In a new twist ahead of the Caf elections that will take place on Thursday, March 16, in Addis Ababa, the Nigerian government has ordered its delegation to vote for incumbent Issa Hayatou despite its previous choice of challenger Ahmad of Madagascar.
According to an AFP report, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo asked NFF chief Amaju Pinnick to support the Cameroonian who is seeking to extend his 29-year reign at the top of African football for diplomatic reasons.
Cameroon’s government had backed the Nigerian effort to quash the terrorist group Boko Haram that created an enclave in the border area of both countries and Chad. A multinational force was needed to dislodge the group that held more than two hundred school girls captive.
Pinnick, who is also contesting for a place on the Caf Executive Committee, has been in the forefront of a campaign to stop Hayatou from continuing in office, with Ahmad the beneficiary.
However, the Nigerian government has now taken a position for Hayatou, as the NFF delegation arrived in Addis Ababa on Monday to intensify campaigns.
“There is an existing joint relationship between Nigeria and Cameroon and most recently both countries collaborated in the fight against the Boko Haram insurgency,” said an unnamed high ranking member of the Nigerian government quoted by the AFP in Abuja.
“We can’t afford to jeopardize this relationship.
“Pinnick has therefore been ordered to cast his vote for Hayatou even if every other country failed to do so, as Nigeria does not owe Madagascar anything.”
This election is the most hotly contested since Hayatou became president in 1988. It is seen as a shift towards to a more progressive and forward-minded organization by the young Turks who want to bring an end to the 70-year-old’s time at the helm of Caf.
Ahmad has gotten the backing of the 14-member Council of Southern African Football Associations and several other FA chiefs across the continent.
"We have to follow the path of the rest of the world, as Africa cannot afford to be left behind. I believe that Africa is ready for change. This is the first time in the history of (Hayatou's) Caf that there is a real and possible challenge to the leadership," Liberia FA chief Musa Bility told the BBC on Monday.
It is also believed that Fifa president Gianni Infantino, who met several African chiefs in Harare, Zimbabwe, last month, and his secretary general Fatma Samoura are in favour of a change.
Pinnick told CNN in February that there were problems between Infantino and Hayatou since the latter’s decision to support Sheikh Salman of Bahrain during the Fifa elections in 2016.
This order exposes the lack of autonomy of many African football federations. But since Article 18.1 of the Caf Statutes declare that the elections shall be secret ballot, it is left to see if Pinnick will follow his government’s order or hold onto his convictions.