By Segun Odegbami
Last Thursday night, Amaju Pinnick was an initial reluctant guest on The Sports Parliament, a weekly television show that I anchor on NTA alongside sports gurus drawn from a pool of 18 members that constitute the parliament. By the time the programme ended at midnight, he had become a happier man.
Unknown to him, the parliament had invited him, not to criticize, castigate, or even question him, but to, unsolicited, celebrate and recognize a man that had gone where no one else had in the history of football administration in Nigeria.
Personally, I had not seen, met or even spoken to him since we parted on the night of Nigeria’s last match at the 2018 World Cup in St. Petersburg, Russia.
How everyone harried, hurried and unceremoniously departed Russia after the match was the reason why I could not see him to thank him for giving me the opportunity of being an integral part of the NFF’s plans in Russia 2018.
He gave me direct access to the players and their technical crew, and made me one of the two unofficial motivators of the team, getting me to speak with the players before their last two matches in an attempt to inspire them to perform better.
Whilst everyone else scrambled out of Russia and out of the championship, Amaju Pinnick remained to complete his international assignment as member of the organizing committee of FIFA for the championship, playing the role of match commissioner in several of the matches after Nigeria’s exit. So, we did not meet again until last Thursday night.
On the show I had the opportunity to thank him publicly, live on television with 60 million Nigerians watching. After the programme, I urged him to hang out with the Parliamentarians if only for a few minutes.
Our after-the-show outings every Thursday night have now become a ritual. Parliamentarians look forward to the pepper-soup, the chilled drinks and conversations, as much as they do the programme itself, one that is growing increasingly in popularity, impact and influence in Nigerian sports.
Last Thursday night’s show was special with Amaju appearing on the show.
No one knew I had arranged a special surprise for him, a testimony delivered live on the show via telephone of his humanity and philanthropy by one of the recipients of his generosity, 16-year-old Tosan Edukogho, a final-year student and now head boy of SOCA (Segun Odegbami International College and Sports Academy), who is enjoying his sixth year of full-academic scholarship offered by Amaju PInnick through his Foundation.
During the programme, Tosan joined us via telephone, acknowledged Amaju’s role in his life and thanked him. Amaju was on the verge of breaking down emotionally by the total unexpectedness of the whole thing but held himself back.
The evening’s show turned out to be an acknowledgment of Amaju Pinnick’s contribution and unprecedented accomplishments in football administration.
Without question, after his return for a second term as President of the Nigeria Football Federation, added to his election as First Vice President of CAF, the Confederation of African Football, and his automatic seat as member of FIFA’s Executive Committee, he now stands alone and atop the table of the most successful football administrators in Nigeria’s history.
After the show, he agreed and we took him along to our ‘after-programme joint’, a small beautiful lounge and eatery on Karimu Ikotun Street, on Victoria Island. The evening turned out to be a great experience for all.
Segun Agbede was right. Amaju is an interviewer’s delight. You only need to ask him a question and he will provide you with answers to all other unasked ones.
So, we gathered – Godwin Dudu-Orumen (the Encyclopedia), Segun Agbede (the Pundit), Onome Obrothe (the Maverick), Lookman Ogunwolu (the Bet master), Helen Odeleye (the Boss) and I (the Speaker) – around the best goat meat pepper soup, the chilliest drinks you can imagine, and exclusive insights you can’t find anywhere else, tastefully listed here:
(1) the ‘coup’ that ended the reign of former CAF President, Issa Hayatou through a coalition of presidents of English-speaking African countries that had suffered serious marginalization through the decades of Issa’s reign;
(2) friendship with the FIFA President following a very poor start when Amaju led an African group that did not even vote for the European during the FIFA Presidential elections, and how they eventually became best of friends notwithstanding the poor start;
(3) how some Nigerians had soiled the country’s reputation amongst the major international clothing sponsors through untoward conduct and behaviour best confined to the dustbins of history, and made marketing the country’s national teams to such sponsors very difficult;
(4) how despite that the NFF still secured the biggest sponsorship by Nike in African football history, and Nike’s design of the Nigerian kits for the national team winning global awards and acclaim;
(5) how a jinx was shattered and he was returned as President of the NFF for the first time in Nigeria’s history (before him no President had succeeded in returning to power);
(6) how the NFF is struggling to cope with the prohibitive cost of funding international football matches with each one involving the Super Eagles costing
between 250 and 300 Million Naira;
(7) what his administration is doing to reduce costs without compromising the quality of the welfare of the players;
(8) how the NFF is balancing its support for all the national teams;
(9) how the NFF has put in place adequate plans for preparation of the Super Eagles to win AFCON 2019;
(10) how the Falcons, the female national team, will also win the women’s Africa Cup of Nations this November;
(11) the formation of a Reforms Committee by the NFF, made up of experts and experienced administrators, whose recommendations will be sacrosanct and will become the ‘bible’ of Nigerian football going forward; and,
(12) gratitude to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for his unflinching support despite some frosty relationship with the sports ministry that he is hoping will be sorted out soon.
It was a very interesting evening.
Amaju is a restless man, always on the go, always in a hurry to complete tasks, always mentally stimulated by new ideas, and physically engaged in projects.
At every opportunity, he gives credit to the team of administrators around him, a tight-knit group, without whom, he says, he would never have succeeded. He mentions them by name also and lets everyone know their role in his success.
Amaju Pinnick is surely not a saint as several stakeholders would insist. The greatest charge against him is that he does not take everyone along before taking some decisions. He readily concedes to that because he is in a hurry to get things done.
He is well into partisan politics without being an active participant himself.
He speaks of his friendships with some key political leaders across the political divides, and, his success, coming from a different political clime than the government in power under whom he had served so meritoriously throughout his tenure, speaks for his political sagacity.
Finally, and in passing only, he mentions an ambition, his next project, which he commits to God and to faith when the right time comes: Amaju Pinnick intends to be the CAF President one day… soon.
That was the climax of a beautiful evening. Before we knew it, it was well past the first hour into a new day. The communion was complete.
It was vintage Amaju Pinnick at his social best, shorn of all the paraphernalia of his positions that make him, probably, the most powerful African in world football.
As he drove off, I remembered a question I had wanted to ask him. Beyond football administration he is also a tennis player, or pretends to be one.
In the past few years I have tried to get us to meet on the tennis court so I can trash him. My question was to ask when he would find the time to confront me on a tennis court, any tennis court, so we can settle that score.
I guess I still have a very long time to wait with his endless flying on working trips around the world.