By Fred Edoreh
While as President of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), successive leaderships of our sports establishment orchestrated multifarious attacks and media propaganda to frustrate and de-market Amaju Melvin Pinnick and had a section of football stakeholders constantly vilifying him.
The attacks ranged from various unfounded allegations, arranged harassment by several agencies, attempts to frustrate his bid into CAF and FIFA positions, to twice forcefully seizing the NFF secretariat to truncate and usurp his administration.
But, with his characteristic resilience and focus on vision, he kept on his mission of repositioning Nigerian football.
Did he deliver one 100 percent? Not at all. Not with some of the failures of the Super Eagles and other national teams to meet various expectations in a number of international competitions.
Yet, he won some, missed some and, in the process, posted significant achievements and paradigm shift in the management and administration of the federation.
While we rue the failure to qualify for the Qatar 2022 World Cup, the Super Eagles made it to the Russia 2018 World Cup; the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015, 2019 and 2023 in a row as well as the 2019 AFCON, in which the Super Eagles finished with a bronze, and the 2021 edition.
The successes of his tenure were as champions of the Chile 2015 FIFA U17 World Cup; bronze medallist at the Rio 2016 Olympic football event; champions at the 2014, 2016 and 2018 Women Africa Cup of Nations; the Senegal 2015 U23 and U20 Africa Cup of Nations; the 2018 WAFU U17 Championship; and the Rabat 2019, Women’s African Games football tournament at which the men’s team also had the silver.
There were also silver medals finish at the 2018 African Nations Championship; the 2017 and 2021 WAFU U17 Cup; the 2016 and 2018 Beach Soccer Africa Cup of Nations; and bronze in men’s football at the 2015 African Games.
Thus, despite the misimpression they sought to create about his person and tenure, through biased criticisms and unrestrained reactions to differences in perspectives or boardroom politics, the government saw through it all, knew better and has now been moved to confer on him the fourth highest national honours, Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic.
This was captured in the list of recipients of the 2023 Special National Honours and Awards approved by President Muhammadu Buhari before his handover.
Pinnick’s tenure was not an easy run but the government recognised his efforts in achieving financial self-reliance for the NFF through sponsorship marketing and partnership building with the private sector and brands, from zero to almost 80 percent, as confirmed by PricewaterhouseCoopers, a global leader in accounting and auditing.
This was most hallmarked not only by Pinnick’s ability to bring back ace kit company, Nike, to the sponsorship of Nigeria football, but the fact that the Super Eagles jersey for the 2018 FIFA World Cup broke world record in global demand and sales, thus putting the Nigerian national team in the hearts of global fans.
As reported then by CNBC, the American world leading cable network in business and market news:
“…you can find soccer fans worldwide proudly displaying their country’s jerseys — but you’d be hard-pressed to find a team kit as in demand as that of Nigeria’s Super Eagles…Prior to its official June 1 release date, Nike had already received 3 million pre-orders for the jersey…That sets a new pre-order record for an African team and even some of the biggest soccer clubs in the world. To put that into perspective, top-three soccer club Manchester United sold the most jerseys globally in 2016, with 2.85 million sales.”
Other partners and sponsors either sustained or sourced at the time include Nigerian Breweries, Air Peace, Cadbury, MTN, Emzor Pharmaceuticals, Aiteo, Coca-Cola, Revolution Plus and Premier Lotto.
This foresight, tenacity and achievements in sponsorship marketing relieved the government a great deal in the funding of national teams, especially in the face of challenging foreign exchange scenario.
The government also recognised how he lifted the name of the nation unto the high places of world football and, by extension, the comity of nations, by his doggedness and successes in ascending top positions in the Confederation of Africa Football and ultimately into the FIFA Council.
The benefit was not only to himself but ambssadorially to the nation, seeing how he lifted many other compatriots to various other positions and engagements in CAF and FIFA.
The beneficiaries include Justice Ayotunde Philips, member FIFA Ethics Adjudicatory Committee; A.U. Mustapha SAN, President, CAF Appeals Board; Malam Shehu Dikko, member, FIFA Stakeholders Committee/CAF Interclub Committee; Ibrahim Gusau, CAF Youth Committee and later CHAN Committee; Chisom Emeoke, member, CAF Women’s Football Committee; Felix Ayansi, member, CAF Interclub Committee; Mohammed Sanusi and Babagana Kachalla, CAF/FIFA Match Commissioners.
There are also Alex Mana, CAF Referees Committee; Samson Adamu, CAF Director of Competitions; Dr Christain Omeruo, CAF Head of Security, amongst others.
Worthy of mention also was the completion of the Sani Dankaro Football House which stands as a befitting corporate headquarter for Nigeria football, with a FIFA Goals project by its side.
In all these, even though there were provisions for transport and accommodation allowances for attending meetings and events in Abuja, it is on record that for the two tenures he served, he never accessed any of those for once, preferring to spend his own funds. This speaks to selflessness.
It is by this same selflessness that his charity, Brownhill Foundation, has supported and lifted over 1000 youths in education, skills development and empowerment, including its recent construction and donation of volleyball and basketball courts to his Alma Mater, Hussey College, Warri, and sister school, Government College, Ughelli.
The government saw, knew, recognised and has come to appreciate Pinnick and, as the holy books tell us, “those diligent in their works shall stand before kings” and “when men say there is a casting down, there will be a lifting up” for God saves the humble and innocent. So it was that all Haman’s hideous plots resulted in the glorification of Mordecai.
That is the story of Amaju Melvin Pinnick OFR.