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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Ahmad’s men who kicked out football’s Mugabe


 

Kicking out a man who had clung on to power for 29 years is no mean feat, but Ahmad Ahmad did the unthinkable when he defeated the hitherto invincible Issa Hayatou at Thursday's CAF elections. 'TANA AIYEJINA takes a look at the men who orchestrated the 'coup' that ousted Hayatou from power

The question on the lips of many when his name was announced, was, "Ahmad who?" He was just a mere paperweight coming to contest against the powerful, experienced and highly influential Issa Hayatou for Africa's top football job, some said.

He was avoided like a plague by several FA presidents - who didn't want to incur the wrath of Hayatou - at January's Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon. Indeed, he was nobody as far as the so-called political experts of African football were concerned.

But how Madagascan Ahmad Ahmad, a senator and former sports minister in his country, perhaps brought his knowledge of politics to bear on Thursday, when he pulled off an upset with a 34-20 victory to dethrone the long-serving Confederation of African Football president Hayatou during the continental football body's elections in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, has become one of football's Cinderella stories.

Ahmad needed just 28 votes to land the CAF presidency but bagged 34 votes. This, for keen watchers, was a shock and embarrassing end to Hayatou's close to three decades stronghold on African football, the Cameroonian having floored his former challengers almost effortlessly.

But Ahmad's resilient devotees, made up largely of a new and younger crop of football association presidents on the continent, many of whom were just schoolboys when the 70-year-old Cameroonian was first elected president in 1988, orchestrated a campaign, believed to be backed by FIFA president Gianni Infantino, which gave the sit-tight Hayatou and his allies no chance of an eighth-time comeback.

The man Ahmad

Even though Ahmad may be unpopular in African football, he wields a very strong influence in Madagascar.

"He is the leader of his political party in his region. He got one of the best scores during legislative and communal elections in his region. In our country, Ahmad means football. He is the man of the football. He is a person of integrity, direct and perfectionist and he is fully supported by the government and people of Madagascar," Madagascan journalist, Haja Lucas, was quoted as saying by KweséSports.

A senator, who was elected Vice President of the Malagasy Senate in February 2016, as well as being a member of CAF's Executive Committee before being elected president on Thursday, the 57-year-old Ahmad was also a former footballer and starred for local sides Club des Finances de Antananarivo and AC Sotema Mahajanga.

"I was not good enough to play for the national team," he admitted to KweséSports.

On quitting football, Ahmad went into politics, business and education and he was made the Madagascan Sports Minister at 34, one of the youngest ministers to have emerged from Africa.

With success in printing and farming, he studied Sports Administration at the Université Claude Bernard de Lyon in France, before serving three terms as FA President of Madagascar. He is also a leader of the Muslim community in his native Mahajanga province, which he represents in his country's Senate.

Ahmad, in working to deny Hayatou an eighth term in office as president, received the support of a younger generation of the FA presidents clamouring for change but the three that stood out were the President of the Nigeria Football Federation, Amaju Pinnick, the Liberian FA boss Musa Bility and the charismatic Philip Chiyangwa, the Zimbabwe FA and Council of Southern Africa Football Associations boss.

Amaju Pinnick

NFF boss Pinnick was perhaps the biggest winner at Thursday's elections. After playing a major role in Ahmad's victory, the Nigerian then floored Benin Republic's Anjorin Moucharafou with a 32-17 victory to win a place in CAF's Executive Committee, becoming the third Nigerian after Oyo Orok Oyo and Amos Adamu to achieve the feat.

After joining the CAF Executive Committee, Ahmad made FA members of the Council of Southern Africa Football Associations namely South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Angola and Zimbabwe his allies. But he also knew that he needed Pinnick to turn the tide against Hayatou.

Both men firs deliberated on the issue at the 66th FIFA Congress in May 2016 and the Nigerian went to work, meeting with some other federations bosses.

Highly vocal and in the frontline for a change in African football, Pinnick never hid his intention to ensure that Hayatou's stronghold on African football came to an end in Addis Ababa, amidst political pressure from his home country.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino and Hayatou had reportedly had a frosty relationship after the Cameroonian allegedly did not support the emergence of the former UEFA secretar as FIFA boss. And Pinnick cashed in on the 'cold war' between the duo to kick-start formalities leading to the ouster of the Cameroonian from African football leadership. And that was by making Infantino his friend.

In July 2016, he hosted Infantino in Abuja with 17 African FA presidents present. The FA presidents were Kwesi Nyantakyi (Ghana), Lamin Kaba Bajo (The Gambia), Isha Johansen (Sierra Leone), Bility (Liberia), Juneidi Basha Tilmo (Ethiopia), Nicholas Kithuku (Kenya).

The others are Andrew Chamanga (Zambia), Philip Chiyangwa (Zimbabwe), Frans Mbidi (Namibia), Chabur Goc Alei (South Sudan), Walter Nyamilandu (Malawi), Abdiqani Said Arab (Somalia), Vincent Nzamwita (Rwanda), Moses Magogo (Uganda), Jamal Malinzi (Tanzania), Augustin Senghor (Senegal) and Souleman Waberi (Djibouti).

Eyebrows were raised over the visit of Infantino, with some saying the huge finances involved in hosting the visitors was unnecessary due to the biting economic situation in the country, and with no particular project inaugurated by the FIFA boss.

Questions were also asked on why Hayatou, who should have played a major role during the visit, was absent. And it didn't go down well with Hayatou, who was once an acting FIFA president.

However, Infantino's meeting with the 18 federation heads at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja, was the initial perfection of the groundwork of the 'coup' to kick Hayatou out of office.

In February, Pinnick announced his backing for Ahmad during a BBC interview which drew the ire of some of his compatriots and federation members, who were disposed to having Hayatou remain in power.

"That's really not the position (of the NFF). I do not think the board sat, deliberated and decided that we should go for a particular candidate - no, we've not got there yet," NFF Executive Committee member Chris Green told BBC.

"I know of Hayatou, I don't know of Ahmad - I don't know his pedigree or what he stands for. Hayatou has not done badly. He's not been against us from 1988 until today. In his own way, he has assisted football to grow in Nigeria.

"He's brought two international tournaments to Nigeria ­­- the U-20 World Cup in 1999 and the U-17 World Cup (in 2009). We've also hosted the Africa Cup of Nations (in 2000)."

However, other members in an official statement signed by the NFF's Media Director, Ademola Olajire, threw their weight behind Pinnick.

"Every single member of the board spoke on the issue and expressed support for the NFF president, Mr Pinnick, to use his discretion and vote for that candidate who will best serve Nigeria's interest," read the statement.

With the handwriting clearly written on the wall, Hayatou allegedly went through the Cameroonian government to reach out to the Nigerian government. Sports minister Solomon Dalung expressed his displeasure over Pinnick's support for Ahmad, saying the NFF head acted unilaterally without recourse to the political interest of the nation.

But after an emergency meeting with Pinnick and members of his Executive Committee, Dalung said the Federal Government had given its blessing and support to Pinnick ahead of the polls.

A group - now known as the CAF Nine - made up of Nigerians in CAF namely Dominic Oneya, Amos Adamu, Amanze Uchegbulam, Sani Abdullahi, Aminu Maigari, Bolaji Ojo-Oba, Paul Bassey, Aisha Falode and Chris Green also criticised Pinnick's choice of Ahmad in a last minute effort to thwart the Delta-born official's efforts.

But it was too little too late. Pinnick had the last laugh in Addis Ababa, as Nigeria returned to the mainstream of football leadership and politics on the continent.

Musa Billity

Last month, Liberian FA president Bility officially declared his support for Ahmad saying, "I've officially endorsed the candidacy of Mr. Ahmad. It's time to move beyond a three decades long reign. CAF is not a kingdom.

"I think there could never have been a better time to honour the life of President Hayatou with a befitting event and bring this era to an end. I'm standing up for change. Join me

"Either we perish fighting for change or live on like chickens. I'll rather perish fighting to give Africa the joy football brings into our homes and communities than live on explaining why we are not going anywhere."

Hayatou's ouster comes as a sweet revenge for the Liberian, who has been in a long drawn battle with the ex-CAF chief. Bility was given a six month ban from all football activities in 2013 for using confidential documents from CAF during a legal battle against Hayatou.

He was involved in a fight against CAF's rule changes to the process that effectively allowed Hayatou to be re-elected unopposed four years ago. Two years later, Bility would pay for it though, as he was ruled out as a candidate for the FIFA presidency "following integrity checks" in 2015.

However, with Ahmad winning the presidential position and Bility elected member of CAF Executive Committee, there are high expectations for Liberian football. "Africa has made a decision, we are moving forward with football and we have chosen change over the last leadership. Ahmad is crying for all of us. I have been through struggle - I have been suspended. Today, I am very proud of the effort and I want to thank all of my colleagues for making this possible," Bility said after Thursday's triumph.

"We have proved to the world that we are ready for the change that is blowing in football across the world. We have seen changes in Europe and in FIFA, everywhere in football in the last 18 months there have been changes. We could not allow ourselves to be left behind. We want to be on that train of change."

Philip Chiyangwa

Chiyangwa, elected the COSAFA president in December, has been at loggerheads with Hayatou after last month's decision by the regional body to publicly back Ahmad in the race for the CAF presidency.

But Zimbabwe Sports and Recreation Minister Makhosini Hlongwane said government was in support of Chiyangwa's decision to take on the long-standing CAF head.

Chiyangwa, who is Zimbabwe Football Association boss, was Ahmad's campaign manager and painstakingly rallied support around the continent in the first serious sign of opposition that Hayatou had faced since he took charge of African football.

He had a disciplinary case pending for describing CAF executives as "cowards" and "cronies" for not standing up to Hayatou and was also involved in a dispute with the football body over a birthday party he hosted in Zimbabwe last month, which was attended by Infantino and other African federation heads.

Pinnick, Bility and South Africa FA boss, Danny Jordaan were the influential leaders from the 24 federations that were present in Harare and it is believed that it was at the meeting that the final plot to kick out Hayatou was hatched before the elections.

Fearing Chiyangwa was using his party to plot Hayatou's downfall, CAF said the meeting was against its regulations and an attempt to "destabilise" the football governing body.

But with Ahmed having won the election, the disciplinary case against Chiyangwa may have died a natural death.

And the change exponents of African football can now heave a sigh of relief after consigning to history, the man many refer to as football's Mugabe, in apparent reference to the Zimbabwean dictator, Rober Mugabe, another sit-tight African leader who has ruled the southern African nation since 1980.