled on a large screen that made for a very emotive moment. Four other members of the collective have sadly also passed away: Stephen Keshi, Thompson Oliha, Uche Okafor and Wilfred Agbonavbare.

The 2018 Player of the Year awards went to Super Falcons defender Onome Ebi and Super Eagles forward Ahmed Musa in the women and men’s category respectively.

Anam Imo and Samuel Chukwueze won in the Young Player of the Year categories. Enugu Rangers’ coach Gbenga Ogunbote received the men’s coach of the year title while self-effacing Super Falcons coach, Thomas Dennerby praised the local coaches whose work it is to discover female footballers ensure he has an easier task when he picked up his women’s coach of the year award.

Much more than the awards were the political underpinnings of the organization of the ceremony. Known for his political sagaciousness, NFF President Amaju Pinnick was in his best elements on the night as he played host to the incoming governors of Lagos and Kwara states, Babajide Sanwoolu and Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq as well as the Governor of Abia State, Okezie Ikpeazu and the Deputy Governor of Edo State, Phillip Shaibu.

In attendance on the football politics front was FIFA Secretary General, Senegal’s Fatma Samoura who was bestowed with the Order of Merit Award. Last year it was her boss, FIFA President Gianni Infantino, who received the Platinum Award.

Also at the event were 18 football association presidents from across the continent, five of them members of the CAF Executive Committee – Danny Jordaan (South Africa), Aisha Johansen (Sierra Leone), Moses Magogo (Uganda) Suleiman Waberi (Djibouti) and Sita Sangare (Burkina Faso).

Pinnick gave each of them an opportunity to eulogize the work of Ms Samoura, the highest ranking African at FIFA HQ in Zurich.

While providing a new voice for women in the sport’s boardroom, she has been instrumental in giving Africa greater representation at FIFA.

CAF President Ahmad attended the awards in April 2018, but he was conspicuously absent this year and no mention was made of him. The gathering of almost 20 members of the African football leadership in Lagos a year ahead of the next presidential elections creates a tasteful image of what the future holds for the organization.

Mr Pinnick has never hidden his ambitions. He wants to see Nigeria play a bigger role at CAF and FIFA and looks to be setting himself up nicely. He was the person who orchestrated the rise of Ahmad to the office against the long-serving incumbent, Issa Hayatou in 2017.

A so-called G-17 movement was birthed at the 2016 FIFA Congress in Mexico where he gathered a group of African FA chiefs that eventually led to the ousting of Hayatou a year later in Addis Ababa.

Pinnick has since become a powerful force in African football. He became First Vice President at CAF after the bribery allegations that led to the fall of Ghana’s Kwesi Nyantakyi in 2018 and he presides over the powerful AFCON Organising Committee.

While he has his eyes on a bigger role in African and global football, it is at home that Pinnick must seek to improve things.

Despite the high financial investments in the NFF from sponsors over the last two years, including AITEO that now contributes a declared 30 per cent funding of the federation’s activities, football domestically is still struggling for air.

After a protracted crisis following his leadership tussle with Chris Giwa that left the domestic league in limbo, the NPFL remains off air.

A deal with an American broadcaster fell through after lengthy negotiations. How to get the league back on TV should be one of the key tasks the federation sets for itself.

The national teams are in a good place with the Super Eagles returning to the AFCON for the first time since winning the 2013 title.

The Super Falcons are in camp and preparing for the World Cup in France while the Flying Eagles will also play at the U-20 World Cup in Poland after missing the last championship. It is the local league that needs to be on the top of the president’s table now seeing as he has one eye on conquering the world. We have to create a proper football structure locally that can enable footballers thrive and provide quality entertainment.

Charity should start at home.


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