It was such a huge opportunity for thanksgiving and giving glory to God for astute Football Administrator and President, Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Mr. Amaju Melvin Pinnick when he hit 50. For him, though rolling out the drums was necessary, what was highest on the agenda was giving back to society and showing gratitude for the grace of God in his life. Pinnick who describes himself as a child of destiny, was first elected NFF President in September 2014 and insists that he cannot remove God from his affairs because if not for divine intervention, he would not even be alive to celebrate this milestone.
He spoke with sombre tone when he relives an incident in February 2011 during a St Valentine Event in Warri, Delta State. According to him, a few years after his 2007 marriage to his adorable and gorgeous wife, Julie, he decided to create an event for couples whom he noticed have been going through tough times.
During the event tagged “Valentine’s Day Party” he usually assembled older couples to engage and mentor younger ones, and it was during a fireworks display to round off the ceremony at that 2011 edition that his face was almost blown and his life snuffed out.
According to him “I was standing close to a firework and it landed straight on my face. I had to undergo 13 surgeries within three months and I also had three more because the accident also affected my eardrum. There was a major crack in my eardrum.
“I was in the intensive care unit of a hospital in Shell, Warri for 10 days. I only had five minutes to stay alive if I wasn’t hurriedly taken to the hospital. That is why I believe I am a child of destiny”
Born into a large polygamous home to Chief Oritsetimileyin Japhet Pinnick and Madam Rebecca Pinnick (nee Ayomike), he grew up in an atmosphere of love and humility. His father was a top staff of UAC and rose to become one of the pioneer managers, his mother was a big-time trader and being from a prominent Warri family, “The Ayomikes” was well known.
Though he was the 15th of 19 children of his father, Pinnick revealed that there was never any rancor in their household because his father provided for them all and ensured they were all educated.
Reflecting on his family, the amiable gentleman stated “I cannot deny that he was rich. I was born into a modest home. My father was one of the first Africans to rise to the position of Manager at UAC at the time. We were well taken care off and travelled frequently.
“I believe my family should be a model for most polygamous families. My father passed on many years ago, but we have maintained peace in the household till date. I am even closer to my stepbrothers than my own direct siblings. Unlike others, we did not share my father’s properties. If anyone needs anything, he or she can make use of it. Our bond is so special.
“Whenever I see or hear of siblings fighting over their parent’s properties, I feel sad because in my family we genuinely help one another, despite being born by different mothers”
As a young boy, like many Nigerian boys, football was the No. 1 game of choice. In his case, his love affair with the beautiful game was stronger than most because he attended the famous Hussey College, Warri.
The school which produced such great Nigerians like Isaac Adaka Boro, Brig-General Mobolaji Johnson (retd), Rear Admiral Festus Porbeni (retd), Olu of Warri, Ogiame Atuwatse II was a centre of sports excellence, raising great sportsmen and women who represented the country.
Amaju was a goalkeeper and striker but his penchant for his books ensured his concentration was more on academics than sports. At Hussey College, he was an A student and so when he finished his West African School Certificate exams, he had so many options.
“With my secondary school certificate, I could study whatever I wanted. Medicine, Law or Engineering. Some people wanted me to study Law because I was a good debater in school. I won many competitions for the school and many saw men as a great public speaker.
“My aspiration was to become a Public Speaker and Pastor. While my aunt who was based in Ibadan at that time wanted me to study Medicine at the University of Ibadan, I had very good grades in Mathematics, Chemistry and Physics.
According to him, his adventure into football administration was inspired by late Mr. Patrick Okpomo, a seasoned Administrator and one-time Secretary-General of the then Nigeria Football Association. Okpomo was a formidable force on football matters and well known across the country and beyond.
This was why despite everything, he decided to study Political Science and Public Administration at the University of Benin.
Incidentally, his sojourn in football actually began at the University of Benin when he was made the Team Manager of his Faculty’s football Team. Of course, he proved his mettle during the inter-faculty tournaments, and his face lights up with excitement as he recalls those days by the sidelines with classmates screaming and cheering.
After University, he worked briefly at Hallmark Bank before he was appointed Chairman, Delta State FA in 2010. He was also Senior Special Adviser to Governor on Foreign Relations and Chairman, Delta State Sports Council where he excelled.
As Sports Council Chairman, grassroots sports became his forte. Realising that different parts of the state had people with different abilities, he groomed talents in Swimming, Athletics, Football and the likes.
His dictum was always that preparation mixed with determination, resilience and the right financial support leads to success in sports. He preached this wherever he went.
It was therefore no surprise that when he threw his hat into the ring to contest for the position of NFF President in September 2014 everyone knew that he had a pure heart, little wonder, he won spectacularly because of his knack for excellence and track record of performance.
As Chairman of the NFF, he has been tried many times on financial matters but he has come out smelling like roses. Many who are close to him said his winning formula is his outstanding leadership skills and the great ability of being a good team player.
These sterling attributes and more earned him the historic record of being the only NFF President to get a second term.
Today, Pinnick is well respected in Africa and in World Football. There is no major event that he hosts that the FIFA hierarchy is not present or represented. This was very evident at the glamorous dinner to celebrate his 50th birthday and the Awards he has hosted.
He had been rewarded for his passion at different occasions. He has been President of the African Cup of Nations, he has been 2nd Vice President of Confederation of African Football (CAF), Executive member, CAF and 1st Vice President, CAF, Member, Organising Committee of FIFA Competitions (reputed to be the most important committee in the world football body).
To prove that he is not power hungry and always looking up to God, when everyone believed he would be the natural successor to Ghana’s Kwesi Nyantekyi as Member, FIFA Council, Pinnick abstained and the position was won by Malawi’s Walter Nyamilandu.
An epitome of humility, he was one of the young Turks that caused the revolution that led to the emergence of Ahmad Ahmad as CAF President.
As NFF President for the past six years, Pinnick revealed that it has been illuminating and challenging.
“In the past six years and eight months at the NFF, we have all worked at not only steering the ship but doing things differently. We have looked at the strategies, methods and processes and we have tried to make positive changes that would make things easier for those coming into the organization.
“We have planned, ploughed, planted, prayed and we earnestly believe that our efforts will end in praise. Nigerian football has so much potential, we believe the work we have been doing will begin to manifest very soon.
‘There have been tribulations and simulated slippery ground here and there, but we have managed to weather it all and stand tall. These trials have not been our making, but the sincerity of our desire to improve the way things are done for the good of the game has never been in doubt.
“The Congress, Executive Committee, Management and Staff have all been committed to the cause and were have stayed on course as one united and indivisible unit.”
Amaju recounted how the football governing body in Nigeria has always depended solely on government since its inception in 1945, but he and the team had devised ingenious ideas which has reduced dependency on government funds by 60 per cent! His dream before he passes on the baton is to make NFF self-sufficient.
It was during his stint that AITEO Energy Resources, a leading Energy Solutions Company became “Official Optimum Partner” of the NFF. The deal ensured that the era of unpaid salaries of national team coaches was history. AITEO also took over sponsorship of the famous FA Cup- adding glamour and colour to the nationwide competition.
Zenith Bank has also supported the Pinnick-led NFF as partner. It was responsible for capacity building for administrators, youth development programmes and payment of coaches.
On the eve of the Russia 2018 Fifa World Cup, qualification, two partnership agreements were signed in one day with Tropical General Investments (TGI) Group as “Official Food Sponsor” of the Super Eagles and PayPorte Global Systems as “Official Online Store” of the NFF. Cocacola also sealed a 5-year deal with the NFF, becoming the “Official Soft Drink of the National Teams” while Nigeria Breweries Plc signed a N2.2 Billion deal that made its brands: Star “Official Alcoholic Beverage of the Super Eagles” and Amstel Malta “Official Malt Drink of the NFF and National teams
That was not all, Cadbury Nigeria’s brand, Tom Tom signed a deal to become “Official Candy of the Super Eagles”, while WAPIC Insurance sealed a sponsorship deal as Official Insurance Company of the NFF and the National Team and Emzor Pharmaceuticals has a long-running contract that has been retained.
In December 2017, Nigeria became the first African country to be on FIFA Connect, the centralized portal for the registration of football players and other stakeholders, this was after an engaging 2-day workshop was held in Abuja.
Under Pinnick, former Nigerian football stars have been considered for coaching positions in the various national teams. For example, Pinnick had the courage to appoint Sunday Oliseh as Super Eagles Head Coach in July 2015 but the later fell short of expectations. Former goalkeepers, Imama Amapakabor and Alloy Agwu have been in the Super Eagles, Samson Siasia coached the U-23 while Emmanuel Amuneke coached the U-17 and U-20. While Joseph Yobo is serving as Assistant Coach.
It is not in his character to be a one-way traffic who concentrates only on the men, the women have received a big boost too. It was under his watch that he encouraged the establishment of the Nigeria Women Football League (NWFL) which has Aisha Falode as President. Florence Omagbemi, Perpetua Nkwocha and Ann Chiejine have all worked in the Super Falcons set up.
In his words this is a deliberate effort “The NFF recognizes and appreciates the great efforts of our great footballers who have done well locally and internationally for the glory of our great country. They are the most important aspect of the game because without them there will be no NFF, FIFA or sponsors. The NFF Foundation is being put in place principally to look into the welfare of these these players”
It was in this same spirit that the Federation during its 2019 NFF/AITEO Awards honoured the Super Eagles Class of 94 (which is reputed to be the most successful Nigeria National Team). It was a moving moment for the players and their families at the event held at the prestigious Eko Hotel & Suites.
Despite his achievements so far, he is not taking his eyes off the ball. For him reaching his goal is “Non-negotiable. We are determined to improve football infrastructure and facilities both at national and regional levels as can be seen by the FIFA projects across the nation.
“We are equally committed to training and retraining and enabling mass participation in the game of football which is the single biggest unifier of all peoples across several mental and physical divides and also lures boys and girls away from social vices. Not to talk about its immense international image-building component. We are passionate about the game at the grassroots.
Having built a sterling profile in football across the continent and with his NFF Presidency ending in 2022, it was widely rumoured that he would take a shot at the CAF Presidency.
But Amaju has stated in clear terms that he has no such ambition “ We are supporting the aspiration of Dr Patrice Motsepe of South Africa (The billionaire owner of Memolodi Sundowns FC).We believe he has the clout and organizational savvy to take CAF from its present low level to a place of regard and respect among the six confederations of FIFA.
He however revealed that he would be taking a shot at the FIFA Council Seat “I have consulted wide and this is the route I feel comfortable taking now. Membership of FIFA Council also confers a lot of opportunity to make crucial contributions to the running of world football.
He made his declaration in a statement titled “My Journey, My Passion, My Intention” He wrote:
“Conscience is an open wound; only truth can heal it”-Uthman Dan Fodio.
“I have “picked the quote above, by the famous Islamic scholar, because it aptly captures the essence of public service and what men must be guided with in administering a sector of intense public interest such as football. There is no alternative to being true to yourself in seeking to deliver on promises made when seeking office, and this has guided every step of the journey of my life in public service.
“Following consultations far and wide and within the broad spectrum of continental and global footballing interests and concerns, I have decided to be a candidate for the FIFA Council at the next Elective Congress of the Confederation of African Football scheduled for 21st March 2021 in Rabat, Morocco.
For me, it has never been a matter of personal ambition. Always, it has been the passion for service and desire to change the old ways of things and embrace wholeheartedly the new and exciting, and more innovative and impactful ways.
“I come from a very small minority ethnic group in my native Nigeria, a part of the country known as the Niger Delta, known globally for its combustibility and ruggedness, indeed with a touch of brilliance and resilience. Scores of Nigeria’s most famous football players ever hail from the Delta region, and our football culture is enrapturing. So, I caught on to football from an early age.
From the beginning, even while contributing at the local level, I imagined myself at higher levels, making impact, giving joy to multitudes through this game that means so much to millions, billions of people. It is this passion, nurtured from adolescence, that has kept me going and working for Nigeria football despite the bricks and bats, the odds, hurdles and obstacles, and man-made challenges that would have seen men of weaker fibre throw in the towel long ago.
It is this same passion that has made me put life and limb on the line, 3 years and 8 months ago, for what I believed was a genuine collective desire for change – in the governance of African football.
In an alignment of forces with kindred spirits, we were able to effect a change at the top of African football administration, tossing out a 29-year old conservative regime. Opportunities and possibilities have been presented to the hierarchy to make positive changes since then but these have been, nonchalantly, frittered away.
For more than six years, I have worked very hard, with like minds, to effect a positive change in the administration of football in Nigeria, and this has been attested to by many. As 1st Vice President of CAF and President of the Organizing Committee of the AFCON, I know the hard work and commitment that went into enabling the 2019 AFCON finals hold in Egypt. At great personal risk, I toured all the venues in Egypt, travelling at night most of the time, all to ensure the success of the tournament, yet gave all the credit to the President.
At the unexpected turn of events (non-renewal of my tenure as 1st Vice President), I took solace in the words of Romans 8:28: “Everything worketh for good for those who love God.” I stand tall today, that every gospel of change that I preached, has been vindicated.
It is my firm belief that after 63 years of existence, the Confederation of African Football, and by extension, African football, should be in a much better position than it is presently.
My focus and vision is to be at a vantage point to contribute immensely to the renaissance of African football and African football administration, through quality contributions at football’s high table. I am aware of the immense plans and programmes of FIFA President, Mr. Gianni Infantino, for the African game, and it will take men of mettle, selflessness, clear and scientific thinking, acuity, sapience and resourcefulness to give him the support he needs to bring all those plans to fruition. In a fast –changing global environment with ever –improving technology, we must be able to adopt and adapt, upscale and upgrade and be fluid in the way we do things in order to stay relevant and competitive.
The previous season, three Africans emerged the top scorers in the English Premier League – the most exciting football league in the world. This underscores the humongous possibilities of the African game, with talents mushrooming everywhere but in need of the right structures to hone those talents, be nurtured and guided on the right path to greatness.
In remote African cities and provinces, nooks and crannies, there are dozens of Mohammed Salahs, Sadio Manes and Pierre Aubameyangs, as well as Wilfred Ndidis and Ahmed Musas to be unearthed, polished and unleashed to make tremendous impact on world football, just like the George Weahs, Tony Yeboahs, Jay Jay Okochas, Abedi ‘Pele’ Ayews, Nwankwo Kanus and Lucas Radebes before them.
However, this will take the right kind of people sitting at football’s high table and pushing Africa’s agenda with all their might and mirth, and not mere tourists who sit on the Council for the perks and sitting allowances.
Club football is the lifeblood of the game. Today, the only clubs making the finals of African competitions are almost always from one region. So, you ask, where are those famous African clubs like Canon Sportif and Tonnere Kalala of Cameroon, Hafia of Guinea, ASEC Mimosas and Africa Sports of Cote d’Ivoire, Enugu Rangers and IICC Shooting Stars of Nigeria, Gor Mahia of Kenya, Asante Kotoko and Hearts of Oak from Ghana?
A whole new orientation is imperative in the business of representing our esteemed continent on the FIFA Council. There is urgent and cogent need for farsighted and enlightened solutions, in tandem with the times, rather than inclination to short termism.
I fervently want to work with like minds and men of genuine calibre to restore the pride of the African, exorcise unflattering words like ‘laughing stock’ and ‘scandal’ and replace them, through hard work and enterprise, with ‘respect’ ‘probity’ and ‘transparency’.
I have a burning desire to reconnect with the basic ideals of African football, reconnect with the authentic African values in a way that Africa’s legends who toiled to make Africa great in the game will be proud once more.
We will seek to engage each Member Association on the African continent, on their peculiarities and specific needs, and proffer appreciably realistic home –grown solutions to these needs and challenges. We will travel to these places and engage the chieftains meaningfully and robustly, not for photo opportunities or mere tourism.
We must make very conscious, precise and specific efforts in our desire to attain our goals in launching Africa on the pedestal of greatness. We will escalate actions where necessary and move with the tides and times.
There is a United Nations Declaration that “sport is a veritable tool that could be used for the successful attainment and achievement of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.” In no sport is this truer than football, with the passion and followership that it attracts, the frenzy it generates among the young and the old, and the availability of television money that can propel the game to new heights.
This is not a time for pursuing vendetta, nourishing animosity or engendering acrimony, but a time for genuine forgiveness, to completely refocus, rebuild, revitalize and rejuvenate the African game and African football administration to earn its due respect in the global sphere. It is a time to imbibe the spirit of oneness and excellence, and to have the fear of God in all our dealings.
Football is an industry with capacity to employ dozens of millions of Africa’s population, with several ancillary opportunities apart from those directly involved in playing the game, coaching, refereeing, administering, providing medical support, marketing, rights-buying, player-management, osteopath and psychology services, statistics-gathering and analysis, and journalism.
It is also an industry capable (and already doing so in the advanced climes) of contributing significantly to a country’s Gross Domestic Product. We will seek to set Africa on the way to making football the enormous industry that it is in several other places, and build a veritable future for our teeming youths who l”ove the game to bits.
I believe that with my experience, my knowledge and my passion, I can make a huge difference in the governance of football in Africa in my position as FIFA Council Member, ipso facto CAF Executive Committee Member. The voice of Africa will be heard loud and clear; and the interests of Africa will be served to the fullest.
What is more; I will be working under the leadership of one of the biggest international bodies in the world where every knowledge and experience can and will be brought to bear, especially in the areas of governance, quality service delivery, transparency, accountability, resource management and development. Such knowledge, unquantifiable, might just come to be useful over time, in the direct running of the game in the future.
I therefore humbly declare and seek the support and blessing of all, to be elected as FIFA Council Member in 2021.” The letter received accolades across the continent and he has been gathering support in the advancement of this worthy cause.
Talking about his 50th, he swung back to expression of gratitude “I give glory to God Almighty. It is a milestone and one must look back and reflect on how the journey has been. I am very happy about my journey which has been mainly about football and business.
“I am fulfilled with the tremendous success I have achieved in both, and I pray that God will continue to guide my path so that I can accomplish even greater things in all areas. There is nothing that I have achieved of my own power, strength, wisdom or intellect. Everything has been down to to God Almighty”.
Despite being a man of means, Pinnick’s has an abundant amount of human kindness flowing in his veins. Indeed, philanthropy is innate and he has involved in it from the get go when he began to make some money as a businessman, long before he entered football administration. He has been doing his thing silently away from the prying eyes of the media. His vehicle has been Brownhill Foundation where he ploughs 5 per cent of his earnings to worthy causes.
Many students have enjoyed scholarships, while former sports personalities which challenges have also benefitted. For example, Ex Super Eagles star, Wilson Oruma who was swindled and ran into hard times was rehabilitated by the foundation.
At the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic which necessitated a nationwide lockdown in Nigeria, the Foundation offered food items including rice, noodles, garri, condiments and cash of between N10,000-N15,000 to 500 families in Communities in Ogunu, Warri, Delta State.
In addition, following the death of NFF Head of ICT, Tolulope Abe, the Foundation has taken up the educational needs of his two older children while similar arrangement await the others once they are admitted into higher institutions.
And it was in this spirit of giving that he went back to his alma mater, Hussey College as part of his 50th birthday celebration to make a huge donation.