By George Aluo
Football in Africa would come alive March 16 in Addis Ababa but this time not on the field of play, but in the board room, as the continent’s soccer buffs gather to elect a new leader for the Confederation of African Football (CAF).
Unlike in the last three decades in which Cameroon’s football juggernaut , Issa Hayatou has gone unchallenged, this time round he(Hayatou) is in for the mother of all battles as Madagascar’s Ahmed Ahmed backed by some progressives is ready to give him a fight.
One man that believes those trying to retire Hayatou need to be supported is Danladi Bako, a veteran Nigerian broadcaster cum sports administrator.
Bako, a former Director General of National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) in this exclusive interview insists it is time for Hayatou to go, even as he thumbed up Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) president, Amaju Pinnick for aligning with those trying to change the face of African football.
Enjoy the interview:
Sir, what is your take on the CAF election coming up this month in Addis Ababa?
Well, I think the position of the Federal Government of Nigeria as conveyed to the President of Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) by the honorable sports minister has been in order. The minister, Solomon Dalung has played advisory role on it and I would want to commend him for that. The minister has not dictated to the NFF what to do and I m happy about that non interference posture of the government.
Talking about the direction to go, a direction that would benefit Nigeria, I think that decision rests on the shoulders of the NFF president, Amaju Pinnick. From what Pinnick has done so far, I think the country’s interest is being put into consideration. I believe the candidacy of Ahmad Ahmad would be beneficial to the country in the long run. And this because for a long while as far back as 1988, some of us have been campaigning that Nigeria should have more men in CAF. I remember using my TV program Morning Ride to drive this. That time we had only SB Williams and Coach Onigbinde and Orok Oyo in CAF and FIFA. Then we fought and eventually, we had the likes of Kojo Williams, Mike Itemuagbor, Paul Bassey and Aisha Falode come into CAF. But the question to ask is what have these people contributed to football in Nigeria? What has Hayatou done for Nigerian football in the last 29 years? And for God’s sake anybody who has stayed 28 to 30 years in football in Africa, I think it is only expected that you give way and allow other people to take over from you. Unfortunately, Hayatou has not trained people or groomed the next generation of football administrators, so he is on the verge of being forced out. Hayatou did not prepare to hand over to anybody. President Mandela showed us how to do it. In fact I expected Hayatou five, ten years ago to say a CAF president must not have more than three terms. Now, FIFA presidency has a term limit. If FIFA presidency have a term limit, why should Hayatou be going for a fifth term in CAF. CAF should have a term limit of not more than three terms. Is Hayatou telling us that there are no good brains to drive African football. That is definitely not true. So, I think Hayatou should have gone long time ago , he should have nicely picked up two, three people, train them and hand over to them. May be he has trained one or two but those he trained got involved in scandals in FIFA and so they are banned right now. So, we have to look for an alternative, who do we bring up and now Ahmad Ahmad has turned out to be somebody who the NFF president thinks can carrry on, somebody who he thinks can work with Infantino and I think that is good for Nigeria. And remember the FIFA scribe was in Nigeria as a staff of the United Nation. So the NFF president must work with her and Infantino. We need to work with this term to help us move our football forward. I think this is what Amaju has done and I trust his judgment.
So, you are advocating term limit and other electoral reforms in CAF?
110 percent correct. I think these reforms must see some people taking a bow after some time. As you know there are some Nigerians like Hayatou who have been in CAF for over 15 years. General Oneya, Paul Bassey, etc and some former FA chairmen, ask me what have they added to Nigerian football. Nothing. Nothing I can point to. We don’t have referees , nothing. I make bold to say that the NBC when I was director general made sure that DSTV was compelled to include African football in their menu …that was one of the conditions with which we gave them licence. They have added value to Nigerian football. Nigerian football through DSTV is covered live. So if NBC can drive that ask me what those in CAF have done. President obasanjo gave me approval to give a radio licence to Brila FM based in Lagos. Those are major contributions that one can point at. Our men in CAF what have they done to uplift our football.
But Hayatou’s men believe the man has done a lot for Nigerian football.
I totally disagree with that. I was there when the late Pat Okpomo in 1986 was working on Hayatou when we came back from the Cup of Nations in CIV wher Cameroon beat us 3-1. I know what Hayatou did to Nigeria. The only thing Hayatou can point to as an achievement was getting Africa 5 World Cup slots. That’s all but in terms of Nigeria, nothing. I was SSA to Chief Jim Nwobodo when we gave Hayatou national honor of OFR . The late Abacha gave him that honor as a way of extending hands of fellowship to him after we boycotted the 1996 Nations Cup in South Africa. At the end of the day, I cant see what we benefitted from hayatou. All the monies that CAF makes where does it go to? I think even Hayatou was to be the best president after 29 years he should go. African football needs fresh blood and a new approach.
If Hayatou is beaten in Addis on March, what should be the way forward for African football?
Whether we like it or not, the way Hayatou has run African football is bad. He only barely missed not being fingered in the FIFA scandals that swept away Blatter and co. I have been on Morning Ride, Master Sports the two programs that I created and we always talked about how corrupt FIFA has been and I m delighted that we have been vindicated. And Hayatou can not claim he does not know anything about that. He is only lucky that the searchlight has not been on him, so let him quietly and nicely take a walk and go. There is no way that a Nigerian executive member of CAF would be involved in scandal, Blatter involved in scandal, only for Hayatou to remain a saint, so let him just thank his God and take a bow. But if he insists on contesting the election in Addis, he stands the risk of being humiliated. I pray he doesn’t, but if does, I wont sympathise with him. For the new people likely going to take over, they need to build new relationship, be transparent and humble. As for Amaju, I m happy at his relationship with the FIFA bigwigs. I m happy he is getting support from his board members and I m happy he has teamed up with Ahmad Ahmad. Back home, Nigerian football needs new brains, vibrant people who can take our football to the next level, Amaju should shop for people with new ideas that can do things differently.
Before we round up, do you see the Eagles landing in Russia for the 2018 World Cup?
Yes I do because I think Gernot Rohr has his thinking cap on. He has picked his players so far without sentiments. I believe the Cameroon that won Gabon 2017 AFCON are beatable. Once we beat them here, then the ticket is ours. I m confident we can do it. I think we have a good team. I can see young lads like Osimhen, Iheanacho, Iwobi, Leon Balogun, Moses Simon doing it for us. I m delighted we have players who are hungry to deliver and coach that wants to get result in Rohr. We will qualify for Russia 2018.
One problem with Nigerian football has been in fighting among football administrators.
That is one of the reasons they don’t get the kind of sponsorship they need. Let me start by saying that our sports minister should play the role of a father figure. Every conflict can be resolved amicably. The NFF needs a good negotiator. I was SSA to Jim Nwobodo and I know how he resolved conflicts. The NFF need people that can talk to them .
The late MKO Abiola did that a lot. We need elderly people around the system. Way back, it used to be John Ojidoh, it used to be Raheem Adejumo, it used to be Akinwumi…people high up there that can talk to those running our football. We need people outside the system that can bring them together and talk to them and ensure there is peace in our football. It also requires the NFF leadership to be humble. Amaju has to learn to be humble. When you are a leader, you must be prepared to take all manner of bashing. People will abuse you and all that but you will remain calm and let your action and performances speak for you.