Written By: Segun Odegbami
This is politics of the football kind.
The Nigerian Minister of Sports led a delegation to FIFA in Zurich two weeks ago to inform the FIFA President that peace had finally returned to Nigerian football. Mr. Sepp Blatter was reported to have congratulated him and the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, for finding a way to settle the crisis that has been lingering since August 2010 following the controversial elections into the Executive Committee of the NFF.
Before 2010 the body that had been administering football in Nigeria was known as the Nigeria Football Association, NFA. In 2010 the congress of the association changed its name to Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, as part of a grand strategy to become independent of government control, organise elections into the Executive Committee of the body without government interference, and to perpetuate themselves in office. This was a board that most Nigerians felt had not done well particularly as a result of Nigeria’s poor run at both the Africa Cup of Nations and the World Cup in 2010. Some administrators outside the NFA smelt a rat and raised an alarm. Meanwhile, the NFF was not registered by the outgoing board as a private organisation in accordance with the law.
In August of 2010 the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, announced there was going to be elections into its Executive Committee. The aggrieved persons that felt that the process was faulty, that the statutes had been mangled and manipulated, and that the NFF did not exist in law and should not conduct the elections, went to court. On the eve of the elections a High Court in Lagos ordered that the process of the elections be halted pending the hearing of the matter brought before it. Everyone involved in the electoral process was served the court order. Meanwhile, an observer from FIFA was in the country to monitor the elections. He was aware of the court order.
The NFF board members chose to disregard it and went ahead with the elections. Some persons, as law-abiding citizens, obeyed the court order and stayed away from the elections. The elections went ahead. The attention of the court was drawn to it by the aggrieved persons who returned to court seeking that the members of the board that disobeyed its order be committed to prison for contempt. A very angry judge summoned the defendants to court and only let them go after they apologised for their offence. The judge, thereafter, declared that the elections, held in disobedience to his court order, were null and void! He also directed that the Inspector-General of Police should arrest anyone parading themselves as elected members of the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF. Another court, in another case related also to the elections, gave judgement later that the body, NFF, was not known to Nigerian Laws, that the body recognised by the law is the Nigeria Football Association, NFA, and that the elections conducted by the NFF was null and void. Both judgments were simple and clear – the elections into the board of the NFF never held!
The members of the NFF took it all differently. They simply left the court and continued with administering Nigerian football. They have been doing so with impunity for about one and a half years now, that is, since the first court judgement. Meanwhile, some persons insisted that the order of the court must be respected and have continued to protest the contempt, disregard and disrespect of the order and the law by the same people that had been warned earlier not to parade themselves as elected members of the Executive Committee. Several persons, as well as an independent legal practitioner in Lagos, have since gone to court again to seek enforcement of the court orders. The matters are still in court.
It is this state of affairs that is the crisis in Nigerian football that have now been purportedly ‘resolved’ and communicated to FIFA.
Meanwhile, in response to one of the petitions sent to him by one of the aggrieved persons, The President of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, directed the Inspector-General, IG, of the Nigerian Police to deal with the matter. The IG invited all those involved and told them the position of the police – that until and unless the original order of the High Court was reversed, or invalidated, or an order of a superior court issued, the police had a duty and responsibility to enforce the court order by evicting the NFF board members from the official secretariat of the Nigeria Football Association and arresting anyone parading themselves as elected members.
It was only the appeal for time by the Director-General of the National Sports Commission, NSC, the body that supervises all sports in Nigeria, that delayed the action by the police. It is that intervention that has sustained the NFF till this day. That intervention did not invalidate the order of court. It gave the NSC time to seek expert interpretation of the court order from the Attorney-General, AG, of the country. The AG clearly and unequivocally stated that it was illegal for any one to deal with a body unknown to Nigerian law and that appropriating funds to the body was fraught with danger.
The only problem the NSC has had in dealing with the intransigence of the NFF is the fear of what FIFA would do should the NFF be dislodged from the secretariat they presently occupy that belongs to government, or ‘disbanded’.
The NFF board continues to operate because it has the protection of the threat by FIFA to ban the country should government interfere in the internal affairs its member federation. But, FIFA have been cool of late, faced with their own myriad of problems. They have conveniently distanced themselves from the Nigerian crisis, until this recent visit by the Sports Minister to inform them that the issues confronting football administration in Nigeria have been resolved and peace has returned.
But has peace really returned? Have the original issues been resolved?
What happens to the subsisting order of court that declared that the elections held into the NFF were null and void?
What happens to another judgement of another court that declared that the NFF was not known to Nigerian law and, so, the elections it held were null and void?
What has negated or invalidated the decision of those courts? Does the NFF now exist?
Is it right for the Nigerian government and its agencies to continue to do business with the body called NFF and appropriate public funds to it?
In congratulating the Minister and the NFF delegation that went with him, Mr. Sepp Blatter could not have been unaware that there is a pending case on the same matter before FIFA that its Appeals Committee has not resolved. He could also not be unaware that there is an ultimatum that expired last weekend given to FIFA by the German lawyer that filed the petition before it on the NFF matter, that FIFA should make their decision known within two weeks or the matter will immediately be taken to the International Court of Arbitration, CAS, in accordance with the statutes of FIFA! Why is FIFA dithering on the matter that was brought before it since December 2010?
When football, politics and the law mix, the result is kata kata as this continuing drama in Nigerian football shows, and continues to attract public interest!