In 2010, Amaju Pinnick’s rise to top leadership position in the football fraternity began during his time as the chair of the Delta State Sports Commission.
A year after he appointed chair of Delta State Football Association and in 2014, he was elected the President of the Nigeria Football Federation and was reelected for another four-year term in office in the NFF Elective Congress in Katsina in 2018, though mired in controversies that required the intervention of Department of State Security (DSS).
The 50-year-old football administrator in 2017 was appointed a member of the organizing committee for FIFA competitions as well as a member of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) Executive Committee.
The Warri born administrator had set his sights on becoming just the eighth CAF president since 1957 as no Nigerian has ever held the top post with the seven presidents coming from Sudan, Egypt, Ethiopia, Cameroon, and Madagascar.
It will be noted that Pinnick was one of a few voices that created the force that toppled Cameroonian top dog, Issa Hayatou after a 29-year reign that saw Madagascar’s Ahmad Ahmad installed as CAF president in 2017.
His meteoric rise continued when he was again appointed the President of AFCON in 2017 and became the First Vice President of the Confederation of African Football.
However, things fell apart for him the CAF President Ahmad Ahmad decided not to re-nominate him for as the First Vice President role, citing differences in focus and direction for CAF.
As he was battling to remain relevant in African football, he was equally fighting for survival on the home front with various allegations bordering on corrupt practices hanging on his neck.
In May 2019, Nigeria’s Special Presidential Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property brought charges against Pinnick, as well as other members of the NFF top brass, for the alleged misappropriation of the $8.4 million (around R120 million) FIFA paid Nigeria as a participation fee in FIFA World Cup 2014, as well as a failure to declare their assets.
Pinnick insisted he was innocent, claiming victimisation. “The motive for this media trial is purely destructive, it’s a deep-seated emotional, obsessional and delusional hatred. This is not the first time. We believe all the false allegations are aimed at destroying our credibility and what we’ve built,” he told news channel BBC Sport then.
Pinnick was also charged with not declaring his assets according to the Code of Conduct Bureau Act.
With the corruption cases taken off his head and fully aware he has lost his place on the continental level, Pinnick has decided to vie for a seat at the FIFA Executive Council which by all standards will guarantee him a seat at the table to decide on matters involving football worldwide, including Africa.
“For me, it has never been a matter of personal ambition. Always, it has been the passion for service and desire to change the old ways of things and embrace wholeheartedly the new and exciting, and more innovative and impactful ways.
“I fervently want to work with like minds and men of genuine calibre to restore the pride of the African, exorcise unflattering words like ‘laughing stock’ and ‘scandal’ and replace them, through hard work and enterprise, with ‘respect’ ‘probity’ and ‘transparency’.
“I have a burning desire to reconnect with the basic ideals of African football, reconnect with the authentic African values in a way that Africa’s legends who toiled to make Africa great in the game will be proud once more,” he said then.
His ambition for the FIFA seat has elicited different reactions from Nigerians with some supporting him despite his seemingly ‘failure’ at the home front while others vehemently oppose his ambitions.
It will be recalled that Pinnick recently visited the Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Sunday Dare thanking the Federal Government for all their support and pledged to be a good ambassador of Nigeria if elected into the FIFA Council.
Dare reiterated the need for Amaju to use his position and connections in CAF and FIFA to help promote and develop Nigeria and Africa football at all levels. He said he is happy to see Nigerians aspire to be among the very best in the world as that is the only way the country can have a say in the committee of football playing nations.
Speaking with Barrister Ikye Leo Igbokwe, a former official of the defunct Gabros FC, he said Pinnick should not be blamed for the failure in NFF but should be supported for the seat.
“He is the only Nigerian that is coming out. We don’t have any choice than to support him. If he doesn’t get there, I think Nigeria will be the biggest loser. At this point in time, we should not concentrate more on his performance but what he can be bring to the table at that level. There is no other alternative so we should go for him but his performance has not been satisfactory though he can’t take the blame for since there are other board members,” he said.
In the same vein, a former NFF chairman, Alhaji Ibrahim Galadima who was not so committal to his ambition is of the belief that the government should support him if he is found worthy to be the country’s ambassador in FIFA.
“Let me say as someone who has gone through a similar journey where people worked against me. Being ambitious is part of our lives and therefore, it’s not wrong for someone to aspire to be somewhere. I think what is important for the government of the day is to protect the interest of Nigeria as he will be our ambassador. If he gets there, I hope he will make amends and get back into people’s attention,” he said.
A former NFF, presidential candidate, Hon. Lumumba Dah Adeh said he is supporting Pinnick because Nigeria needs to be part of the decision making at the world level.
“Some people may not be satisfied with his performance at the NFF but for whatever it is worth, for a Nigerian to be at the world stage, the better for us. If the opportunity is there for him to move on, I support him totally because it will be at an advantage for Nigeria,” he said.
Adeh however advised him to conduct himself in a manner that he will not bring shame and dishonor to Nigeria.
However, the Chairman, Professional Footballers Association of Nigeria (PFAN) Board of Trustees, Jalla Harrison has categorically said he is not fit to be in the council seat.
“He is not fit for the seat. He is a tainted fellow. He will bring disgrace like he did in CAF. What value did he bring to Nigerian football in the last 7 years? I have written to FIFA challenging his position but they still cleared him. He is not the only Nigerian that we have.
“He still has corruption cases but I was shocked when he was cleared despite not appearing in court. Why would seek court injunctions to stop ICPC from prosecuting him? He should go and clear his name and that was the basis of my letter to FIFA.
In the same vein, a former Gombe Football Association president, Ahmed Shuaibu Gara Gombe said Pinnick would be exporting corruption to the FIFA Council while slamming the sports minister, Sunday Dare over his ambition.
“First and foremost, Pinnick does not deserve to be in the FIFA council. FIFA council is a global position and more influential than United Nations, so if the slot is for Nigeria, by now the government will have deployed resources for Nigeria to achieve just like in the cases of Ngozi Okonjo Iweala and Akinwunmi Adesina
“Recently, the minister made a statement that for a Nigerian to be in the FIFA council, it will be good and on the other hand, he said if Amaju is elected into the FIFA council, it will be a welcome development if he can work for Nigeria.
“All these statements are neither there nor there. The minister is being economical and non-categorical about the position of the government.
“If it is a Nigerian project, by now the FG could have issued a statement not through the minister of sports but by any of the presidential spokesperson. The statement from the minister simply says it is Amaju Pinnick’s personal project.
“But if it is a Nigerian project, then Amaju Pinnick is not the best candidate. Sending Pinnick to FIFA is like exporting corruption. There is no agency today that is not investigating him. He doesn’t have Nigeria interest at heart,” he asserted.