I would have been an excellent footballer if I had a good coach –Amaju Pinnick

Posted on Dec 17 2017 - 7:46am by admin

President, Nigeria Football Federation, Amaju Pinnick, speaks with OLUSHOLA RICKETTS about his experience managing Nigerian football, his family and other related matters

What has brought you this far?

I am a very prayerful person. Once you believe in prayers, are dedicated and believe in yourself, everything you work towards will always come to pass. I used to aspire for what I am doing right now. I started as the second Vice Chairman of the Delta State Football Association. I later became the first Vice Chairman before I became the Chairman of DSFA. I was also the Commissioner for Sports in Delta State for eight years. After that, I became the President of the Nigerian Football Federation.  I am now an executive member of the Confederation of African Football’s emergency committee and I’m also a member of FIFA’s organising committee for competitions.God has shown me uncommon favour and I believe that is what we all look for. Within a period of 16 years, God has given me a lot. I am thankful to Him.

Did you play football while growing up?

I have always loved football. Though I couldn’t play it, I decided to be part of it somehow. I forced myself to play football while I was in elementary and post-elementary schools. I was a striker and a goalkeeper at some point. I struggled to play, even though some of my contemporaries later took it to the big stage and played for the national team. I attended Austin College in Warri, Delta State, and it was very popular for producing footballers. During my days at the University of Benin, I became the team manager of my faculty. I recall that we were on the verge of lifting the cup before we were defeated by the Faculty of Education in the final match. I felt terrible, but such is life. I have always been involved in sports one way or the other. I wanted to be like the late Patrick Okpomo, a renowned football administrator, who was at a time the Secretary-General of the Nigeria Football Association. We are not related by blood, but it took me a while to find out.  My father took care of him since he was in elementary school and he didn’t know any other father except my dad. When he married in 1976, my father bought him a car and stood as his father during the marriage process. When he was the Secretary-General of NFA, I was always amazed by his commitment. He was always busy. He went through all that I am going through at the moment. Then, the chairman didn’t have much power; the government would appoint a secretary-general and he would be given absolute control. Since I had a brother in such position, I always had tickets to watch matches. I was in the stadium when Clemens Westerhof and many other top personalities visited. I was living in Warri then, but I didn’t miss big matches. My father used to ask people to take me to Lagos to watch matches. Even when he died; somehow, I always found myself in Lagos to watch big games. I was in the stadium the day Samuel Okwaraji slumped and died. I loved to go to the stadium as early as 10am to enjoy the atmosphere and calmness.

Did you cease to play professional football because you were not good enough?

The competition for positions was tough. Today, we have football academies where you can nurture an amateur to become an excellent footballer. Those days, there were no schools that could teach you sublime skills, endurance and a lot more. Maybe if I had a good coach, I could have been a better player. Like I said, I did the best I could do at that time. I wasn’t motivated by the money, but the desire to be part of the 11-man team. I wanted people to see me and salute me as a good player. My closest friends played, but I couldn’t. 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.

Were you born into a wealthy family?

I cannot deny that my father 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.

I come from a polygamous family, but we are united.  My father passed on 35 years ago, but we have maintained peace in the household till date. We were originally 18 children but three have passed on. 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.

What were your aspirations as a kid?

I wanted to be an administrative person. I decided to study Political Science and Public Administration for that reason; I didn’t just stumble on it. With my secondary school certificate, I could study whatever I wanted; Medicine, Engineering or Law.  In fact, there were people who 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.

How did you convince your parents to allow you study an ‘unattractive course?’

My father died before I gained admission to the university, while my mother was indifferent. She was a struggling woman and I am her last child. It was what I actually wanted to do and no one objected to it. In my family, everyone was allowed to thrive in their various areas or fields.

What other interests do you have?

I do quite a lot of things. You must understand that I am from an oil-rich region and I have an offshore company that provides logistics and tries to enable the activities of the oil industry. We do a bit of property business as well and my wife has an event centre, which I support too. Though things are tight, we are happy and God has been very merciful to us.

How did you get the scar on your face?

I had an accident; a near-death situation in 2011. 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. When I got married to my wife, we noticed that people who were married then were struggling. I was based in Warri, Delta State, then. So, we introduced a 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. Back to how I got the scar on my face; on February 14, 2011, after an edition of the event, we had 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. If you had seen me four years ago, you would understand what I went through. I was in the intensive care unit of a hospital in Shell, Warri, for 10 days.

Why do you think certain people were against you becoming an executive of CAF?

The country was not against me; the minister congratulated me after winning the election. The country will never be against any Nigerian aspiring for such a position. There were just a few disgruntled people who were selling bad ideas to top officials of the government, but I am happy that the government ignored them. To me, it was just madness. If I didn’t become an executive of CAF, it would have been difficult for Nigeria to qualify for Russia 2018 World Cup. Issa Hayatou has always been protecting Cameroon; do you remember that they were in our group in the last world qualifiers? In 2004, Jay Jay Okocha scored four goals at the Nations Cup in Tunisia. He was the highest goal scorer and the most valuable player at that tournament. Everyone thought he would win the African Footballer of the Year award, but it was changed to Samuel Eto’o at the last minute. There were many things people wanted to hide under the carpet. We didn’t qualify for Nations Cup two times and people didn’t take it lightly. We needed to be part of CAF to ensure that everything would go fairly and firmly. That was the main reason I tried to be a member of CAF.

Why didn’t Nigeria qualify for the 2015 and 2017 Nations Cup competitions?

Even though I took the responsibility, it was not our fault that we didn’t qualify. When I was made the President of NFF in 2014, Nigeria had gotten only one point. I struggled and we just needed to win the match in Uyo to make up, but we didn’t. I knew what caused the loss. Nobody challenged the players; everyone challenged the administrators. Keshi told the players clearly that they should return to their room at a particular time, but they didn’t listen to him. I don’t want to mention names, even though I would have loved to. They were scattered in the lobby of the hotel and I told them to go their rooms, but they told me they were professionals. One of them, in particular, conceded two goals in a match against South Africa (Vicent Enyeama was the Super Eagles’ goalkeeper then), then we started struggling to equalise. At the end of the day, no one said anything about the players. They put all the blames on NFF. As for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations, held in Gabon; since Egypt didn’t participate in the last three editions of the Nations Cup, they were more desperate than us. Chad pulled out later. If Nigeria had come second, there was no way we wouldn’t have gone for the Nations Cup because Togo and Uganda had 10 points.  But I claimed responsibility as a leader.

Are you aware that certain people felt you ran for a position in CAF to serve your personal interest?

All that have happened now, are they in my personal interest? This week, three Nigerians, out of seven people, were invited for CAF.  Under the former administration, that could never have happened. People don’t understand this. Today, I am the President of AFCON; would that have been possible in the past era? The FIFA president is visiting Nigeria again. If he comes; then apart from Russia, Nigeria will be the first county to host him twice since he came to power. We have a CAF president that listens and knows that my loyalty is 100 per cent. People should appreciate what we have done for the country. No member of my family is part of CAF committee; I am even the only person there from my state. I am doing this for my country. I can afford to have given birth to all my children abroad and get them American passports. But all my children were born in Nigeria; that shows you the type of passion I have for this country. When my wife wanted to give birth to our first child, we had already made preparations for her to deliver the baby in America, but I changed all the plans overnight, and she accepted quietly. If I want to go to America or anywhere else in the world, I can easily go with my family because I am clean. I passed FIFA’s integrity test, even when many people from Europe and other parts of the world failed.

What are your plans to ensure that there wouldn’t be crisis ahead of next year’s World Cup competition?

We looked at some of the problems in the past and we have decided to go to this World Cup without distractions. We have spoken to CAF and CAF has spoken to FIFA. I see us getting all the money we need before we proceed to Russia. The government is making efforts and the minister is trying his best. On our part too, we’ve been making efforts. By the end of March 2018, we should have the money for players. We want to go there with a mindset of surpassing all the previous records African countries have achieved.

Do you think Nigeria stands a chance to win Russia 2018?

I am a child of God. Among all the 32 countries that qualified, anyone can lift the trophy. Qualifying at all is like winning the World Cup already. If anyone had told you Nigeria would qualify from a group that had three countries that attended the last World Cup, would you have believed it? Based on records, Algeria was rated number one, but we humbled them. Cameroon made all sorts of noise, but we levelled them too. The same thing applied to Zambia. With this, you should understand that God is with Nigeria.

How often do you spend time with your wife and children?

You just saw my daughter playing with me now, and I am headed to Abuja after this interview. It is not easy, but I create time for them. I have a young family of four kids. My first daughter, 15, would return from school for the holidays soon. My last child is three years old. I have two boys: one is 10 years old, while the other is seven years old. They both attend Saint Saviour’s School in Ikoyi, Lagos. My first daughter schools in London. My wife understands my schedule, and technology has made it possible for us to talk. We make a lot of video calls.  Whenever I have the opportunity, I am always with my family. That is why I made my home very comfortable. I hardly go out and if I have to go out, I usually go with my wife.

How do you relax?

I relax with my wife. We do karaoke, watch movies, pray and exercise together. We have access to new movies and we don’t need to go out before we see them. I don’t joke with going to the gym because it is all about wellness for me. I am 47 years old, but people say I don’t look it. The facilities I have in my gym in Lagos are the same with what I have in Warri and Asaba.

How would you describe your style?

I like to look good, and I think everyone likes looking good. To look good, you have to work hard. I like designers such as Tom Ford and Gucci.  I like perfumes and I try to get different luxury collections. I don’t joke with watches too. I love the good life.

What is your favorite meal?

I love vegetable soup a lot, but I am avoiding anything that has to do with carbohydrate for now. I don’t take alcohol; I just drink water and smoothies. I try to live healthy.

Do you have plans to contest for a government office?

I don’t have such plans.  If I am offered the governorship position of any state, I would not take it. My dream is what I am living right now. If it is God’s will, I will go further. And if this is my final stop, I thank God because this is a dream that has come true. I don’t plan to go into partisan politics. When people say I belong to one party or the other, I just laugh. Even when I was serving a Peoples Democratic Party  governor in Delta State, I didn’t have PDP’s membership card because I knew where I was headed to.  If I had the card, I wouldn’t have passed FIFA’s integrity test. It is one of those things they look out for, though they don’t say it. They don’t want their members to get involved in politics.

What was the experience like, working with the former Governor of Delta State, Emmanuel Uduaghan, who is also your in-law?

He is very instrumental to whatever I am today. He saw my vision and he helped to me actualise it. Today, he can raise his head high and say this is someone who I helped. If you look around my house, you will see his picture. I like his personality. He is very dogged and he is a seasoned politician. I also served under James Ibori as his Special Assistant on Foreign Relations, and I defined that position. I appreciate him for believing in me and giving me the opportunity to demonstrate my ability. I have a good relationship with many people in government, but it doesn’t mean I am a politician. In football, we work with everyone for the common good of all.

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