Why he is first among equals
Angels fly because they take themselves lightly. They do not think too much of themselves neither does the revered football administrator, Amaju Pinnick. He wears his badge of temperance and humility in the shape of a subtly hued bowtie thus affirming that he isn’t what many of his disparagers make him out to be.
Contrary to misconceptions about his character, Pinnick, according to sources close to him, is actually a modest, compassionate, accommodating and understanding man. His only shortcoming, if at all it could be considered as such, is his lack of tolerance for sycophancy, bribery or any form of corruption. It is often said that too much money destroys character, corrupts virtue, dishevels morals and feeds the vanities of its random possessors. Thus, too many possessors of the legal tender have been found to lose their humanity and souls to its enthralling caprices and vile. But Pinnick is remarkably different. The dark-hued gentleman, who is close to the filthy rich, the influential and the good, the bad and the ugly within and outside the shores of Nigeria, is immune to the wiles and ravages of money.
Unlike too many of his peers that have fallen to money’s devious charms, he is invulnerable and almost infallible to its terrifying charms. Despite his connection to the corridors of power and influence, Pinnick is hardly goaded to believe himself capable of feats otherwise unachievable if he were of modest means. He lives a life of modesty and does not subscribe to the usual vanities that eventually consume his contemporaries in the circuit of the wealthy. His generosity exceeds the bounds and understanding of human reasoning. Beneficiaries of his generosity enthuse about his large heart and capacity for compassion.
Blessed with the gift of presence, when Pinnick walks into a room, people sit up, straighten their ties or adjust their garbs, hold their breath and listen with rapt attention. And he dazzles with his graceful command, charm and candour. He enjoys the bequest of performance too, which often translates to rare excellence.
The moment he set foot in the Nigeria Football Federation as President in September 2014, he has imbued the office with unprecedented nobility and passion for excellence. Sheer passion and ambition are the threads running through Pinnick’s ascent to the pinnacle of African football and the threshold of world football politics. It is, conversely, these qualities that are threatening to be his greatest Achilles’ heel.
Within the last five years of his stewardship, Pinnick has evolved as a leading figure in global football; being appointed first as a member of the Organising Committee for FIFA Competitions (arguably the most important committee in the world football body) and later into the Confederation of African Football (CAF) Executive Committee in 2017. A few months after, he was appointed President of the African Cup of Nations. He would also become the First Vice President of CAF in September 2018. Perhaps because of his understanding of African football management, FIFA President, Gianni Infantino, always has him by his side.
More so, because while so many big names in African football administration fell to the tempting allure of the filthy lucre, Pinnick passed the FIFA Integrity Test (a rigorous check on an individual’s credibility and personal life) with flying colours. This got him the various appointments into FIFA and CAF. His stock also rose steeply following a surprise decision to abstain from the race to succeed Kwesi Nyantakyi on the FIFA Council, instead, allowing other qualified FA chiefs in Africa to battle for the slot.
On the continent, he is revered for his interventions in enthroning a more transparent and better run CAF, and still being applauded and appreciated for being front and centre of the removal of former CAF president, Issa Hayatou who had spent almost three decades in the saddle and was adamant on remaining in office. If he wanted at the time, Pinnick would have become CAF president but he put Malagasy football administrator, Ahmad Ahmad, forward, at great personal risks. Ahmad, who has been president since 2017, has, according to sources, been an abysmal failure and embarrassment to football globally. Pinnick is reportedly regretting supporting Ahmad but he is consoled by the fact that he championed the course of change in CAF
Back home, the NFF dependence on government for funding reportedly reduced by 60 per cent and according to the Delta-born administrator, his target before leaving office is to make the NFF self-sufficient. Indeed, funding has been the greatest challenge of previous NFF administrations. While the situation is not totally different for Pinnick, he has devised ingenious ways of sourcing for funds. He brought in AITEO Energy Resources Limited, Nigeria’s leading energy solutions company, as Official Optimum Partner of the NFF which shelled out the money to pay salaries of coaches. In the first tranche, even coaches that were owed by previous NFF administrations were paid. The company then took up the sponsorship of the oldest football competition in the land – previously known by various names such as FA Cup, Challenge Cup and Federation Cup.
Today, the AITEO Cup is an integral part of the NFF Calendar. Before AITEO, the Pinnick-led NFF Board secured a partnership deal with ZENITH International Bank for capacity building for administrators, youth development programme and payment of Super Eagles’ Head Coach. And on the eve of the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification, two partnership agreements were signed in one day with Tropical General Investments (TGI) Group as Official Food Sponsor of the Super Eagles, and PayPorte Global Systems Limited, as Official Online Store of the NFF. Coca-Cola also teamed up with Nigerian Football on a five-year agreement, which made Coca-Cola the ‘Official Soft Drink of the National Teams’. Months later, the NFF signed more endearing agreements; first with Nigerian Breweries PLC – a five-year deal worth N2.2 Billion and which made Star Lager the ‘Official Alcoholic Beverage of the Super Eagles’; and Amstel Malta the ‘Official Malt Drink of the NFF and the National Teams. There is also a partnership deal with Cadbury Nigeria PLC which makes Tom Tom the ‘Official Candy of the Super Eagles.’ WAPIC Insurance PLC is the Official Insurance Company of the NFF and the National Team while Emzor Pharmaceuticals has been retained with another long–term contract.
In December 2017, a two-day workshop to fully connect the NFF to the FIFA Connect system of registration of football players and officials was held in Abuja. FIFA Connect is the centralized portal for the registration of football players and other stakeholders. Following its full integration, Nigeria became the first African country to be on FIFA Connect.
The Pinnick administration has also concentrated on enhancing the capacity of administrators, referees and coaches. About two dozen referees went for refresher programs in the United Kingdom in December 2014, and about the same number took their turn in February 2015. Another capacity-enhancing program took nearly 30 administrators to London in December 2015. Some coaches were specially trained in the world-renowned Pro-Zone software to enhance the performance of Nigerian teams in international competitions. Thanks to Pinnick, too, there have been a range of FIFA-supported courses and workshops for coaches, referees and administrators in the country in the past four years. The CAF ‘A’ coaching course for home-grown coaches was a first of its kind and benefitted over 80 coaches with highly-experienced resource persons in attendance.
Under Pinnick, former Nigeria football stars have been highly considered for coaching positions with the various National Teams. Pinnick had so much confidence in former Eagles captain, Sunday Oliseh by appointing him Head Coach of the Super Eagles in July 2015 but the latter fell short of expectations by resigning abruptly. Former goalkeepers, Imama Amapakabo and Alloy Agu have been with the Super Eagles; Samson Siasia coached the U-23 boys; while Emmanuel Amuneke coached the U-17 and U-20 boys at different times. Manu Garba is the current coach of the U-17.
The women are not left out. Florence Omagbemi, Perpetua Nkwocha and Ann Chiejine worked with the Super Falcons at different times. According to Pinnick, “The NFF recognizes and appreciates the great efforts of our footballers who have done well locally and internationally for the glory of our country. They are the most important aspect in the game because, without them, there will be no NFF, FIFA, sponsors, fans and others. The NFF will be putting in place the NFF Foundation principally to look into the welfare of players.”
Not just that; he also set up the machinery to take care of retired footballers who are distressed. An example is Wilson Oruma who lost his fortune but has been assisted back to good health by Pinnick’s Brownhill Foundation. The foundation is his way of giving back to society. Those who know say that five per cent of earnings from his businesses is channelled to the foundation. Several students have been awarded scholarships and ex-sports personalities with health challenges have also benefited from this foundation. The legendary Segun Odegbami had to applaud Pinnick because some of the beneficiaries of the Foundation went through the Segun Odegbami’s Sports College in Ewekoro.
At the moment, Brownhill Foundation is rebuilding the football pitch, seating pavilions, classroom blocks, volleyball court and renovating the main administrative building in Hussey College, Warri, his alma mater.
Instructively, the Pinnick administration has already started the construction of mini-secretariats for the Football Associations in each of the 36 States and the FCT. The first round of the project has already been concluded in six states (selected from each of the country’s geo-political zones), and construction has commenced in the second tranche of six states. This was part of the significant add-ons agreed with AITEO.
When German giants, Adidas, refused to renew its agreement with the NFF following perceived failures of the previous administration to protect it from the ambush of rivals, and with Nigeria left with no choice than to be buying kits for its various National Teams, Pinnick reached out to his contacts and succeeded in bringing NIKE, another global player, into the fold. Following participation at the FIFA World Cup and the generally rising stock of Nigerian Football on and off the pitch, conversations moved to NIKE significantly improving the terms of the contract, and in November 2018, a robust, new contract was signed between the NFF and NIKE.
Typical of the Nigerian Pull-Him-Down syndrome, Pinnick would soon become a victim of his successes. At the early stage of his second tenure, his opponents, supported by the former sports minister, Solomon Dalung, attempted to forcibly gain control of the NFF but after the intervention of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Nigeria was spared a worldwide ban by FIFA. Not satisfied, the opponents again wanted to use the retirement of the World Cup fund to cause more confusion but again the presidency stepped into the matter and a fresh crisis was averted.
In May 2019, Nigeria’s Special Presidential Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property brought charges against Pinnick and other members of the NFF top brass over the alleged misappropriation of the $8.4 million (around R120 million) which FIFA paid Nigeria as a participation fee in the 2014 World Cup.
Pinnick maintained his innocence, claiming victimisation. According to him, “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.” The charges were, however, withdrawn by the Federal Government who had taken over the case from the Special Presidential Investigation Panel on Recovery of Public Property (SPIP).
It is interesting to note that despite all the allegations thrown against him and which have landed in court, Pinnick has always triumphed. Still, his detractors would not back off, preferring to distract him from his mission to put African football aright and in the right light. But Pinnick is seen by many as a child of destiny. And they have good grounds to believe so because he has survived both physical and spiritual attacks especially after his close shave with death after a firecracker accident that took out half of his face and had to be flown to London in an air ambulance in 2011 from Warri via Lagos. The legal attacks have also been unrelenting but he keeps surviving all.
A former Super Eagles player, Chikelue Iloenyeosi, recently advanced reasons why he believes Nigeria should celebrate Pinnick rather than pander to the orchestrated moves to bring his name into disrepute. Since his emergence as chairman, Iloenyeosi said Pinnick has been buffeted with allegations of all kinds in the media and public space, with some of the issues ending up in court. “He has been the victim of high-grade envy, intense political schemes and vendetta. Before I came close to the NFF, I was like the other armchair critics who saw nothing good in the federation and thought all they were doing there was sharing money,” the former defender said.
He added, “Since I started working with Mr. Pinnick, the NFF has never received up to N1 billion as allocation from the government. The money that comes from FIFA is about $1.2million, of which $700,000 is for infrastructure, with the rest broken into subheads like women football, youth development and leagues.
“When you place this side-by-side with the responsibilities of catering for 11 national teams, most of which are always competitively engaged, you begin to wonder where all the outlandish figures that some persons are bandying around town as having been embezzled came from.”
Iloenyeosi declared further that Pinnick and his team deserve kudos for their resourcefulness in getting some state governments to take the burden of sponsorship of some matches of the national teams as the Federal Government does not give monies for every match but intervenes only for critical tournaments like the Africa Cup of Nations and the FIFA World Cup. He continued, “For the 65 months that he has been NFF President, Mr. Pinnick has not received money for accommodation in Abuja, despite travelling to the city several times every month for official functions. His predecessor collected a tidy sum for this.”
A successful businessman before his love and passion for football took over, he is the chairman of the Brownhill Group UK with subsidiaries like Brownhill Investments Company Ltd, A Marine and Offshore Support Services Co, the Brownhill Investment Company Ltd, Brownhill Construction and Engineering Ltd, Brownhill Properties LTD, Brownhill Coliseum, Brownhill Events Incorporated and BrownHill Marine and Offshore support services
His journey to the NFF began after a four year-stint as Chairman, Delta State Football Association. Against all odds, he won the NFF election in 2014 despite being pitted against heavyweights like sports business mogul, Shehu Dikko, and former NFF Secretary-General, Taiwo Ogunjobi. Pinnick went on to name Dikko as second vice-president. “The plan is to make genuine reconciliatory moves. I will personally go to Jos to see and speak to Chris Giwa because we all need to come together for the sake of our country and football,” said Pinnick. It was the first sign that he was not at the NFF to wage petty wars against real or phantom enemies. He won re-election in September 2018 and has promised to focus on youth development programmes and reconciliation, build a sustainable football culture for Nigeria, and continue the great march towards ensuring financial independence for the NFF during his second tenure.