By Patrick Omorodion
In the history of an election for the position of President of the Confederation of African Football, CAF, none has generated interest and or furore like the 2017 edition scheduled for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on March 16.
From February 10, 1957 when CAF was founded in Khartoum, Sudan till date, seven people have been presidents of the body with two actually in acting capacity. First president was Abdel Aziz Abdallah Salem from Egypt who was in power for just one year from 1957 to 1958. He was succeeded by another Egyptian, Abdul Aziz Moustafa who reigned for 10 years from 1958 to 1968.
A Sudanese, Abdel Halim Muhammad took over in 1968 and was in power till 1972 when Ethiopia’s Yidkatchew Tessema who reigned for 15 years and died in office in 1987 succeeded him.
The first acting president recorded in CAF’s history was a former president himself, Abdel Halim Muhammad who saw out the tenure of Tessema and handed over to Issa Hayatou from Cameroon in 1988. Hayatou has been president of CAF since that time except when he briefly allowed Sukelu Patel from Seychelles to act for him from 2015 to 2016. This could have been due to failing health and the 70 year ceiling placed on candidates for the position.
Insiders in CAF politics disclosed that Hayatou actually wanted to hand over to Dr Amos Adamu of Nigeria but the ban from football activities placed on the Nigerian punctured that move and Hayatou quickly appointed the Seychelles’ administrator, Patel as vice president, a non elective position. Patel acted briefly with Hayatou still in power, as I said earlier, to have a grasp of the politics of the body.
Fate however, smiled on Hayatou again when FIFA lifted the 70 years age limit for its presidents and CAF followed suit and Hayatou, I gathered, changed his mind from handing over to Patel and therefore opted to contest again, with the assurance that this 8th term would be his last.
Unfortunately for Hayatou, his fellow henchmen in FIFA, President Sepp Blatter and Vice President Jack Warner had been swept out of office following corruption charges and a new man, Gianni Infantino, whose election he worked against, came on Board.
Infantino, a new breed and younger administrator felt he wanted his own team in FIFA and so made his first surprise appointment of a woman and an African, Fatma Samba Diouf Samoura from Senegal, the first in the history of FIFA, as Secretary General of the world football governing body.
As at the time of her appointment, Samoura, 54, was working as the UN’s Resident/Humanitarian Co-ordinator and UNDP Resident representative in Nigeria. Naturally she was linked to Pinnick and from then, the trio, as it were, have been plotting to have a change in CAF.
Who will then be able to challenge Hayatou who, through his loyalists have changed the Statutes of CAF to state that only members of the Executive Committee can vie for the position of president.
With every Executive Committee member as Hayatou’s man, and who may have benefited from CAF politics in one way or the order from the Cameroonian, it was not expected that any of them would challenge Hayatou.
Thinking that the March 16, 2017 election was going to be a walkover for him as the sole candidate that would be returned unopposed, Hayatou may have gone to sleep, lowering his guard. He didn’t know the plan of the new FIFA president Infantino.
Shockingly for Hayatou and his cronies, the President of the Madagascar Football Association, a man that goes with just one name, Ahmad, threw his cap into the race, challenging Hayatou to the seat. Nobody ever thought about him as he was, before now, a silent member of the Executive Committee.
His name didn’t ring a bell until his emergence and so people, including the Nigerians in CAF who protested to Sports and Youth Development minister, Barrister Solomon Dalung about Pinnick’s open declaration that Nigeria would vote Ahmad at the election.
The minister quickly responded that Nigeria had not taken any position on the CAF election nor on who Nigeria would send into CAF as anybody doing so was doing it in his own capacity. This is despite the fact that the NFF had said Pinnick has been nominated to contest for the CAF seat, and nomination deadline had also passed.
After a meeting with the NFF Executive Committee, the minister declared that the country would back Pinnick in his election for the CAF seat while also giving him the authority to vote, in Nigeria’s interest, for the CAF president.
Pinnick’s haters were not done yet as they have been giving reasons why he should vote Hayatou and not Ahmad, claiming that they don’t even know Ahmad and he had not visited Nigeria to campaign. Ahmad responded with his visit to Nigeria during the week where he reiterated his reasons for challenging Hayatou.
For those who say they don’t know Ahmad, he is the Chairman of the Madagascar FA. He is also an Executive Committee member of CAF. If they say he was not known before now, they should also ask themselves how famous Hayatou was when he took the mantle of leadership in 1988.
Some say Madagascar is a small country and not a football power house. How strong in football is Switzerland that it produced the disgraced FIFA president, Blatter and has also produced the incumbent, Infantino.
When those in the CAF Executive Committee were afraid to challenge Hayatou, Ahmad stood up to be counted saying “I took (my decision) after hearing some federation presidents (say they) want change.” Will that change come on March 16? Time will tell.