The second leg of the 2019 CAF Champions League final promised to be a spectacle of two North African clubs with very passionate supporters, it was all marred by CAF inability to deploy and manage the Video Assistant Referee, VAR. For an international organisation the size and stature of CAF, this equated to making a mess of eating a boiled egg.
We thought the matter was settled with the award of the title to Esperance who were a goal up before the disruption, but CAF meets a few weeks later and declared that the match would be replayed. So, as we speak, the CAF Champions League has not been concluded.
Shortly after that, CAF 3rd Vice President and head of Morocco Football Federation, Fouzi Lekjaa, assaulted referee Bamlak Tessema Weyesa in the CAF Confederation Cup game between Moroccan RS Berkane and Zamalek of Egypt. The CAF Disciplinary Committee headed by Raymond Hacks rightly recommended a minimum of one year ban and €50,000 fine on him but CAF President Ahmad Ahmad was loathed to implement the sanction as FIFA and the football world watch.
While we wondered how the provision or operation of VAR could be of such difficulty for CAF, how it could go back and forth on the conclusion of just a football match for which there are clear universally applicable rules, and how CAF could still consider its referee-beating 3rd VP fit and proper to sit in its administration, we didn’t know these were just a tip of the iceberg on how badly its governance had dipped
A couple of weeks later, Ahmad was intercepted by the French authority for questioning over suspicions of corruption which are now subject to investigation by the FIFA Ethics Committee, and possible sexual misconduct.
As if that was not enough, news came thereafter that the administration of CAF had gone so bad and FIFA was contemplating a take over of its management. We also thought it was a ruse, being that such a situation is unprecedented.
Alas, it turned out to be true. At its 41st Congress, Ahmad admitted that “the situation has worsened step by step,” and he has therefore appealed to FIFA President Gianni Infantino to provide “temporary support” in what he calls “collaboration” to manage CAF.
The intervention would have FIFA Secretary-General, Fatima Samoura, administer CAF as General Delegate for a renewable six months, to drive reforms, implement new structures and follow up with the investigation of FIFA Governance Committee into the central administration and management of the Africa Confederation.
No matter the beautiful words with which the new phase of CAF is shawled, the point remains that its management has collapsed, it can no longer govern itself. If it was a football club, it would be said to have gone into “administration.”
The development in CAF is a paradox on the new era of world football which had promised a new-look, clean and corruption-free management, and, particularly a betrayal of the vision of the Team Change which led the charge for Ahmad’s ascendency.
Sadly for African football, it does seem Ahmad rates holding on to power for its pecks more important than good governance. So, while he didn’t have a choice in the FIFA take over of CAF, given the mess he has brought the confederation into, his only strength is in the power to sideline those who seem to know better and have the boldness to call him to reason.
Indeed, worried about the drift, the President of Liberia Football Federation and member of the CAF Executive Committee, Musa Bility, long earlier challenged his style of leadership, but Ahmad’s response was to give him the butt.
Things got to a head that the former Secretary-General of CAF, Fammy Amr, was forced to blow the whistle on the decaying state of affairs. Ahmad also gave him a kick.
Disturbed by the progressively uglifying spews in CAF, the Nigeria Football Federation President and member of the Executive Committee, Amaju Pinnick, penned a passionate appeal to him, several months before the FIFA take over became irreversibly imperative, pointing out that their planned reform was derailing, warning of an imminent collapse and urging him to amend his ways to reawaken their change mantra to attract greater goodwill and respect, such as would provide a smooth sail for Ahmad into a second tenure.
Among the issues raised were obvious statutory violations by which Ahmad took and implemented decisions without recourse to the Executive Committee as provided in Article 23 of CAF Statute, the alienation of members of the team based on their forthrightness on issues, and the lack of focus on innovations and dynamic creativity to take the game to the next level, while, the leadership stagnated itself with trivial, ethnocentric Francophone versus Anglophone sentiments and biases which do not drive the development of football. Rather than rely on divisions to sustain power, he asked him to use the power of football as a universal language to bring various sections of the continent together.
Instructively, Pinnick wrote: “We need to be very careful, my President, and understand the silence of our members. We are sitting on a bombshell ready to explode and we need to act and act fast.”
Ahmad saw Pinnick’s caution as an affront of disloyalty. He dug himself deeper into his filth and eventually landed CAF on administration. Boasting that he is and remains a politician, he responded typically by not sustaining Pinnick as the 1st Vice President of CAF.
Interestingly, Pinnick had always demonstrated to him, both in his letter and in the early formation of the group, that his interest is not as much as in the positions but in the elevation of African football.
Ahmad would recall how the group was formed, first from a group of six persons in Mexico in 2017 which was enlarged to 20 national presidents who were mobilized to receive Gianni Infantino in Nigeria on his election as FIFA President. Thus was how the nucleus of the CAF Team Change which brought him to power formed.
Ahmad would recall when he lost election into the FIFA Council and how Pinnick promised him before the group of 20 that he would be supported to emerge CAF President, and besides providing funding, he led the global media campaign against the old guard when some others were equivocal about the stand and afraid of the powers of the incumbent. Pinnick did suffer wild opposition back home on the choice of Ahmad but he stood his ground.
It is interesting to see that while Ahmad moved Constant Onari of Congo up from 2nd VP to replace Pinnick as 1st VP, and the referee-beating Moroccan Lekjaa from 3rd VP to 2nd VP, he brought in South Africa’s Danny Jordan as 3rd to make up for the Anglophone group interest.
It was the same Danny Jordan he desperately wanted to stop from going into the FIFA Council in preference for Malawian Walter Nyamilandu, until Pinnick and co prevailed on him to let Jordan be so that Walter can serve four years in the CAF Executive Committee where much work is needed, and thereafter be supported into the FIFA Council at which point Jordan would have clocked 71 and not longer eligible.
It is even more shameful to see how Jordan jumped at the offer to replace Pinnick to make up for the Anglophone interest. So while the Francophone group with 18 members has the President and 1st Vice President and the Arab group with five members now hold the 2nd VP, the Anglophone with 20 members is relegated to the 3rd VP which has scant or little resonance in the hierarchy of decision making. Thankfully, Jordan eventually did not succeed into the FIFA Council, for, no doubt, Nelson Mandela will turn in his grave at his betrayal.
In all these, was Pinnick foolishly loyal? He sure was. He has always been blind in his commitments, terribly unbecoming of a typical Warri boy. It always showed in his relations to former Nigeria Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung whom he continued to show tremendous deference despite his obvious obsession to bring him down while in office and possibly even now out of office. Still, it cannot be found anywhere that Pinnick spoke disrespectfully to or of him even as the battle raged.
Not a few of Pinnick’s peers in CAF have confessed that they suggested to him to latch at Ahmad’s failures to project himself into the CAF presidency as 1st Vice, but they were disappointed that he refused to play, insisting that it was important to maintain stability in the leadership of African football.
While that may speak positively, there is still the need to be politically correct, but the question is: does Pinnick really want to remain part of the Ahmad failed and apparently corrupt leadership in the full glare of the globe? The answer shows in his passionate warning for corrections which is better loyalty, but when Ahmad refused to heed, he also did not struggle to be retained.
However, while Ahmad might be politically correct with his Machiavellian approach of backstabbing those who pushed him up, simply for pointing out his failings, it remains treachery of unspeakable malignity for him to have lent himself to the persecution of Pinnick back in his home country.
In the craze to do Pinnick in, the Special Presidential Investigation Panel on Public Property, SPIP, twisted a portion of the NFF audited account narrated by the bank as “Payment for CAF Congress and Others”, being that the first item in the set of withdrawals was an expenditure for 2014 CAF Congress. Despite the clarity, they wrote to CAF to confirm if indeed the NFF made a payment of $565,471 to it to participate in the Congress.
Unbelievably, CAF responded to the SPIP without as much as calling the attention of the NFF, its direct affiliate body, to the enquiry. It was meant to provide the SPIP an instrument to nail Pinnick and the NFF leadership, but it was all simply senseless and puerile.
It is so because the audit report never ever claimed that the NFF paid money to CAF. It clearly specified that out of the $565,471 in question, $19,269 was paid as travel expenses and estacode for the three NFF officials in attendance while $237,161 was spent on the Super Falcons match expenses, bonuses and allowances for the 2016 Olympic Games qualifier against Mali; $212,078 on the U23 in same 2016 Olympic qualifier against Zambia; $88,297 as severance to the former NFF Secretary-General; and $8,344 for February 2015 salary to NFF staff.
Ahmad and his newfound friends in Nigeria cannot achieve anything with such evil mechanizations which are, at best, only useful for the false media propaganda in the mere campaign to impugn the image of the NFF and the character of its leadership, just to fool the public.
As we speak, convinced that CAF is headed for a “complete financial meltdown” and irreparable damage of its reputation due to the actions of its leadership, Bility is headed to the Court of Arbitration for Sports, to challenge the FIFA takeover of CAF which appears to have been arranged to keep Ahmad afloat despite the odour oozing from his mess, and also to compel CAF to implement the “forensic and management audit” which was recommended by the Executive Committee but which Ahmad seems to be dodging.
Worst still for CAF is the recent judgment fine of about $18m imposed on it by the Egyptian Court on charges of trade monopoly committed by the Issa Hayatou regime. While Ahmad was expected to defend CAF and possibly mitigate the damage for his financially ailing Confederation, he chose ill-advisedly to play politics of self-preservation with it.
Indeed, the crucial issue for African football is how CAF has been so mismanaged to the point of FIFA taking it over, yet, Ahmad, albeit in self-delusion, is still playing divisive politics and joining in nocturnal schemings to destroy those who insist on best practices.
With all that has happened and still happening in CAF, Pinnick, even if failed by his loyalty, should hold his head high for his forthrightness in calling Ahmad to order, even if privately. It speaks to his integrity, passion and commitment for the good of the game for which he enjoys wide acceptability in world football. He has demonstrated this with the engagement of world-class accounting and auditing firm, Pricewatercooper, and financial advisory, Financial Derivatives, in the management and accounting of the Nigeria Football Federation which he presides over, including publication of its audited accounts for public viewing.
It is up to African football to choose to embrace such best practices and live right or remain in the odium of shifty procedures by which it is now to be managed from Zurich.
Fred Edoreh writes from Lagos. He is a Former Chairman, Sports Writers Association of Nigeria (SWAN) Lagos chapter.
Opinion contained in this article is strictly the writer’s and not Aledeh’s.