Nigeria’s government has ordered the head of the country’s football association to back current CAF president Issa Hayatou of Cameroon in his re-election bid, a senior official said Monday.
The decree from on high came despite Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) president Amaju Pinnick having publicly come out in support of Hayatou’s main challenger, Ahmad Ahmad.
Pinnick’s backing for Madagascar’s Ahmad has put him at loggerheads with the NFF, the country’s sports minister Solomon Dalung, and Nigerian members of CAF’s executive committee.
A senior figure in Nigeria’s presidency confirmed that a meeting chaired by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo ordered Pinnick to vote for Hayatou because of Nigerian ties with Cameroon.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the source confirmed that Dalung contacted the presidency about Thursday’s vote in Addis Ababa and asked what the country’s position should be.
“There is an existing joint relationship between Nigeria and Cameroon and most recently both countries collaborated in the fight against the Boko Haram insurgency,” he added.
“We can’t afford to jeopardise 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.”
Nigeria has been fighting Islamist rebels Boko Haram since 2009 in a conflict that has left at least 20,000 people dead and displaced more than 2.6 million. The fighting has spilled over into Cameroon, as well as Chad and Niger.
All four countries, plus Nigeria’s western neighbour, Benin, have mounted a regional force against the rebels.
Dalung earlier this month indicated that a Nigerian vote for Hayatou was in the country’s interest, not just because of geographical proximity but also as he had been “a true friend”.
Nigerian media reports suggested the minister told FIFA secretary-general Fatma Samoura that African football must not be railroaded into making changes by forces outside the continent.
The NFF’s Pinnick made his announcement after a meeting of 12 federation bosses with the world governing body’s president Gianni Infantino in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare.
The meeting was organised by the Council of Southern African Football Associations, who have pledged to support Ahmad at the polls. Samoura, who joined FIFA last year from the UN Development Programme in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, reportedly told Dalung Nigeria was “key” to toppling the long-serving Hayatou.