OUTGONE President of Confederation of African Football, (CAF), Issa Hayatou, wears two sides of a coin in appearance to Nigeria.
On the eve of his swearing-in as CAF boss in 1988 in Morocco, Nigeria and his native Cameroon were contesting at the final of that year’s Cup of Nations.
Cameroon Lions won by a controversial lone goal of a penalty kick converted by Emmanuel Kunde. Shortly before that, a legitimate header-goal scored by Henry Nwosu was disallowed.
The general belief of Nigerians at that point in time was that the match officials were dancing to the tune being called by the new CAF chief, Hayatou.
In his post match interview, Cameroon legendary footballer, Roger Milla gave fillip to the speculation when he described the penalty call against Nigeria as ‘soft’.
One of the first major achievements of CAF under Hayatou was the addition by one slot, the African quota at the FIFA World Cup. Until his ascension to office, Africa had two World Cup slots.
Nigeria had failed to make it to the World Cup losing final qualification games to Tunisia in 1977, Algeria in 1981, and Cameroon in 1989.
It was as if the additional one slot was reserved for Nigeria as the Super Eagles flew to their maiden World Cup at USA ‘94 World Cup, a credit one cannot deny Hayatou.
In the build-up to succeed Joao Havelange as FIFA President, Hayatou alligned with then UEFA chief, Lennart Johansson against Sepp Blatter.
When Blatter’s campaign team visited Abuja, government officials of the day reportedly fled office and failed to receive the Swiss and his entourage just to play the FIFA card to the wishes of Hayatou.
Nigeria also played in and won a UEFA-CAF Meridien Cup invented as a political tool to secure African solidarity for Johansson in the 1998 FIFA elections.
Nigeria’s Golden Eaglets, starring Gbenga Okunnowo and Ifeanyi Udeze, won the Meridien Cup in Lisbon, Portugal.
At full international level, Adegboye Onigbinde, a Nigerian football coach, was also asked to pick an All-Star African team against their European counterparts from Europe in the Meridien Cup. Africa won the game played in Lisbon 2-1.
Despite all these, Johansson lost to Blatter but Nigeria continued to show their commitment to Hayatou.
Nigeria and Ghana rescued an embarrassing situation in 2000 when the West Africans agreed to jointly host Africa Nations Cup as Zimbabwe, the designated host, failed to meet hosting responsibilities.
The edition’s opening ceremony was held in Ghana while the final was played in Lagos Nigeria where a clash of interest between Hayatou and Nigeria ensued. In the final match played in Lagos, Cameroon defeated Nigeria on 3-4 penalties, but a disallowed Victor Ikpeba’s penalty was later seen to have crossed the goal line. Cameroonian players also got away with many cynical fouls on the Nigerian players on the day.
At the end of the day, Hayatou scored a vital political point making CAF the first football confederation to jointly host a football championship. Two years after, FIFA’s South Korea-Japan World Cup was held.
Former Abia state governor, Orji Uzor Kalu, invited Hayatou to his state to assess the Aba Township Stadium for the 2003 CAF Champions League.Hayatou, advised the upgrade of the stadium and consequently approved it to host Enyimba home games.
This enabled Enyimba to feel commfortably at home in Aba and win the competition back to back (2003 and 2004) which had been elusive to Nigeria up till then.
On coaching development, Hayatou inspired a less-expensive method of educating the game’s handlers by empowering qualified coaches like the late Amodu Shuaibu, Chief Adegboye Onigbinde, James Peters and Bitrus Bewerang to conduct clinics, seminars for professionals in Abuja.
In recent past, interested coaches would have had to travel to Cairo, Egypt to attend such programmes and incurred huge cost.
If coaches have reasons to thank Hayatou, the same cannot be said by Nigerian referees who grumbled and alleged Francophone domination of appointments for CAF/ FIFA matches.
The latter days of Hayatou in CAF did not bode well for Nigeria.
Hayatou was said to be piqued by Chris Giwa versus Amaju Pinnick dogfight for the Presidency of the Nigeria Football Federation, (NFF) and concluded that Nigeria might not be needed at the 2015 Africa Nations Cup in Equitorial Guinea.
Grouping Nigeria alongside eight-time Nations Cup champions, Egypt, for the 2017 Africa Nations Cup was also seen as subtle way of edging Nigeria out of the competition.
Even at the cadet level where Nigeria have made global achievement and impact, the Golden Eaglets and the Flying Eagles were eliminated at the qualifying stages for African championships.
The war between Nigeria and Hayatou was undisguised when FIFA President Gianni Infantino visited Abuja without Hayatou on his entourage.
In all, Hayatou’s 29 years in CAF may not be entirely beneficial to Nigeria yet there are those who know how well he had mediated and bought time for Nigeria in times of brushes with FIFA especially when axe dangles on the country’s head over allegation of political interference.
That Pre-Amaju Pinnick football administrators roundly rooted for his futile eighth term bid was a matter of course.