In a live interview conducted by Rob Bonnet on BBC Extra Time on Wednesday, NFF President Amaju Pinnick insists that football is more than what many people thinks…
Q: Welcome to Extra Time. You voted for Sepp Blatter to continue as FIFA President. Why did you do that?
A: It was very simple because he impacted greatly on the continent of Africa a great deal and personally, i had an encounter with him in Nigeria in 1999 when we hosted the FIFA U-20 World Cup and i was one of the VIP Volunteers. We got close. We sat one day and we were talking and he told me he was going to do everything possible to make sure Africa hosted the FIFA World Cup. You know, i didn’t see it coming, i doubted it but it came. He was very passionate about it and based on that, everything he said he would do, he did.
Q: You voted for a man who presided over FIFA for over 17 years and who had a reputation for corruption and that reputation is on the line with the organization facing a number of indictments with a number of top FIFA Officials. I think it was a surprise that anyone would want to vote for him
A: I don’t dwell on such discussions any longer. To me, they are sub-judice because the investigations are on going, these investigations will culminate in criminal litigations. At that point in time (before the elections) there were no indictments, there was nothing. Nobody can accommodate corruption, corruption is a cankerworm, corruption is capable of disrupting A to Z of everything you set out to do. Its not anything anyone wants to go close to. In fact, everyone will run away from you if you are caught but the fact there and then was that there was no indictment of his person.
Q: But there were indictments on senior and former members of the FIFA Executive Committee and he presided over that Executive Committee for some 17 Years…
A: Like i said earlier, investigations are still on going. I will crave your indulgence, i don’t want to talk on it because these investigations will lead to criminal indictments, these are very sensitive issues. We respect the USA Justice Department and the Swiss Agencies that are investigating, what they are trying to do is to bring sanity and level of integrity to football all over the world and I really respect that. i really love what they are doing, so football will win.
Q: So how did you react then when he stepped down?
A: Yeah, we really didn’t see it coming, i was kind of shocked, i was taken aback, i wanted to see why he did that but he said it clearly. He got the mandate of the Congress (134 votes) but he did not get the mandate of other major stakeholders. To me, it was very touching because at that point he wasn’t looking at personal issues. Football brings peace and he does not want turmoil. As Development Officer in 1975 and later President, for a total of 40 years working there, you cannot write the story of FIFA without Sepp Blatter. He brought FIFA to what it is today.
Q: What was your personal reaction when he stood down? Was it of sadness?
A: Mixed feelings you know because people were taking extreme positions and lots of people were getting worried about the future of football. His stepping down gave football lots of positives.
Q: Was that the right thing to do?
A: He said it and i will support his view. If he said that’s the right thing to do, then i will say that’s the right thing to do. And he needed to do it to save football, to save the future of football, to save FIFA. FIFA is one of the biggest organisations in the world and he was part of nurturing that baby, so quoting him, “I got your vote but not the support of others,” so I think he should be commended.
Q: Its been said that FIFA and football are his life. This resignation, would it become death for him?
A: There are other things you can do you know. He’s 79 years, technically he still has like twenty more years to live, watching football, he can do so many other things. He has so many other pastimes. You know, Blatter and versatility, he speaks so many languages, i think he can delve into so many other things.
Q: But you would have preferred him to stay?
A: If he had wanted to stay. Why not?
Q: Seems like you had to go with whatever he wanted to do?
A: Whatever he wanted to do he did for the good of football. That’s the truth. He said after the election that he was going to repair whatever damage he thought was in FIFA, but he stepped down. If he was there he probably would have repaired it. But he stepped down and said let someone else do it, let someone else take over from there.
Q: There’s also the question of his trying to delay till December or even till March of next year, is that the right thing to do?
A: Listen there are statutory provisions even in my own Federation. You step down; who is going to take over from you?
Q: Is it not better off for him to just go?
A: It’s his opinion.
Q: Jack Warner, former FIFA Vice President described Blatter as a lame duck President. Jack Warner we also know, that he’s been named in the USA indictment…
A: Like I said, seriously this is somebody that is under investigation, everybody knows he’s under investigation. Sincerely with all due respect, I don’t want to join in that, whatever he says is his opinion.
Q: I will just give you an example which has to do with the Cycling Union. Brown Kosul is elected into the presidency of the International Union in 2013 beset by allegations of doping; he removed all computers from the headquarters in Switzerland. Maybe Blatter could be doing that as well.
A: If he’s there, let him be there and do whatever he wants to do but like i said you can excuse me on this issue because where I come from we respect the law and we respect the law to do whatever they are doing, I crave your indulgence not to go into that area.
Q: Have you spoken to him since his announcement to leave or since the voting?
A: I have not spoken to him since then but like I said, I supported him for so many reasons. To us in Africa (it’s not just me and Nigeria) he has an amazing effect on us, you can imagine in 1999 he called me Pinnick, 2014 he still call me Pinnick. He has this effect of building relationship, to us every federation not just in Africa alone even in Asia, to me that’s the kind of leadership he provided. We met in 1999, we met at Soccerex , all major football fora we met and he recognized me and i was with him for one or two days when he came to Nigeria, like i said that has an amazing effect on anybody.
Q: What kind of a man was he though?
A: We are talking about a man in perception because its not science, everybody have perceptions about you, he has an amazing effect on people, he is charismatic; how to go about doing things the way he wants. There is no science to determine whether this is his true picture; he’s extremely likeable to me, that’s what I am saying.
Q: Maybe its because he’s a professional politician…
A: There are some (people at that level) that are not as accessible, I am not going to mention names, but Blatter came to us as someone you could reach. You would identify with someone you can tell your problems no matter how little or critical he wants to be there for you so he has this kind of huge impact.
Q: You can imagine people around the world now thinking that people like you have something that they can’t speak about in public until the opportunity arises. Would you be willing to talk to the investigators, the investigating authorities about what was going on in FIFA?
A: I am not going to go into that because I have never been part of what was going on and to me talking of going into the investigation, it is like directly or indirectly getting yourself into a case. I know him as somebody that is very friendly, someone accessible, somebody you can talk to, so if my dad is indicted for a crime, he should face the music.
Q: Do you think there’s been a conspiracy against Blatter?
A: i don’t want to go into that; I don’t want to go into whether it was a conspiracy or not; I don’t know what is going on but I respect the investigations going on, i respect the US Justice Department, I respect the Swiss Justice Department and whatever they are doing will turn out to be for the good of the game.
Q: The daughter (of Sepp Blatter) called into BBC claiming conspiracy. She wouldn’t say the British and Americans but certain dark forces working behind the scene. Do you recognize this idea of dark forces?
A: The daughter will know more than anyone else so let us respect her opinion, because they see practically everyday. There are things they will share that he cannot tell anyone else so I am not going to dwell on that, whatever the daughter says possibly information may come from the dad.
Q: Now about the Russians saying this is a conspiracy by the United States…
A: This is extremely political which I don’t want to get into. My Government will not be excited for me to get into this; its two extremes. What the new Nigerian Government is trying to do is preaching peace.
Q: Let’s talk about the future, shall we? For the next FIFA Presidential Elections in 2016 is it the turn of an African President?
A: We don’t know but if there’s an African candidate we will look at the issue critically and give him support, its just one thing that that we have been able to achieve in Africa, we have always believed in United We Stand. Even the President of CAF, Issa Hayatou, if he wants to come out we will support him automatically because he has been able to impact hugely on the continent of Africa because he has been there for long. You don’t just kick out somebody because you want to kick out the person. Look at his pluses and what he has been able to achieve over time. I think Africa is the only confederation to have this kind of unity, this kind of bond. Everything we do we do en bloc. For instance, if i am speaking you see the Ghanaian FA President (Kwesi Nyantakyi), you see the Zambian FA President Kalusha Bwalya saying the same thing because they recognize that we are one indivisible unit. To us, we believe in brotherhood based on interest and what is the interest, football, and how it impacts on the continent of Africa. If I am speaking apart from the fact that Nigeria is the biggest black nation in the world, Nigeria is a super force in world football. If you talk about Super Power, Nigeria is. I am not talking about Amaju Pinnick, a 44 -year old who got elected seven months ago; I am talking about Nigeria, it’s a massive country.
Q: Is Africa looking at who will represent the continent best?
A: We have a very strong leader in Issa Hayatou, he’s been able to build us as a close-nit family. We will study everything critically and look at it. Personally, I am a fan of English football.
Whatever might have happened with Sepp Blatter, he certainly was there for the African continent. Moving forward, Africa will look at a new President favourable to Africa. At the end of the day, directly or indirectly, we are going to have discussions within ourselves, look at it critically and say what best suits Africa in terms of protecting our interest. Our interest is football development in the continent and that is exactly what we are looking at. We are going to look at the antecedents of candidates, A to Z. We are building football in Africa. All the Confederations are beneficiaries of Africa. If you look at UEFA, the Didier Drogbas of this world, they are all playing in the European League. We had an African, George Weah winning the World Player Of The Year Award, plus or minus we have been able to impact on the other Continents.
Q: Do the names coming out as replacements for Sepp Blatter excite you?
A: Somehow, I have respect for all those names who have one way or the other contributed to the growth of the game. I have huge respect for them, but we have to sit to look at it critically and come up with who best suits our position, who best suits our interests and that is the truth.
Q: What’s your disposition towards the English FA?
A: Whatever is going on is geared towards rebuilding football integrity and sanity in world football. There is nothing negative about English football. Greg Dyke is my colleague and I have great respect for him. Why not, if Greg comes as a candidate, why not? He’s someone very passionate about the game. I have always been a great fan of English football, of course you know i support Arsenal. I also support a club in Nigeria called Warri Wolves, i have supported Arsenal from the time of Viv Anderson, Richard Rocastle, David O’ Leary till date.
Q: Could you back an English candidate, will you vote an English candidate?
A: Personally, there are some i have seen as role models like Adam Crozier, Richard Scudamore, David Dein, David Gill, there are so many egg heads in English football and I believe possibly it can be the time for an Englishman to be FIFA President. You have the richest football culture in the world, but you will still need to make some friends to achieve that.
Q: Where else do you think the President might come from?
A: Anywhere, anywhere in Europe, football is rich in Europe, it can be anywhere it can be Europe or Asia but the determining factor like I said, as Africans we shall sit together and look at the issues critically and say this is where we are going to CAF President. Issa Hayatou has always made us to realize that even though we want to come en bloc, even though we want to stay united you still have your opinion and you can also act accordingly. He’s always preaching that and that’s why I said he’s a wonderful man.
Q: Do you think the European body will try to re-impose itself as the central power of world football?
A: The truth is Europe has fifty four votes, it has to go to numbers; its pure democracy; it just goes to numbers. Africa is Fifty Four, there’s Asia, there’s Concacaf and other Confederations, together they are two hundred and nine in total that make up the membership of FIFA, Like I said, Europe has to go out to make friends to set out to achieve what you want to achieve, even if Africa wants to achieve it we need to make friends.
Q: Tell me your best-case scenario for the future of FIFA…
A: What we have been able to see is that whoever comes in as FIFA President, he is going into a world where he must be impeccable, he must not have any remote taint. We also look at integrity checks from the various Confederations coming on board, more transparency. We have done that in Nigeria football, for example, what I did immediately in coming in to attract Nigerian companies was to get companies like Bain and Co, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, these are companies that are world-class and reputable, you do that because you want to attract Nigerian companies.
Nigerian companies want to see transparency. Look at our League now, we have somebody Shehu Dikko. You have my First Vice President who is in charge of our Youth Development Programme so that there can be a symbiotic relationship between the junior and senior players. It’s the brief of the First Vice President, Seyi Akinwunmi, to nurture these talents so that in Russia (2018), if not in Qatar (2022), they can win the World Cup.