As speculations of who takes over from Amaju Pinnick as NFF President hots up, the coast is not yet clear about who are the top favourites to win the position of the President in the forthcoming elections
However, contenders and pretenders are beginning to emerge from various interest groups with varying claims.
One of the speculated contenders, Chief Amanze Uchegbulam – the Chairman of Imo State Football Association, in this exclusive interview with Completesports.com in his Owerri office, says the guidelines will determine who is qualified to run for the office of NFF President, informing that he is yet to declare his interest to run, for obvious reasons.
The longest-serving State FA Chairman in Nigeria also talks about the knotty issues concerning the NFF elections, the poor condition of Nigerian football and how they can be fixed.
Interview by CHIGOZIE CHUKWULETA, in Owerri.
Completesports.com: Could you tell us the reasons you decided to run for the office of NFF President?
Uchegbulam: I’ve not decided to run. People are urging me to run. I’ve not decided and I have not declared. And it’s not even time yet because they have not even set up this election machinery. So those who are indicating their interest now, I don’t know on what basis they are indicating interests.
You have to have a congress first, and set up an Electoral Committee that will bring the timetable and a guideline. When they bring the guidelines you now know whether you are qualified before you can now purchase the form and apply. If the guideline does not suit you and you are not qualified, there is no need to waste your money. So I have not even declared, but people are only wishing that I contest. And that’s good enough for me. People feel I’m qualified enough. But until I see the guideline and now decide what to do. I will declare formally at the appropriate time.
In May this year, Imo State FA Ordinary General Assembly unanimously urged you to contest the position. Will you stand on that while making the considerations?
Yeah, they urged me and l gave them a response. Yes, I thank them for finding me worthy enough to contest. But I told them to give me some time to think about it and to wait for the system to be put in the process first, then I will now declare my intention. But for now, I’ve not declared my intention yet.
You said that you would think about it, that it involves huge financial resources. What does that exactly mean? Does running for the presidency of NFF requires so much money?
Yes, it does. Because I have gone to the road before. I was there in 2014 at Warri. And then the incumbent used financial muscle to edge us out. Unfortunately, this is what is happening in our football now. It had never happened before. At the time, we had Galadima contest for the chairmanship, there was no money involved. When Lulu came – that was our time – there was no money involved. During Maigari, there was no money involved. But in the Amaju period, they now monetized the electoral process, which is very unfortunate and it has put our football where we are now. And we are going to change that attitude.
You should go for your best, not the highest bidder. As long as we go through the process of the highest bidder, we will keep getting the wrong people and our football will be going down. That’s what we’re suffering now. It’s so unfortunate, that is where we find ourselves. And it started with Amaju. It’s so unfortunate.
You contested for the position in 2014 and lost to the incumbent. Did you learn how best to run successfully from that experience?
There’s no best way to run. All they do is induce delegates, and I wouldn’t do that. I wouldn’t do that even if l have the money stacked up as high as heaven. I don’t believe I should induce people. l want to serve the people and serve them well because I know I’m going to work for them. I won’t do that [induce delegates with money]. And I criticized them at that time. I condemned it at that time. Some could not understand why I did that. But today they know better, that it has turned our football upside down.
How do you look at your colleague Chairman that you’re going to work with having given him money to vote for you? How do you work with him? It makes nonsense of the whole thing. How do I work with you when I induced you to vote for me? How do I install a system and how do I maintain some discipline and sanity in the system when I influenced you to get into the office? It doesn’t make sense. I wouldn’t do it.
When I get into the Nigeria Football Federation, I want to change that attitude. I want to put some sanity and respect the ethics of the job. I will never start by inducing anybody to go and do a job when I know l am going to make a change, a revolution. No, I wouldn’t do that. Certainly, I will not do that.
Pinnick reportedly said that he won’t run for the third term. If you decide to run, does that boost your chances of winning this time around?
It doesn’t matter whether he runs or not. Because he has had a very woeful period. So, if delegates love what is happening with our football, well, they can vote him in. But if they don’t love it, they can ask him… to good riddance, he can leave. He has tried his best but his best is not good enough for us. He wants to run a third time, so be it. But he is daring God. He is the first person that got a second term in Nigerian football as president. The first person, and he wants to dare God for the third time. I wish him all the best. I’ve already told him don’t dare God, you’ve been lucky.
You came in 2014 and by 2015 you started fighting for a position in CAF, it’s unprecedented. You have not solved local problems you go to international politics. By 2016, you got into CAF Executive Committee. It has never happened before and he is so lucky. That’s why there is no attention to the homefront because he is busy looking for a position. It is all myself, myself, my position. I want to be in CAF, I want to be in FIFA. I don’t think it is right.
We have a lot to do on the homefront. Our football requires a lot of attention, in all sectors; coaches, referees, a technical and scouting policy which we don’t have. We have to put up a process of U-13, U-15 which we brought in when I was with Lulu. That’s how we discovered people like Kelechi Iheanacho, Nwakali, all those boys that graduated to the main team. That talent hunt system Lulu put in place, was abandoned. No such thing again. People are busy talking about how to be in CAF, and how to be in FIFA. That’s not important to us. Now we are trying to show that we have performed by winning WAFU B. That’s the level we have reached, WAFU B? That the president is proud to talk that our football is not nosediving because we won WAFU B U17, U-20. Can you imagine, people that have won U-17 World Cup how many times? Won Olympic Gold medal. We are now using WAFU B, not even WAFU itself but WAFU B a section of WAFU – our president is using that to make mouth.
We’ve gone that bad. We can’t even go to the Mundial in Qatar. It is so bad. You know how much money we’ve lost by not qualifying for the main World Cup. It’s so bad. You journalists have lost a lot of money, you are not going to go to the World Cup, no sponsorship, nothing. It hits you people more. You know everybody is suffering because of it and people are looking at it as something normal.
Galadima lost his position because we didn’t qualify for Germany 2006 World Cup. And somebody did not qualify for Qatar 2022 World Cup and he wants to do a third term. Does it show that he loves Nigerian football? He doesn’t love Nigerian football. It is annoying really.
You are a former National Vice President of NFF during the regime of Lulu. What was the experience of serving in that capacity like?
Okay. It’s interesting when you work with somebody good, like Lulu. Lulu was good, a good man. But when you work with someone who doesn’t take advice, it becomes a very tough job to be his vice. You will enjoy the assistant job if you work with somebody who will listen to you, who believes in you and takes your advice and then share thoughts and ideas with you. If you don’t have such a person, then it is a terrible job.
So what was the experience like?
Oh, good, I enjoyed my work. My stay with Lulu was fantastic. Lulu is a good man, one of the best persons l have ever worked with. Lulu is a gentleman, a complete gentleman who has a listening ear, ready to listen to you, ready to bow to a superior argument. He takes you on, you argue, convince him that your argument is better. Lulu will take it and that’s it. He is a very decent man. And I don’t think we can ever get a board like that of Lulu board again the way we are going.
You are also a former vice president of the CAF Board of Appeal. What are your takeaways from that continental football job? How do you intend to use them to administer Nigerian football if elected?
It was a wonderful experience because that’s where you now sit down and dispense cases in Africa. wonderful experience. We take the case of Morocco vs Gabon, the case of Namibia – South Africa, and continental cases, you sit down and preside over them. You invite those people and they come before you and you take a decision that even the Executive Committee of CAF cannot overturn. Even Congress cannot overturn my decision. You have to go to the Court of Arbitration of Sports. We were that powerful. Once we take any decision, it was final. I sat on 33 cases for 12 years, only three cases were challenged upstairs at the Court of Arbitration of Sports. And those three cases that were challenged at the Court of Arbitration of Sports were ruled in my favour. So it is unprecedented. Issa Hayatou gave me a testimonial. It is a record I set up in CAF. I am proud that a Nigerian did that for CAF
So how do you intend to use that experience to impact Nigerian football?
We need to look at our structure again because there’s so much impunity. I wrote the Ethics Code of the Nigeria Football Federation and gave it to Amaju and it is not even being implemented. He set up the Ethics Committee and I was the Chairman. I said I can’t be chairman of the Ethics Committee without a Code. I wrote a Code and handed it over to the Congress in Lagos, Congress approved it. That Code is not in practice up till now. And how can you run football without ethics? Ethics is very strong. That controls even the president himself. Ethics Committee can indict the president. It should be independent.
We have ethics that is controlled by the Executive Committee, that’s wrong. We need to restructure everything. We have to restructure our football
As Imo FA Chairman, you are seen as the longest serving State FA chairman in Nigeria. Could you confirm how many years you’ve been in office?
It’s just too long, just too long I can’t wait to leave.
So how long is it?
Well, I was here in 1994. I was the first elected State FA Chairman in the country. Other times it has been appointed by the government, but here it was during the time of Navy Captain Aneke. Patrick Ekeji was the Director of Sports. It was advertised, and l won the election in 1994. In 1999, the FA was dissolved, and I left. They brought in Uche Ejimofor, Fan Ndubuoke, and others along the line. By 2005, they couldn’t sustain the tempo. Too many quarrels and fights, so they were dissolved and they brought me back. When I came back in 2006, l went into national politics with Galadima. In 2006, l was elected the first Vice, l left and then handed over to Sam Rose Anyago who was here with Emma Ochiagha. In 2010, l came back after serving my tenure at national. In 2011, l ran the election here l won. In 2015 l ran another election and won unopposed. In 2019 l did another election and won unopposed and this will expire in 2023.
Next year, l am going to have an elective congress, l am not contesting again. I have had enough. I have tried my best for lmo football. They should look for another person to take over from where I stopped. Imo was nowhere when I took over. They had no office, l created this office, furnished the office, and gave them all the infrastructure that is required from my funding. No government of lmo State has given me one Naira to run this FA from 1994 till now. Nowhere in the record, you will see one Naira allocated to the FA for funding. And all the workers under the Imo FA employment, we pay them. We changed the whole outlook of everything. I think I have tried my best.
Apart from what you just mentioned here, what are the other landmark achievements of your administration as Imo FA chairman?
Well, we were able to restructure our book, and scouting policy, produced a lot of players, got involved in a lot of competitions, giving Heartland a lot of support. We were able to support the club in Continental and that is quite huge. It is not easy for the FA chairman to sponsor himself to accompany the team. I had to follow the team to most matches. I used my influence in CAF to make sure they had good officiating. We’ve done a lot for the state. I hope they will appreciate me by the time I leave this place.
So what do you think you will be remembered for?
Stabilizing football administration in Imo State. No quarrels, no problem, very stabilized and creating the proper structure. Having the statutes. There were no statutes when I came in. Here in Imo State FA, we have our statutes. We are the first state in the country that created our statutes to run our football. And we are running our football in a democratized way. I do Congress every year. How many state FAs have Congress? You need to attend our Congress to appreciate what we do here. We created a standard, and l hope they will sustain the standard.
Can you relate the trend of Nigerian football between 2010 to date? What are the problems and possible solutions?
2010 to date? 2010, that’s when we had properly structured association football. When in 2014 Amaju came, association football died. It became a question of me, myself and not a question of the structure. The NFF was interfering in the election of state FAs which is wrong. Nobody should interfere in affiliate elections, it is against the law. The election is democratized and within itself. All you can do is observe, you don’t interfere. Now, NFF will write a letter that they recognize this person as chairman, it is not done. It is against the rule of association football.
FIFA’s rule is clear- All affiliates must run their affairs internally without external influence. It is there in the regulation, coaches, referees, you don’t interfere. All you need to do is make sure they respect the statutes, you don’t interfere.
What are the possible solutions?
So many. You have to have a new executive committee that is association football-oriented. Most times, they don’t understand what we mean by association football. And we need to let them know what it means, what it takes to run association football where everything is democratized in such a manner that you must obey the rules. The rules are set out to be obeyed.
The NFF interfered in the election in Taraba, interfered in the election in Anambra, interfered in the election in Delta, and interfered in the election in Rivers. It is wrong, you don’t get involved. Congress is the highest law-making body. My Congress takes that decision, they set up an electoral committee. The electoral committee runs the election and its decision is final. If you don’t like it, you go to the Appeal Committee, that’s final. You don’t go to NFF to come and settle issues. It is not their business, it ends at the state level. But now, l am seeing people writing letters recognizing somebody as chairman. It is an aberration.
Nigerian leagues are more or less dead. What do you think is the possible way to remedy the situation?
Because we have not followed the process of league administration. FIFA circular is clear – whoever runs the league must be a chairman of a club selected from the chairmen of the premier league clubs, like during Obaseki’s period. Obaseki was the Chairman of Insurance FC. The clubs sat together, had an election in Abuja and brought him as chairman. He became automatic second vice chairman [of the NFF]. But he brought someone who is second vice chairman based on the ‘wuruwuru’ way which they selected.
You cannot be chairman of a league when you are not the chairman of a club. You cannot! Which club nominated him? When Owumi was there, he came from Rangers, when Baribote was there, he was nominated by Bayelsa United. This is the way it should be. You don’t just come in, they pick you and make you chairman of the league. Now the person running the female league, what club? Chairman of which female club? Ask. We need to set things right. We need to get back to association football. We’ve turned it upside down, it’s wrong.
Do you think that NFF can stand on its own? If yes, how?
Why not? Do you know how much money that pass through NFF? For this World Cup [Qatar 2022] alone, we’ve lost 12 million Dollars. That’s enough to stabilize NFF. This is for qualifying alone. If you give me that money, l will stabilize NFF. So, we’ve lost so much money by not going to Qatar. Whoever takes over NFF will suffer because ‘where is he going to find money to run NFF?
So you believe the NFF can stand on its own?
Why not, it can stand. If you are prudent and then remove corruption, why not? A lot of companies want to deal with NFF but they need to see transparency. You have to be very transparent in your ways. When has NFF ever published its account in the newspaper? I would want to publish my account in the newspaper for everybody to see how much came in and how we spent the money. That’s how you get sponsorship – people coming in and support. When you are doing things shrouded in secrecy, who will be confident to come and work with you? We need to be open.
Nigeria will not be in Qatar. What do you think should be done for better days ahead?
What should be done is to change the structure and have a new set of people who have ideas of what to do. New Executive Committee that can sit down and restructure our football. It is not rocket science. It just requires experienced men to sit down and say, ‘this is the way’.
Look, association football is run by committees. We don’t have committees in place. This Amaju period has no committee. He didn’t even inaugurate any committee. Association football is done by committees even in FIFA and CAF. Bring eggheads, put them in committee, they sit down, make recommendations and the Executive Committee will approve and implement. That’s the way it is managed. But in this case, somebody sits down, decides something and does it. Nooo! But people want to show that they have power, and have ideas about everything, but it is not done. Committees decide what happens in association football.
Now, a good number of ex-players are warming up to take over the leadership of football administration in Nigeria, they’re saying that it is their turn and time. What do you think about that?
I don’t understand what they mean by ‘their time’. Ask some of them, do you even know your local FAs office? How have you supported your FA? You need to be nominated by your local FA. Like some who are from lmo state, l don’t want to mention names, they don’t even know this office. They have not even said, ‘oh chairman what can we do’ like help sponsor or support you in some tournaments. And now you want to come and be NFF president from the moon. You have to identify with the program first. You must start from your constituency. They just have to learn. They don’t even understand what we mean by association football. They don’t know the rudiments of association football. They just say, oh we played for Nigeria. It’s not your game only.
Some former internationals of other African nations and elsewhere are occupying such positions…
No, no, no those have structures. For instance in Cameroon, if you know what that guy [Samuel Eto’I] has done for Cameroonian Football. Even in Liberia. The man in Liberia at a point sponsored the national team himself. That’s a contribution. You advise them to go back to their constituencies and get identified.
Kelechi Iheanacho was sponsored by me in the program that took him to Abuja where he was discovered. Has he ever been to this office to say chairman l came from a grassroots championship sponsored by you, can l bring one million or something, let me support you to run more programs so that more talents can be discovered? He doesn’t even know this office. But he was there (points outside) crying in 2007 when they told me that the governor said there is no money to sponsor them to Abuja. I sent 100 thousand of my money to get them to Abuja where he was discovered. He has forgotten that he was crying in front of this office. When you see him, ask him. Has he been here since, because he’s a star? So, that’s what they do and tomorrow they say they want to become NFF president because they played the game. Those from those countries got the backing based on what they did for them.
They said we should give our football to the youth. we gave Amaju, a youth, look at what our football has turned to. Is he not a youth? Our football has gone down the drain, it’s dead. We are now celebrating WAFU B Cup. WAFU is a sub-regional, and WAFU B is a sub-sub. Is it not shameful?
It was reported recently that the NFF wrote FIFA seeking an extension and permission to hold the election in January. Does FIFA have such powers on affiliate members?
That’s not practicable. Non-interference clause in the STATUTES applies. Only CONGRESS can discharge that function. At best, FIFA would refer him to his CONGRESS.