Days after he returned from the FIFA Congress in Mexico, NFF president Amaju Pinnick was at the historic Onikan Stadium to watch a Nigeria Professional Football League match.
At halftime, he told a gathering of friends and a couple of reporters – off the record – that a posse of African FA presidents had come together to form a group that would challenge the status quo at CAF and shake up the organisation.
Some of his statements sounded almost unthinkable at the time, but Pinnick is a man known for his fierce determination and unwavering drive.
Not long after, he invited newly-elected FIFA President Gianni Infantino to Nigeria and hosted him with 17 African FA presidents. That was to mark the beginnings of the ‘rebellion’ against Issa Hayatou and the CAF establishment.
On Thursday in Addis Ababa, Pinnick and his group walked their talk.
Ahmad – a quiet, almost unobtrusive first term member of the CAF Executive Committee – not only soundly trounced the long-serving Hayatou, but his victory sparked a sweeping out of Hayatou loyalists from the Executive Committee.
Ahmad’s victory is a triumph of the outsiders over the entrenched old guard, and his campaign mantra of change is a clear indication of what the immediate future holds for CAF.
Once the post-election dinner was done, Ahmad and his new team retired straight to work. Their first order of business was seemingly to decide on a cabinet and then appointments into the CAF secretariat.
Ahmad ran on a promise of transparency, of lifting the veil of secrecy which has pervaded CAF for so long. He promised to make CAF more inclusive, to give former players more of a say, to develop women’s football and to have a college of FA presidents involved in decision-making.
That financial transparency will be one that many will watch closely. For starters, Ahmad has made it clear that member FAs will now receive 50 percent of the allocation from FIFA. That is way more than they received under Hayatou.
In addition, one of the first orders of business will be a review of the Lagardere contract, which has got CAF in hot water with the Egyptian authorities. That could be a legal minefield to negotiate, but one Ahmad is unwilling to shy away from.
Sources close to the new CAF president also say the CAF Awards will see significant changes, with former players getting more exposure instead of being sidelined in the past.
And there are also plans to explore the expansion of the African Nations Cup to 24 teams.
Beyond all of these however, is the big picture. For nearly 30 years, CAF has been under the iron grip of Hayatou.
Make no mistake, the Cameroonian’s tenure has seen many positives in the African game. But it has also witnessed stagnation, a sense of cult-like cronyism with Hayatou as the feared father-figure benefactor, who rewards loyalty and ruthlessly decimates any signs of opposition, although he denied it in an interview with Kwesé Sports.
A Hayatou win would have cemented that culture and installed him as a lifetime godfather and kingmaker, controlling the direction of African football even in his retirement and ensuring his loyalists continue to hold African football by the jugular.
While this may not be completely a bad thing, what it would have done was close to the door to outsiders, almost for good.
Ahmad’s victory – and the manner of it – has ensured that there is now a reboot of the CAF hierarchy. The old guard have been swept away by fearless young Turks with a vision to drive the game forward.
Based on Ahmad’s manifesto, there is some naivety about how things are done at that level. And there will be mistakes made in the early months. But there must be a willingness to learn from those mistakes, and consult widely, even with Hayatou if need be.
In the end, what will matter most to the African football family is that Ahmad and his team keep the key promises they have made. And the most important of that is to open African football to all.