Amaju Melvin Pinnick, the president of the Nigeria Football Federation, clocks 50 today.
Celebrating his new age, the Delta State-born administrator now in his second term, expressed optimism that the federation would surmount the hurdles in their bid to lift the country’s football fortune.
He said: “There have been quite a number of challenges, odds, hurdles and obstacles. The important thing is we have remained indivisible, united, and committed to the larger cause of the interest of the Nigeria 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.
“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.”
In another highly revealing interview with Matthew Edafe on Elegbete TV, Pinnick discussed his many personal challenges and how Nigeria almost bought jerseys to prosecute matches.
“It is what I chose to do. When you decide to anything, you pray to God and he will give you direction. It is not easy but we keep moving on. It is not easy at all.
”Some people are only out here focused on trying to bring you down. That is their single focus. Their objective is to make sure you do not reach your destination, ” he said on leading the NFF.
”You see it very clear. If they don’t include my name in anything they do it is never sweet. My name is like salt in food. They keep cooking up stories. that is why they alleged that I whacked 300,000 US dollars in a recent LMC deal and they realised there was nothing but they could not unsay what they had said. But we thank God, the truth is when you decide that this is what you want to do, and you pay towards it.
”You know in Warri, we do not give up, there is nothing they haven’t done that we have not seen. We have seen enough, so nothing moves me anymore, that is the truth. The good news is that when you grow up in Warri, it gives you extra strength, it gives you a solid foundation and you are calm even when people plan bad towards you.”
The NFF President also revealed how he struggled to put Nigeria on a new financial pedestal, despite the harsh economic realities his administration has faced.
“Three weeks ago, I was going for the budget defence at the national assembly, Joseph yobo was in the office to tidy up his contract and I asked him to join me to go do the budget defence.
”He sat there while I do my budget defence. Afterwards, he called me to a corner and said so president the NFF budget is just N900 Million for one year? I said yes that is what you are seeing and I explained to him that it is not even the whole 900 million they release to the NFF, it depends on the economy and not just the NFF, every Government body. He then said but you know that only one Super Eagles game can cost more than 200/300 million and we have other 13 national teams including the under 17, 13 and all.
”Yobo had to join me in the budget defence. People do not know all these until they come in. Before I started, the NFF was receiving good money, everything was smooth, the economy was good. Naira to a dollar was around 150 so technically we were getting over a million dollars monthly which they could use to do a lot of things and they did because I can’t say they didn’t do but when we came in the dollar reached 500 and our subvention dropped to 110 and ended up at 90million so it became like we were getting 200,000 to run everything.
”People do not understand how it works. they think whenever we are playing games the government is giving us money, they do not, we only take from the subvention.
”Only under special intervention, for example, we are going to the wold up, nations cup or the under 17 world cup that is when you write to the government and they look at it and vote because it is a responsible government so they vote and then approve and everything will be clearly stated.
”But when I became NFF president, all the sponsors were already on their heels. Glo had written us off, Guinness same thing, Adidas! we won the nations cup the previous year and Addidas wanted to sign a 10-year contract with us but they disappeared. everyone had left us.”
In a revelation of the malady he faced over Nigeria’s shirt sponsor, Pinnick said the NFF was on its way to buy jerseys when he intervened and hustled for a shirt sponsor for the team.
While he admitted getting a jersey sponsor didn’t come easy, he said it would have been an embarrassment if the initial move had happened under his watch.
“The day I cried in the office was the day the general secretary brought me a letter to sign off that Nigeria wanted to go buy jerseys from Addidas for a game, 25,000 dollars. I said to myself that how can I be president and Nigeria will buy jerseys to prosecute a game? That is an indictment on me.
”That was how I started the move to get a kitting deal for the Nigerian national teams. I started with Addidas.
”I went everywhere looking for a solution. I had to go to the former FIFA President because FIFA and Adidas had a relationship. I begged him to put in words for us for Adidas. I began to wonder why Addidas is hesitating on taking Nigeria but that is a story for another day. That was how the Addidas story closed.
”I went to PUMA, what I heard at PUMA, my mouth can’t say it, I heard all sort of stories. Where do we go from here? Kappa! but I said to myself, Nigeria is a very big country, bigger than Kappa with due respect.
”I prayed and was determined to get NIKE even though people say it is very difficult to get. I spoke with my contacts in the US soccer federation and they spoke to NIKE on our behalf, I involved some of Nigeria’s ex-internationals like Jay-Jay Okocha and others because NIKE was previously with Nigeria and they still like the likes of Jay-Jay Okocha and the other players. I brought them all together to whip up sentiments as well as the US soccer federation, Gulati. NIKE finally agreed to come on board but they said they were not going to pay us a dime, we would give you every other thing, they were only going to offer us kits for all our national teams and we agreed. They tied the contract to specific benefits. For example, if we won the under 17 World Cup, we would get this and that, if we won the AFCON we would get this and that. So if you look at what NIKE brought, it was valued around over 1 million dollars, the value of the kits they gave us. We celebrated it and we gave them the chance to do anything they wanted. NIKE is a company that tries to understand every market they are and knowing what to give it.
”They wanted flexibility and they told us from the get-go. That is how we got NIKE. Next was Nigerian breweries and then Aiteo. At a point, we had reached 65 percent self-funded before a certain sports minister began to fight us. That made us look bad, made us look like the only thieves in the world but we thank God we are still standing. The truth is, I love football, everyone knows. Nobody can tell you I do not like football, nobody can tell you I do not merit where I am. I didn’t jump the gun, I went through the ranks. Second vice-chairman, Delta football association, first Vice-chairman Delta football association, Chairman Delta football association, Executive Chairman, Delta State Sports Commission and in all of these, God helped me and we performed.
You can not tell me I am a fluke president, I know my onions.
”At the point when that minister started his trouble, we already had one airline, one automobile company, and one telco that was ready to come on board and if we got these three we would not have needed Government funding any longer. That was when they began to report us to the different government agencies to rubbish us and this was also affecting these companies. So they all pulled out. We had to begin pleading, we went with jerseys, with players, to look good and persuade them to come back, we did a lot. You see, the truth is they know we are clean but to make us look bad they had to cook up lies against us. It affected us a lot. one day I will tell the world what is happening, what I have suffered personally because of Nigerian football.
”My family gathered one time at my house and said I have done my best that I should leave Nigerian football because I do not make any dime from Nigerian football. I have been the NFF President for 6 years, I do not have official accommodation. Maigari the former NFF President was collecting thirteen Million Naira per year for accommodation. That was when a dollar was 145. that is about 90,000 US dollars per year for accommodation. It is right because the executive committee approved it but till date, the NFF has not approved 1 naira for my accommodation. Not because I have money but if I took that type of money from the NFF, we would be broke because we need money for many other activities. I do not have an official car till date.
”Every year we get a capital budget for a car. They keep telling me but I said our under 17 does not have a bus, some of our national teams do not have a bus. I have cars in Lagos. I took one of my private cars to Abuja and I pay my driver myself. Even the estacode that I get, I use it to help some ex-players or whoever always come with issues. I do all this because of the love I have for football. There is really nothing, we are in a very difficult position. If we had a pure environment, we would have had a surplus in our bank account and we would have been giving out money to other associations and SWAN but we have a mentality in Nigeria of always bringing people down. Why is Amaju the president of the Nigerian football federation? We must bring him down. That mentality of hate from nowhere. Like there is a particular guy from my part of the country. Anytime he hears my name, it is like they pierced him a needle. He keeps coming up with different bad stories to rubbish me but we would all meet one day. This is why Nigeria does not have a global recognition, how can a country like Nigeria not have global recognition?”
The NFF President spoke about Nigerians’ involvement with FIFA, the Goal Project in Delta State and why the NFF chose the location it was sited despite the criticisms that greeted the move.
”I had to bring Gianni Infantino to Nigeria and today, there are Nigerians in strategic positions in FIFA. By the grace of God, all that happened through me. Let us talk about the FIFA Goal project which I brought to Nigeria.
”The idea of this project is to develop football in remote areas and there is so much politics involved. I thank God one is in Kebbi which is very key and there is one Ugborodo. The entire riverine area there is no stadium. Imagine that Wilson Oruma, Blessing Kaku, Joe Eyimofe are all from the riverine area but they have no stadium.
”And there is a young man who organises football tournaments, there is always a large crowd but they play on a stadium like the one in Sierra Leone, like a cattle ranch. I went there and was embarrassed by the terrible state of the football pitch.
”That motivated me to begin plans to bring the FIFA Goal project to this area. I had to beg my members to approve that we take the Goal project to Delta state. They approved and I went to FIFA. FIFA asked me why I want the project built in Delta. I told FIFA that 25 to 30 percent of Nigeria’s oil wealth is from that area and I said there is an airport there but there is no stadium and there are many villages around there with over 300,000 people living there and they keep playing tournaments. We kept sending pictures to FIFA. FIFA sent people there and after two years they finally agreed. Now the work has started. By March 2021 by God#s grace the world, we see when the project will be commissioned.”