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Saturday, 18 March 2023 08:59

[OPINION] How FIFA Rescued Me from INEC - Dele Momodu

Fellow Nigerians, please, let me express how happy I feel returning to writing my Pendulum column today. Special thanks to the Publisher of Thisday newspapers and Chairman of Arise News Television Channel, Prince Nduka Obaigbena for always inspiring me to excel. So I’m back to what I truly love and treasure, READING and WRITING… But politics of opposition remains my part time vocation. A story for another time.

You must be wondering already, I’m sure, about what FIFA has got to do with INEC, a most notorious Nigerian electoral Commission that has attracted unprecedented odium and global condemnation to our already battered country’s image.

 

Yes, you can say Nigeria is not new to election rigging but the recent Presidential contest took the cake and its reverberations are yet to subside.

Let me go straight to my point. INEC managed to scam most of us by pretending to be serious about its job. I have had to go back to many of Professor Mahmood Yakubu’s speeches in the last couple of years and I have come to the conclusion that he’s nothing short of a drama king but a very poor one at it. It remains a mystery how he manages to keep such a straight poker face when selling lies to his captive audience.

Let me give one example only. I lost my last hope and faith in him while watching the melodrama that played out during the last collation exercise, an unnecessarily drab and terribly cumbersome exercise, at this time and age. Why do we need to assemble and engage those Professors as returning officers when the right and easiest thing to do was to TRANSMIT the results straight from the polling units!! Why would a so-called learned Professor not work towards changing and improving on the illiterate methodology and processes he met in place? Yet this man, Mahmood, sits comfortably for hours, like the Lord of the flies, supervising a complete charade while rushing palpably to Golgotha, a place of death.

 

I will never forget, nor ever comprehend, how and why Mahmood appeared so recalcitrant and unmoved by the pleas of Senator Dino Melaye who had tried to rescue him and our dear beloved country from eternal damnation that has befallen him and his team and the calamity that was wittingly foisted on Nigeria. All that was needed by anyone with a conscience, love for, and loyalty to his country was to allow more time to re-examine the barrage of obvious and obnoxious infractions arbitrarily committed nationwide. But Mahmood studiously ignored all genuine and germaine entreaties. It appeared like a case of a man on suicide mission and reminded me of the tortoise in one of Ola Rotimi’s plays who was asked when it will return from its senseless journey and responded “not until I have been disgraced…” In one fell swoop, Mahmood Yakubu recklessly frittered away a golden opportunity to join the rare and exclusive pantheon of great Africans who saved their countries and people from perfidy and brink of collapse.

 

Please, note that I have not written about who won or did not win but only about the lack of transparency in the entire process. The same technology that worked well for the other electoral offices suddenly developed tuberculosis and high fever for the Presidential race. This is the crux of the matter.

Mahmood was just too predictable. He was working from answer to question, like a somnambulist or a victim of hypnotism. Everyone knew he was acting a dangerous script and that his macabre dance would reach its crescendo in the dead of the night, as if it was a meeting of witches and wizards. So I switched off my phone in order to spare and save my eyes from witnessing this inglorious show of shame. And when that minute finally came, it was a cataclysmic fall for a country that parades some of the brightest men and women on planet earth. The damage and its collateral effects were absolutely brutal and almost irreversible.  Even the supposed winners appeared too stunned that it could not celebrate its pyrrhic  victory. It became a de javu of sorts. The world instantly joined Nigerians in mourning. It was the global press that jolted us out of our  comatose state.

On a personal note, I had so much faith in the promises made by President Muhammadu Buhari about wanting to leave a worthy legacy, despite my usual reservations and paranoia about such grandstanding in the past. I had prayed fervently that the President would not blow this second chance God has mercifully granted him after contesting for a record four times. But, unfortunately, the man on whose behalf I was fasting was actually busy gulping away voraciously…

Anyway, in order to unwind, I decided to travel to Tanzania and Zanzibar. But man proposes and God disposes. A call from a prominent member of FIFA Council, Ms Isha Johansen, former boss of the Sierra Leone Football Federation and a football club owner, changed my plans. “Bros D,” as she fondly calls me, “if you’re passing through Kigali, let me get you a VIP invitation to the 73rd FIFA Congress…” I can smell a good opportunity for networking from hundreds of kilometers  away and I was not going to let this pass me by. Let me confirm that what eventually transpired in Rwanda actually surpassed my expectations.

 

Last Sunday, I boarded Rwandair after seeking permission from my bosses at the ATIKU/OKOWA Presidential Campaign Council. I needed a break after the frenetic work we had put into one of the most phenomenal Presidential campaigns ever. As soon as we got off the plane in Kigali, I felt the overwhelming power of FIFA. Rwanda has become one of the most welcoming destinations of choice for global events and I must say FIFA chose right. Rwanda’s biggest strength lies in President Paul Kagame’s magical performance in a country that went through one of the worst genocides in human history. Love him or loathe him, history will record him as a leader who brought his people back from eternal perdition. PEACE is what makes Rwanda livable. I saw some of the world’s most famous stars under one roof at the Kigali Marriott hotel. We bonded as one big family and there was no discrimination whatsoever.

For me the FIFA President, Gianni Infantino, was quite a big revelation and huge inspiration, for a man his age and at his peak of success. He is extremely friendly and down to earth. He is a good friend of Africa. This was evident in the way he relates to my two friends on the FIFA Council, Ms Isha Johansen and Mr Amaju Pinnick. He laughed heartily when I told him he is probably the most powerful President in the world.

I met and mingled with the movers and shakers of the football fraternity. I was profoundly honored to meet the former Manager of my favorite football club, Arsenal, Mr Arsene Wenger, as calm and composed as ever. Meeting him a few times was surreal. Our videos went viral several times. 

Our African representatives on the FIFA Council are making us very proud. Isha and Amaju introduced me to who’s who in attendance. I met the FIFA Vice President & CONCACAF President, Mr Victor Montegliani, former US Soccer Federation President and current Adviser to FIFA President, Mr Carlos Cordero, the 2002 Senegalese World Cup hero, Mr Kalilu Fadiga, Ghanaian soccer star Asamoah Gyan, our own indomitable Jay Jay Okocha, The Bull Daniel Amokachi, and too many superstars to mention from over 200 countries. It was such a delight meeting the extremely influential UEFA President, Mr Aleksander Ceferin, the great Senior Vice President of FIFA and the Asia Confederation President, Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa. I met the South African Billionaire businessman and CAF President Mr Patrice Motsepe.

 

I was truly humbled by the humility of the Secretary General of FIFA, Mrs Fatma Samoura. But my biggest inspiration came from meeting President Paul Kagame  at the FIFA Council dinner where he mingled freely with some of us. I discovered in him a hands-on leader. He was available and approachable. He even played in a soccer match. He’s admirably cosmopolitan.

The FIFA President has worked assiduously to take the organization to a much higher level than he met it. I saw the joy of fulfillment on his face as he reeled out highlights of his spectacular achievements. He was given a standing ovation after he was reelected unopposed for another term of four years. The voting process was electronic and it was done almost effortlessly. It brought back memories of a dashed hope and lost opportunity back home in Nigeria. I wondered what’s wrong with us such that when we think we’ve taken two steps forward, we actually take ten backwards. All I could muster was SHAME UNTO INEC for its ignominious rascality.

I remembered my Boss, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and felt a sense of pride that I took the right decision when I chose to support him and Governor Ifeanyichukwu Okowa. The Wazirin Adamawa has demonstrated the traits of a true democrat. His faith in the rule of Law is unassailable. You will never see hooligans around him. His supporters will never terrorize anyone on social media. This is the kind of gentleman Nigeria desperately needs.

To those crying that I should have supported someone else, I have nothing but pity. I marvel when highly educated people tell me I should be loyal to a friend and not to my country. I made my choice with my eyes wide open and I stand by him, in thunder, lightning and in rain.

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