Grimot Nane Zine

Fantastic Nigeria: Amaju Pinnick and the Olympic Football Saga

So many Nigerians (particularly those from Delta State) I have come across in the UK very recently appear to be the alter ego of Amaju Pinnick, president of the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF). Quite shockingly, far too many people appear to know him personally and very well. Pinnick’s name is being dropped so frequently and intimately by so many Nigerians, one begins to think he is probably the most socially friendly, widely connected and open individual from that country. Pinnick is not an internationally famous celebrity but his private and public life just as well-known or supposed as so among numerous Nigerians. It is Olympics Time!

The peak of the chattering about Amaju Pinnick came when Nigeria’s Olympic football team arrived late at the on-going Rio 2016 Olympic Games and just in time (straight from the airport) to play their first group match with Japan in the interior Brazilian city of Manaus. Nigeria won 5-4 and a lack of rest was blamed for its concession of four goals but Amaju Pinnick was left to carry the can. The Nigerian football team was strangely stranded in Atlanta, Georgia USA after numerous flights scheduled to take them to their destination in Brazil were cancelled due to the failure of the Nigerian sporting authorities to make the necessary payments and arrangements. Excuses of foreign exchange problems, wrongly directed money transfers, conflicting financial authorisations were presented. The players also complained the plane chartered for them in Atlanta was too small. Apart from Ebola, can Nigeria get anything right?

I remember Jim Nwobodo, the then Sports Minister, vaingloriously taking credit for Nigeria winning the men’s gold in football at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games and used it as part of his presidential campaign in 2003. The other heads of sporting associations at the time such as the Nigerian Olympic Committee, Nigerian Football Federation and the Athletic Federation of Nigeria (they may have had different names then) all claimed credit for Nigeria’s two gold medals in 1996, the other which was won by Chioma Ajunwa for women’s long jump. Success has many proud claimants. Nevertheless, who is now claiming responsibility for the flights’ fiasco that delayed the Nigerian Olympic football team in Atlanta in 2016? Nobody! The buck stops nowhere.

While many Nigerians contend their government, especially under the watch of President Muhammadu Buhari, is not and has never been fantastically corrupt, the evidence of her corruption always shows itself unobstructed when the handling of money is involved. Be it the Olympics, the FIFA World Cup or other major sporting events, monies adequately budgeted for the transportation, accommodation, upkeep and welfare of Nigerian sportsperson and hands-on officials get rapaciously “skimmed” by national sporting officials exposing the athletes, support staff and everyday Nigerians to sheer derision. Such corrupt skimming has happened constantly since Independence. Can we forget when Nigeria played England at Wembley Stadium barefooted in 1966?  This was because a sports official pocketed the money for boots. Rebellions by sportspersons due to non-payment of allowances for participating at international sporting events are perennial expectations.

One would think that with the huge population and equally huge potential of the Nigerian people, they should be getting at least a handful of gold medals at any Olympic Games but the manic proclivity of public servants to steal anything steal-able would never permit that. Even when national honour is at stake with the international community watching, public officials will steal enough to put Nigeria in bad enough shape to leave it looking inferior and wanting, while such was very easily preventable with good governance. Nigeria’s representations at international sporting are classic “uncompleted projects” with the only difference being  that the sportsmen and women have to compete in the end and do worse than they are potentially and evidently capable of.

Whether Amaju Pinnick is responsible for the management of the entire Nigeria Olympic contingent or the failure of providing foreign exchange to buy flight tickets for the football team or the choice of aircraft initially booked for the football team or the delayed payment of allowances for participation at the Olympics etc. are questions worth asking. But we must also seriously present the same questions to the Ministers of Sports and the heads of Nigeria’s sporting bodies with the unshakable demand for credible answers. Buhari’s anti-corruption crusade should walk in that direction since David Cameron might be feeling justified at the moment.

Well, we shall keep an eye on the Olympic Medals table and see how Nigeria performs. Many will wish we all could keep an on the evolving audit of Nigeria’s Olympic team’s budget and expenditure.

Grimot Nane

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