Pinnick at 50: His Journey to Pinnacle of Nigerian Football

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TRIBUTE – PINNICK

Pure bliss and pulsating thrills must be coursing through Amaju Pinnick, President of the Nigeria Football Federation, who turned 50 on December 1, 2020. In a year that has seen younger and older people fall to the fatal fangs of COVID-19, he is alive and active. But the times are inauspicious for a grand celebration that would have heralded the high-achieving businessman-turned-football administrator into the golden class. It is a time for sober reflections for a man who aspired to be a footballer but ended up as head of the country’s football federation. It has not been a failed romance with the round leather game, after all, writes Kayode Alfred

Growing up in Warri, Delta State, Pinnick had an intense love for the game of football. In his teens, he alternated as a striker and a goalkeeper but, while some of his contemporaries later took it to the big stage and played for the national team, he took the road less travelled.
“I don’t regret that I didn’t get to play football professionally. Now, I run it and I am happy that I am a major stakeholder in the beautiful game. I still play for fun though. I believe my life followed the path of destiny. I believe God has always had plans for me. I have never questioned God about anything I do because I don’t want to be an ingrate,” he recalled, in a dated interview.
Born into a polygamous family, his father, the late Chief Oritsetimeyin Japhet Pinnick, worked with the U.A.C where he rose to become one of the company’s pioneer Nigerian managers. His mother, Madam Rebecca Ayomike, a renowned trader, hails from a very prominent Itsekiri family, ‘The Ayomikes’.

Speaking of his father, Pinnick, the 15th of 19 children said, “I cannot deny that he was rich; I was born into a modest home. He was one of the first Africans to rise to the post of manager in UAC at that time. We had all the necessary things and we travelled frequently. My father passed on many years ago, but we have maintained peace in the household till date. I still communicate with my siblings. I believe my family should be a model for many polygamous families. I am closer to my stepbrothers than my other siblings, and we didn’t 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 parents’ properties, I feel bad because we genuinely help each other in my family, despite being born by different mothers. My father ensured that we were all educated. So, we are happy in our different ways.”
For his secondary school education, Pinnick attended Hussey College in Warri, Delta State, which was very popular for producing footballers while nurturing several generations of Nigerians from all tribes and backgrounds in the best tradition of scholarship, athleticism, citizenship and morality.

In spite of his love for the beautiful game, Pinnick was a fiercely brilliant kid. He recalled, “With my secondary school certificate, I could study whatever I wanted; Medicine, Engineering or Law. Some people wanted me to study Law because I was a good debater in school. I won many competitions for the school, and people saw me as a great public speaker so, they wanted me to pursue a career in Law. My aspiration was to become a public speaker and pastor. Also, my aunty who was based in Ibadan at that time wanted me to study Medicine at the University of Ibadan. I had good grades in Mathematics, Physics, and Chemistry.”
But because he grew up wanting to be an administrative person; while aspiring to be like late Patrick Okpomo, a renowned football administrator, who was at a time the secretary general of the Nigeria Football Association (as the NFF was then known), he decided to study Political Science and Public Administration and obtained BSc in political science and public administration from the University of Benin in 1994.

Journey to NFF
A former Commissioner for Sports in Delta State, Pinnick’s journey into football administration began at the University of Benin where he emerged team manager of his faculty’s football team. In 2010, he was appointed chairman, Delta State Football Association, during which he also doubled as chairman of the Delta Sports Commission. After his four year-stint, Pinnick contested and won election as NFF’s president in September 2014. Between then and now, he has brought to bear on the office his innate passion for transformation and excellence, which, despite all odds, have seen him rise to the pinnacle of African football and the threshold of world football politics.

At a time when many big names in African football administration fell to the tempting allure of the filthy lucre, Pinnick passed the FIFA Integrity Test – a rigorous check on an individual’s credibility and personal life – with flying colours. For instance, following investigations into his conduct from 2017 to 2019, Ahmad Ahmad, the president of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), was recently banned for five years by FIFA after being found guilty of breaching ethics codes. FIFA’s adjudicatory chamber said Ahmad had breached rules relating to the duty of loyalty, offering and accepting gifts or other benefits, abuse of position and misappropriation of funds.

Such probes into Pinnick’s affairs had always returned with a not guilty verdict. His transparency and incorruptibility have commensurately earned him various honorary appointments into FIFA and CAF. He was appointed first as a member of the Organising Committee for FIFA Competitions (arguably the most important committee in the world football body) and later, into CAF’s Executive Committee in 2017. A few months after, he was appointed president of the African Cup of Nations. He would also become the first vice president of CAF in September 2018 and won his re-election for a second term as NFF president same year. His stock also rose steeply following a surprise decision to abstain from the race to succeed Kwesi Nyantakyi on the FIFA Council, instead, allowing other qualified FA chiefs in Africa to battle for the slot.

Within the last six years of his stewardship, Pinnick has, indeed, evolved as a leading figure in global football especially under current FIFA President, Gianni Infantino, who respects his virtues, opinions and understanding of African football management.
As he sat down with the media to discuss his 50th birthday and administrative trajectory, Pinnick described his stewardship at the NFF as illuminating and challenging. “In the past six years and three months, 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 in the years to come. We have planned, toiled, ploughed, planted and prayed, and we still earnestly pray that all will end in praise. Nigerian football has so much potential; we believe the work we have been doing will begin to manifest very soon,” said Pinnick.

He admitted that there have been quite some challenges, odds, hurdles and obstacles but, noted, “The important thing is we have remained indivisible, united and committed to the larger cause of the interest of the game. Our focus has kept us all on the same page: Congress, the Executive Committee, Management and Staff. 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 of 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.”

Achievements as NFF Boss
Over the decades, the NFF, which was founded in 1945, had always depended on government for funding. This had stifled the growth of Nigerian football. Pinnick inherited a similar situation but he has devised ingenious ways of sourcing for funds which have reduced the dependence on government by 60 per cent. He said that his target before leaving office is to make the football body self-sufficient. He brought in AITEO Energy Resources Limited, Nigeria’s leading energy solutions company, as ‘Official Optimum Partner’ of the NFF which shelled out the money to pay salaries of coaches. In the first tranche, even coaches that were owed by previous NFF administrations were paid. The company then took up the sponsorship of the oldest football competition in the land – previously known by various names such as FA Cup, Challenge Cup and Federation Cup.

Today, the AITEO Cup is an integral part of the NFF Calendar. Before AITEO, the Pinnick-led NFF secured a partnership deal with Zenith Bank for capacity building for administrators, youth development programme and payment of Super Eagles’ head coach. On the eve of the 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 Limited, as ‘Official Online Store’ of the NFF. Coca-Cola also teamed up with Nthe federation on a five-year agreement, which made it the ‘Official Soft Drink of the National Teams.’ Months later, the NFF signed more endearing agreements; first with the Nigerian Breweries – a five-year deal worth N2.2bn, which made Star Lager the ‘Official Alcoholic Beverage of the Super Eagles,’ and Amstel Malta, the ‘Official Malt Drink’ of the NFF and the national teams. There is also a partnership deal with Cadbury Nigeria which makes Tom Tom the ‘Official Candy of the Super Eagles.’ WAPIC Insurance is the ‘Official Insurance Company’ of the NFF and the national team while Emzor Pharmaceuticals has been retained with another long–term contract.

In December 2017, a two-day workshop to fully connect the NFF to the FIFA Connect system of registration of football players and officials was held in Abuja. FIFA Connect is the centralized portal for the registration of football players and other stakeholders. Following its full integration, Nigeria became the first African country to be on FIFA Connect.

The Pinnick administration has also concentrated on enhancing the capacity of administrators, referees and coaches. About two dozen referees went for refresher programs in the United Kingdom in December 2014, and about the same number took their turn in February 2015. Another capacity-enhancing programme took nearly 30 administrators to London in December 2015. Some coaches were specially trained in the world-renowned Pro-Zone software to enhance the performance of Nigerian teams in international competitions. Thanks to Pinnick, too, there have been a range of FIFA-supported courses and workshops for coaches, referees and administrators in the country in the past four years. The CAF ‘A’ coaching course for home-grown coaches was a first of its kind and benefitted over 80 coaches with highly-experienced resource persons in attendance.

Under Pinnick, former Nigerian football stars have been highly considered for coaching positions various national teams in the country. Pinnick had confidence in former Eagles captain, Sunday Oliseh, and appointed him as head coach of the Super Eagles in July 2015 but the latter fell short of expectations by resigning abruptly. Former goalkeepers, Imama Amapakabo, and Aloy Agu, have been with the Super Eagles; Samson Siasia coached the U-23 boys; while Emmanuel Amuneke coached the U-17 and U-20 boys at different times. Former captain of the Super Eagles, Joseph Yobo, has been appointed assistant coach of the senior team.

The women are not left out. Florence Omagbemi, Perpetua Nkwocha and Ann Chiejine, worked with the Super Falcons at different times. Pinnick said he chose this path deliberately.
“The NFF recognizes and appreciates the great efforts of our footballers who have done well locally and internationally for the glory of our country. They are the most important aspect in the game because, without them, there will be no NFF, FIFA, sponsors, fans and others. The NFF will be putting in place the NFF Foundation principally to look into the welfare of players,” he stated.

His Vision for Nigerian Football
Pinnick says that his vision remains to build a sustainable football culture for Nigeria.
“It is non-negotiable. We also are determined to improve football infrastructure and facilities both at national and regional levels, as can be seen in our passionate drive for FIFA projects across the country. We are equally committed to training and re-training, and enabling greater mass participation in the game of football, which is the single biggest unifier of all our peoples across several mental and physical divides, and also serves as a robust lure for boys and girls away from all manner of social vices, not to talk of the international image-building component. We are also extremely passionate about developing the game at the grassroots,” he explained.

Now in the twilight of his second term as NFF president, there is, however, no denying Pinnick’s enviable and indubitable place in the annals of African football. While his tenure expires in 2022, he has ruled out seeking to vie for the CAF presidency, saying, “We are supporting the aspiration of Dr. Patrice Motsepe of South Africa. We believe he has the clout, means 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 added that he would instead vie for a seat on the FIFA counci.
“I have consulted wide and this is the route I feel comfortable to take for now. Membership of the FIFA Council also confers a lot of responsibility on one and you have the opportunity to make crucial contributions to the running of world football,” explained Pinnick.

A Child of Destiny
When Pinnick got married to Julie, his wife and mother of his four kids, he said he noticed that couples then were struggling. He said, “We introduced Valentine’s Day party for couples. We got the older couples to talk to the younger ones about marriage. Some couples came with so much bitterness and anger against each other but left the gathering happy. It was a good experience. We plan to start having the event in Lagos soon because the rate of divorce is increasing by the day.”

During the 2011 edition, Pinnick almost lost his life.
“We had a fireworks display, which was part of our usual activities. I was standing close to a firework and it landed straight on my face. I had to undergo 13 surgeries. I had 11 surgeries within three months, and I later did three more because the accident also affected my eardrum. There was a major crack in my eardrum; they even had to take out my eyes. 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 call myself a child of destiny.”

Turning 50
“I give all 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 God Almighty,” he acknowledged.

Philanthropy And Brownhill Foundation
Philanthropy is second nature to Pinnick. Ever since he made good in business before he entered football administration, he had made it a focal objective to give back to humanity through the Brownhill Foundation, where he ploughs five per cent of earnings from his businesses. Several students have been awarded scholarships and ex-sports personalities with health challenges have also benefited from this foundation. Former Super Eagles player, Wilson Oruma, who was duped of his football earnings and life savings, was rehabilitated by the foundation.

At the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic across the world and the subsequent lockdown, th foundation offered food items including rice, noodles, spaghetti, garri and food spices and cash between N10,000 and N15,000 to 500 families in communities in Ogunu, Warri.
Also, following the death of the late NFF Head of ICT, Tolulope Abe, last August, the foundation announced that it had taken up the educational needs of his two older children while Pinnick added that similar arrangements would also be made for the other three children once they gain admission into higher institutions.
“This family will never be abandoned. Whatever we can do for the other children before they get to higher institutions of learning, we will. That is the least we can do for a wonderful individual and member of staff like Tolulope Abe,” Pinnick explained.