Nigerian Football is in Crisis – again

Once again Nigerian football is in crisis. The country’s football federation and crisis are conjoined like Siamese twins. This crisis has the potential to rock the country to its very foundation.

The setting is old and well worn – a crisis erupts during and after the election for the office of president of the Nigeria Football Federation. It lingers through the reign of the president until the next election, and another crisis erupts again.

The problem is that the election process is always riddled with anomalies. These anomalies are also always challenged in regular courts by aggrieved persons because they seek quick interventions and a fair hearing, which they believe they will not get by protesting to the arbitrators recommended by the statutes of their national federation. These are usually appendages of incumbent administrators and will be heavily biased in their favour.

Seeking justice from Fifa is also seen as a long, expensive and futile effort, based on previous experiences.

The problem with taking the matter to an ordinary court, however, is that an article in the statutes of Fifa forbids it.

Fifa then threatens, or sometimes even suspends football federations from all activities. In Nigeria such Fifa threats have become commonplace, coming to the fore with every election.

Out of fear, everything is thrown overboard – the evidence, common sense, the root cause of the crisis, government’s interest, even the law. End of story!

Whoever is elected enjoys his position for four years, all aggrieved persons lick their wounds, the ‘cancer’ festers and Nigerian football, imprisoned in the grip of powerful forces under the cover of Fifa, suffers.

In 2016, with the present crisis, things are unlikely to go the usual way. A new scene has been added to the play. There is a new government in power whose mantra of change is anchored to strict adherence to the rule of law.

So, the strategy of hiding under the canopy of Fifa’s threat may not work this time around.

Now the battle line is drawn between the law of the land and Fifa’s threat. Period!

So what should Nigeria do in this case between Amaju Pinnick and Chris Giwa over the presidency of the NFF?

Let’s examine the issues creating the crisis once again.

What is the root cause of the crisis?

Answer: The election.

What is it about the election that generates the crisis?

Answer: The procedure for conducting the election.

What is wrong with the procedure?

Answer: It is laden with loopholes that allow for malpractices that are so blatant that the process can never pass the lowest level of an integrity test.

That’s it, so simple. The guidelines are tools in the hands of powerful puppeteers.

That is the challenge of the present crisis. Who is the president of the Nigeria Football Federation (or Association) in the wake of the ongoing crisis?

There is an order of the court that invalidates the election that brought in Amaju Pinnick as president of the NFF.

Unless it is vacated by a superior court, that order is law, Fifa ban or no Fifa ban.

So, can Amaju rightly claim to have been, or still be, the president of the NFF?

Amaju’s main challenger, Senator Chris Giwa, on the other hand, cannot take over as president of the Nigerian Football Association, because he will never be accepted by Fifa, being a beneficiary of flouting Fifa’s fundamental rule of not taking any internal matter to a regular court. Although he may have fought a good and brave fight, he also has reached a dead end. He must accept it.

His claim is complicated by the fact he has gone all the way to the court of arbitration in sports to press his case without getting any joy.

What this may finally mean is that neither Amaju and his board nor Giwa and his board can benefit from the present crisis. I do not know what else anyone can do with the judgment of a court under the present political dispensation but to obey it first and appeal against it later.

The ultimate solution is to use the situation as an opportunity to fix the flaws in the process of conducting free and fair elections for the NFF board.

A special team, set up by the Congress of the NFF, working under the guidance of Fifa, should be set up to look again at the statutes of the body and its electoral guidelines, to make them simple, transparent, all-inclusive and uncomplicated, so that the playing field becomes level and every qualified and interested stakeholder can have a fair chance to contest for a place in the executive committee of the NFF.

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