President of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) Amaju Melvin Pinnick has dismissed longstanding allegations of corruption and financial misappropriation leveled against him and other members of the Executive Committee of the Federation.
Speaking in a wide-ranging interview on a variety of issues on the syndicated radio show The Hangout on Metro FM and Bond FM in Lagos on Monday, Pinnick who is also the 1st Vice President of CAF and head of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) Organizing Committee, also touched on his expectations for Gernot Rohr and the Super Eagles at the 2019 AFCON and his often-rumored ambition to run for the presidency of continental football governing body, CAF.
ON CORRUPTION AND EMBEZZLEMENT ALLEGATIONS
Allegations of corruption and maladministration have been an ever-present cloud hanging over the NFF under Pinnick and on Monday, online news platform Premium Times published a long and detailed rehashing of the more damaging allegations against him and certain other members of the Executive Committee.
Responding to allegations that he diverted the sum of $650,000 originally meant for a friendly match against Bolivia in Uyo in 2015 but which never held, Pinnick who won reelection to his position in September last year explained that the money for the friendly didn’t come from FIFA or the Federal Government as had been alleged, but that he personally sought the funds from the governor of Akwa Ibom State at the time Godswill Akpabio.
Pinnick said the true reason the friendly didn’t hold as planned was that the Ebola crises plaguing the country at that time prevented Bolivia from traveling to Nigeria although “security concerns” were cited as the reason for calling off the encounter. According to Pinnick, Uganda was later secured as a late replacement and at the end of the match which was played on the 25th of March at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium Uyo and won by the Ugandans “we did plus and minus and the balance was given to the Akwa Ibom State government”.
“We were meant to play Bolivia and it was captured. That money was not given to us by FIFA it was given to us by the Akwa Ibom State government. I went to the Liaison office in Abuja to see Akpabio then the governor of Akwa Ibom State and he said let’s play Bolivia. But because there was Ebola in Nigeria, Bolivia didn’t want to come out to say it was Ebola, they cited security issues because it was the day after the national election that brought in [President Muhammadu Buhari]. We had about 4 days, so we called Uganda and they were very happy and they came to Akwa Ibom and they even defeated us there in Akwa Ibom. And we did plus and minus and the balance was given to the Akwa Ibom State government.”
ON GOVERNMENT FUNDING, NFF FINANCES, AND COST OF NFF CRISES
Part of the allegations around the NFF revolves around the opacity of their finances and the lack of accountability for government funding for the Federation which led to the setting up of a Presidential Task Force and several EFFC investigations into the books of the NFF.
But Pinnick countered that his tenure was the first on record to publish their audited accounts in three national dailies as a testament of their commitment to transparency. According to Pinnick, Federal Government funding for the NFF amounts to only about N700m (government funding for the NFF was N1.3bn in 2016 and N1.1bn in 2017 according to the Ministry of Sports), and that the NFF is on the way to being completely self-funding.
“What do we get from the government? This has been the first administration that published their accounts in major newspapers last year. And if you look at it, we don’t even want government to give us money if we have the enabling environment to thrive because we believe football can fund itself and fund other associations. In England, for example, the government gives them 25m pounds every year for youth and grassroots development, that’s it.
“We have a budget of about N7bn in a year and if you look at our budget – it’s a public document – it’s less than a billion and the one that is backed by cash (for which the government releases money) is not more than sixty or seventy percent yearly, which means we get about N700m from government. And if you play only three friendly matches for the Super Eagles that consumes it. And we have the U13, U15, U17, U20, U23 and the national teams for the male and female.”
Explaining how expensive it is to organize a friendly match for the Super Eagles, Pinnick said flight tickets alone costs about $200,000 (about N70m) for twenty-six players at between $6000 to $10,000 per player without playing bonuses and allowances taken into account.
The widespread belief that members of the Executive Committee of the NFF were only in it for personal gain couldn’t be further off the mark according to Pinnick because they were all “passion driven” self-made individuals.
As an example of his altruism, Pinnick pointed out that he habitually forfeits legitimate entitlements which his predecessors had always collected because he was never interested in dipping into the tills of the NFF.
“My predecessor (Aminu Maigari) collected N12m to N13m every year for accommodation. For four years that is N48m, anywhere in the world that money is massive money. I have been president for five years, I have the same entitlements, I have not collected a dime for accommodation. The reason why I am doing that is not because I have too much money, we are all driven by passion. So when I hear people say these guys are corrupt I wonder where the corruption is. Look at where legitimate means to collect money but instead of collecting money to buy cars from our capital vote, let them buy buses for the junior teams.
“A to Z of Nigeria Football Federation especially the Executive Members are driven by passion. We are not there because of what we want to benefit; we are passion driven who have our own businesses they should allow us run Nigerian football.
“From the beginning of my tenure till date, it’s been one crisis to the other, the distractions are so much without which we would have been one hundred percent self-funding by now. What we tried to do is to build Nigerian football and allow corporates look at it as an entity they can partner not just for prominence or Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) but a relationship that will also be beneficial to them.”
The constant attempt to undermine his position and incessant attacks on his person as the “symbol” of football in Nigeria and the NFF in general, Pinnick said, served no purpose and was counterproductive because it imperils the drive to get more private sector partners to invest in and help grow the game locally.
The power struggle with Chris Giwa for the control of the NFF which precipitated a crisis that lasted months, the effects of which is still being felt, cost Nigeria a lucrative deal with a ‘major’ media organization which would have put the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) back on television and also led to the creation of a televised junior league according to Pinnick.
“We could have started a league programme for age grade teams of club sides in addition to the La Liga/NPFL U15 tourney,” Pinnick informed the show.
“Before the crises after the World Cup, the League Management Company (LMC) was in talks with a major media organization in the world and were on the verge of signing a contract that included provisions for starting a junior league but because of the crises and the credibility of this company they had to pull out.
“That is why I say that people do not understand the magnitude of destruction they are carrying out when they abuse and attack us. I’m the symbol of football, once you attack the symbol the corporates run away.”
ON THE FUTURE OF GERNOT ROHR AND THE TARGET FOR SUPER EAGLES AT THE 2019 AFCON
“I don’t believe in giving conditions or setting targets,” Pinnick said in reply to a question about what the minimum expectation for the Super Eagles is for the 2019 Nations Cup in Egypt.
Nigeria have been handed what many feel to be an easy group having been drawn with Burundi, Guinea, and Madagascar in Group B with Pinnick admitting to receiving calls from several excited Super Eagles players about “the good draws”, but other than admitting wanting to win the Nations Cup, Pinnick was reluctant to set a definite target for the team when the tournament kicks off on the 21st of June.
“We want to win by God’s grace, we want to lift the Nations Cup [although] I wouldn’t want to call it a target. The players are very well programmed, they are conditioned, they are primed and I talk to them all the time and they all want to win. So we are going to work with that believing that if we can be ranked number 3 in Africa we can also be ranked number 1 when we win the tournament. Our best is preparing them and then we will go on our knees and pray because if you don’t combine it with prayers trust me you can’t achieve anything. We believe this is our time we can win it.”
Pinnick also appeared to disagree with the widely held belief among Nigerians that Eagles manager Gernot Rohr should lose his job if the team fails to make the finals at least, saying that Rohr’s contract doesn’t contain “sporting targets” the breach of which could be used as a reason to fire him.
“Why should we give [Rohr] targets? We want to win,” Pinnick said in reply to a question about the possibility of the Franco-German being fired in the event Nigeria fails to make the final at the AFCON.
“You should understand what a contract is,” he continued, “You don’t put sporting targets in a contract to say ‘win this, win that’. You can only sack a coach when he arbitrarily violates some of the provisions [of his contract].”
The NFF President revealed that the Super Eagles will play two friendly matches against two “world class teams”, with the first in Asaba on the 7th of June and the second on the 16th of June in Cairo.
ON RUNNING AGAINST AHMAD AHMAD FOR THE CAF PRESIDENCY
Pinnick made history when he was appointed 1st Vice President of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) in July of 2018, becoming in the process the first ever Nigerian to hold that position and he has never hidden his ambition to one day assume the mantle of leadership of CAF.
With current president Ahmad Ahmad embroiled in a slew of corruption allegations and cracks beginning to appear in CAF’s Executive Committee with Ahmad recently sacking General Secretary Amr Fahmy, many feel this could Pinnick’s chance to mount a challenge for the top job when Ahmad’s tenure ends in 2021. Pinnick was, however, quick to downplay suggestions he was exploring the possibility of running against the incumbent.
“Why would I run against my president? We worked hard for his emergence and we have always been close,” he said.
On whether all was not quite well in the Executive Committee following the dismissal of Fahmy, Pinnick said “discordant tunes” were to be expected in any organization but that ultimately it is “the prerogative of the president to appoint and also dismiss the General Secretary if the president feels that they have differences that are irreconcilable and they cannot work together.” The Executive Committee, Pinnick said, can only say “‘President we support you, if you feel you cannot work with your General Secretary”.
He added, however, that: “it is quite audacious for you to wake up and say you want to sack your General Secretary. It’s a very audacious move for you.”
When pressed on if he wasn’t considering running for the CAF presidency, Pinnick replied “never say never” but that he was more interested in “the gospel” of “doing the right things according to the statutes and books, taking the continent of Africa into cognizance in taking any major decisions.”
So, is Ahmad doing the right things the host enquired, “well doing the right things is subjective,” Pinnick replied, “what I will say is as long as he is doing the right things I’ll support him but if not then I might consider running against him although I could easily wait for him to complete his second term and then contest when I will be 54 years old.”