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 By Colin Udoh

Ahmad's victory over Hayatou will give Nigerian football a bigger voice

Issa Hayatou and Sepp Blatter
Issa Hayatou was a close ally of former FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

On Thursday in Ethiopia, little known Madagascan Ahmad Ahmad defeated incumbent Issa Hayatou in the Confederation of African Football (CAF) elections to end the Cameroonian's 29-year stranglehold on African football.

Two men who publicly put their necks on the line to secure that victory for the 57-year-old Ahmad were Zimbabwean Phillip Chiyangwa and Nigerian Amaju Pinnick.

Pinnick faced opposition from Nigeria's sports minister Solomon Dalung, from Nigerian members of CAF committees, and even from within his own executive committee. But he never wavered.

So what does the Ahmad victory mean for Nigeria?

Breaking the Adamu stranglehold

For decades, former FIFA executive committee member Amos Adamu held sway over Nigerian football, both as a CAF and FIFA Exco member, and as a close ally of Hayatou.

In fact, reports in Africa suggested that Hayatou planned to hand over to the Nigerian when he retired and only postponed his retirement when Adamu was sanctioned by FIFA over corruption allegations.

During his time at FIFA and CAF, no major football decision in Nigeria could be taken without Adamu's input. Elections could not be won without his support. And his approval was effectively a guarantee of victory.

Adamu built loyalty through patronage, ensuring that almost all appointment of Nigerians into CAF or FIFA positions were based on his recommendation or approval. That loyalty to Adamu continued even after his exit from football, as officials continued to consult him privately.

Pinnick's victory has effectively broken that hold. The NFF president, due to a combination of fortuitous circumstances, was elected without Adamu's backing and has now won a seat on both the CAF Exco and FIFA Council without being beholden to Adamu.

This, in effect, represents a reboot of football administration in Nigeria.

More say in decision-making matters

Despite being one of the biggest countries and markets in Africa, one of the consistent complaints Nigerians have had in the past was how little say the country had at CAF level. Adamu was the only Nigerian on the CAF Exco and committee positions went to a very select few.

There was a sense of marginalisation in Nigerian football circles along with a feeling that the country deserved better.

Pinnick's single-minded determination and drive to ensure Ahmad's victory at the CAF polls has ensured that Nigeria not only has an influential voice at the table but a very strong one too. His close relationship with FIFA president Gianni Infantino also means that his influence is not limited to continental level.

There is even a strong possibility that he will get to appoint a Nigerian for the position of general secretary, which is one of the most powerful positions in African football.

Issa Hayatou and Amaju Pinnick
Amaju Pinnick, right, played a key role in ensuring Hayatou lost in the elections.

Pinnick guarantees survival

No Nigerian FA president has lasted more than one term. As a matter of fact, the last three presidents, Ibrahim Galadima, Sani Lulu and Aminu Maigari were forced out under the most contentious of circumstances involving bitter election disputes, overbearing government influence, arrests, imprisonments and FIFA interventions.

Pinnick is a direct beneficiary of the chaos that attended the last process, when Aminu Maigari was all set to break the mound and win re-election, but found himself in confrontation with the sports minister Tammy Danagogo. Maigari, his General Secretary Amadu and executive committee member Chris Green were all arrested and detained in the build up to the election.

By the time the dust settled, Pinnick, who had no initial intentions of running for the position, had been elected president.

Knowing those antecedents, the current occupier of the position has been under no illusions that he would be allowed to return for a second term. But when he backed Ahmad, he took an all or nothing gamble, especially in the face of a direct order from Sports Minister Solomon Dalung to vote for Hayatou.

It was a gamble that could have cost Amaju everything.

A Hayatou win would have meant his defiant vote for Ahmad would have proved costly indeed. Amaju would have been hauled up before the minister, and as he himself admitted after the elections, he might not have seen his tenure to the end.

Ahmad's win led to a public statement of congratulations from the minister who only two days before the election, had told media that Nigeria should vote Cameroon's Hayatou.

It solidifies Amaju's position and could well see him become the first FA president in Nigeria to secure re-election, if he chooses to run.

Colin Udoh is a Nigeria football correspondent for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @ColinUdoh.


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