Osasu Obayiuwana: Is ‘reform’ forgotten in Africa?

As the fraternity’s mandarins descend upon the picturesque Island of Mauritius, for the supposedly decisive FIFA congress, where ‘reform’ and ‘improving the quality of governance’ are the catch-phrases of choice, it is poignant to remember – for those who are conveniently beginning to forget – that the scandal over the award of World Cup hosting rights, for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments, played a key role in igniting the ‘change’ process in the first place.

The debate, about whether it is a satisfactory process of reform, is another kettle of fish. It’s a topic continuously worthy of a ‘no-holds-barred’ argument.

Whilst the Oceania Football Confederation did the decent thing and ensured that Reynald Temarii, its erstwhile president, who was found guilty of ethical misconduct, was given the red card, for bringing the reputation of their region into disrepute, it is certainly a tale of two continents, when one examines what has happened to the four African officials that were caught in the same web of malfeasance.

Of the quartet, only one – Ismail Bhamjee of Botswana, the former FIFA executive committee member – currently battling with a series of health problems, remains consigned to the wilderness.

For those with any knowledge of African football politics, Bhamjee’s fate is no surprise.

After his failed attempt to wrest the CAF presidency from Issa Hayatou, on the eve of the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations, in Tunisia, he effectively ended his CAF career.

When the Botswanan was subsequently expelled from the FIFA executive committee and the 2006 World Cup finals, for selling match tickets on the black market, which was the first offence on his rap sheet – before his involvement in the 2018/2022 scandal and a subsequent punishment for that – it certainly served the cause of his detractors, who wanted to put the final nails in Bhamjee’s political coffin, which they did with relish.

Hayatou, whose support Bhamjee needed, in order to save his career from the guillotine, was certainly not going to lend his political weight, within FIFA, to save a man that ‘had the temerity’ to challenge his control of the CAF kingdom.

Compare Bhamjee’s fate to that of Tunisia’s Slim Aloulou and Mali’s Amadou Diakite, who were welcomed back, with very warm arms, into CAF’s corridors, as soon as their suspensions were served.

Whilst Aloulou, formerly a co-opted member of CAF’s executive committee, recently bowed out, following a series of health challenges and Diakite returned in glory, at the last elective congress in Marrakech – an unpalatable reality that most right-thinking people in the African game would rather forget – it is the future of Amos Adamu, the former FIFA executive committee member, that remains the interesting, unanswered question.

Considering the undeniable fact, courtesy of the Sunday Times of London’s dogged investigative work, that Adamu demanded for a $750,000 bribe to be ‘sent directly’ (his words) to his bank account, in exchange for a favourable World Cup host vote, one would think that his career is beyond repair, as he is the poster boy for all that has gone wrong with the game.

As outrageous as it certainly sounds, as Adamu’s re-emergence would certainly be cocking a snook at world football’s reform process, the political current within CAF indicates that he could make the ultimate comeback, to the executive committee, as soon as his three-year ban ends in November.

A look at the CAF executive committee, in which one of the two spaces for co-opted members remains unfilled, suggests, strongly, that this is the case.

Having pitched his tent firmly in Hayatou’s camp, since reaching the game’s political heights, Adamu used his financial resources to forge a close personal and political alliance with the CAF president.

The relationship developed to the extent that many believed Adamu’s ascension to the CAF presidency, with Hayatou’s blessing, was a foregone conclusion, whenever the Cameroonian quit the stage.

But the Nigerian’s three-year FIFA ban clearly threw a spanner in the works of his grand political ambitions.

Initially feeling left out in the cold, when the reality of his monumental fall from the CAF and FIFA executive committees dawned on him, Adamu, according to very informed circles within CAF, felt bitter, believing that Hayatou had abandoned him to his fate.

In a fit of pique, that probably could have opened up another can of worms on world football’s dirty dealings, Adamu agreed, sometime last year, to give a South African colleague of mine an exclusive television interview, in which he promised to bare all.

But after my colleague flew from Johannesburg to Lagos and met Adamu for a pre-interview discussion, it ended up being a wild goose chase. He twiddled his thumbs in a Lagos hotel room, for almost three days, as Adamu went ‘underground’ and made himself unavailable to be interviewed.

Unconfirmed reports (which they’ll remain being, as long as the Nigerian is banned from interacting with all football officials, who will obviously deny having anything to do with him) have it that Adamu used the threat of upsetting the applecart as a bargaining chip in a meeting he allegedly had, with Hayatou, in Cameroon, whilst my colleague was waiting in Lagos for the scoop.

With ‘the meeting that never was’ appearing to patch-up whatever rift there was between the two, Adamu remains faithful to the vow of ‘Omerta’, in the expectation that his return to African football’s high table will be ‘arranged.’

When Aminu Maigari, the incumbent president of the Nigeria Football Federation, failed, woefully, in his recent bid to win a seat on the CAF executive committee, Adamu was accused, by several NFF members, of playing a key role in sabotaging Maigari’s bid, in order to clear the path for his own return, in the months ahead.

It is a web of intrigue that certainly grows more interesting by the day.

Can football really claim to have cleaned up its act if a man like Amos Adamu can, once again, become one of its custodians?

“To the rest of the world, it would be unthinkable to have a man like Adamu back in football. But unfortunately, these are the kinds of things that happen in our game. In my view, his return to the CAF executive is very likely to happen,” said an informed source, during a conversation at the last Africa Cup of Nations.

“How can the rest of the world take us seriously if he is allowed back?”

It is a question that the guardians of the game must answer, with the right degree of moral rectitude, if they expect the wider fraternity, which seeks genuine change, to take them seriously.

Osasu Obayiuwana, a lawyer and BBC broadcaster, as well as the Associate Editor of NewAfrican magazine, is one of the world’s leading journalists on African football. His regular commentary on the state of the African game can also be read at footballisafrica.com. Contact him at moc.l1660268820labto1660268820ofdlr1660268820owedi1660268820sni@a1660268820nawui1660268820yabo.1660268820usaso1660268820

Osasu is also a member of FIFA’s newly convened anti-racism task force.