Nigeria’s squad (back L-R) defender Kenneth Omeruo, defender Elderson Uwa Echiejile, goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi, defender Leon Balogun, defender William Troost-Ekong, midfielder John Obi Mikel, (L-R) midfielder Victor Moses, midfielder Ogenyi Onazi, forward Oghenekaro Etebo, forward Alex Iwobi and forward Kelechi Iheanacho pose for a group picture ahead of the 2018 FIFA World Cup African zone group B qualifying football match between Nigeria and Algeria at the Akwa Ibom State Stadium in Uyo on November 12, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / PIUS UTOMI EKPEI
In about a week, the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations will kick off in Libreville. Sixteen teams will take to the greens of Gabon in a battle for continental supremacy. Three-time champions Nigeria, however, will not be found in that contest.
In fact, going by the December 2016 FIFA rankings, Nigeria is the only nation in Africa’s top ten that will not be putting in an appearance. From winning a third crown in 2013, to missing two on the bounce: it has been quite the fall from grace.
Both of those failures have the same unmistakable calling card; it is at the feet of the leadership of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) that blame must be laid. Under its president Amaju Pinnick, there has been plenty of talk, plenty of hot air, and a shortage of tangible progress. That Nigeria is now persona non grata at Africa’s table is no less than an embarrassment.
As other nations hand in their squad lists and fine-tune preparations, one would be forgiven for thinking a nation of 180 million people, a vast majority avid football-lovers would be allowed to lick its wounds in sobriety and decorum. Yet, even that bit of self-awareness seems to elude the NFF boss – he wants a seat at the Executive table of the African football’s governing body (CAF), and is making his case unabashed and loud.
He is that man we all know who giggles at a private joke in the middle of a Mass, one incapable of grasping the prevailing mood. His utterances in a recent TV Continental (TVC) appearance were unfortunate, ill-timed, presumptuous and disrespectful, not only to Chad, but to the constituency he so badly let down by his own shortcomings.
Pinnick pointed to presenter Juliet Mafua that: “If we had a Nigerian in CAF, I can tell you Nigeria would have been in the AFCON (Nations Cup in Gabon). You know why? Because Chad that pulled out wouldn’t have pulled out because he would have made a case then that listen… the money [I’m guessing grants] you want to give to Chad let them use that money to play these games. We [Nigeria] would have ended up with 11 points and second best. Togo ended up with 11 points.”
For starters, the decision of the Chadian football administration to withdraw from the qualifiers for financial reasons was neither reached out of spite for Nigeria, nor was it announced at the end of the qualifying series. It may have led to three points being chalked off, but Chad has no obligation to aid Nigeria in qualification for international football tournaments. Egypt also had to forfeit three points, and Tanzania are well within their rights to feel aggrieved at not getting the chance to amass six points and duel the Super Eagles in a winner-takes-all battle for a best second-place slot.
In any case, Pinnick’s assumption that Chad would roll over on their own patch in N’Djamena is the measure of the man: thoroughly arrogant, entitled and incapable of facing up to his own mistakes. Under his watch, the Super Eagles did, after all, draw away at Swaziland.
Most galling though is his sneaky attempt to shift the burden of responsibility. The reason Nigeria will not be in Gabon is not the withdrawal of Chad. The reason is a football administration that used four different coaches over the course of the qualifying process. The reason is that the Super Eagles amassed a measly two points from three games with Tanzania and Egypt, when the group was still in the balance. Attempting to rewrite history in the obsessive thirst for political ambition is insulting to the memories of those who grieve.
This is not to knock the principle of his quest, of course. Politics maybe a sordid enterprise in many ways, but it would be naïve to reckon without it. Does Nigeria need a stronger voice in the bowels of CAF? Undoubtedly, yes. However, if you have a shot, you want to put your best foot forward, not present someone by default.
Pinnick has nothing going for him in his own constituency, has failed to deliver on targets, and has not improved the efficiency of the body he leads. Why should he be trusted to make decisions in Nigeria’s interest at CAF? Remove the speck in your own eye, the Scriptures advise.
With his image at an all-time low and various national teams groaning in agony of neglect, surely it is only appropriate that Pinnick get off his podium, take off the blinders of personal ambition, and fix the mess he has been complicit in making. He may very well get what he wants, having used his position for his own ends, but Nigeria already has no football to look forward to in 2017. It won’t matter that he is in the CAF Executive Committee. He will always be remembered as the NFF Boss under whose tenure Nigeria failed to qualify for AFCON twice in a row.