By Onochie Anibeze
These are trying times for all of us with our back pushed to the wall. Please understand the thinking as this is a peculiar one-off situation that will not repeat itself. We’ll continue to appreciate your opinion and constructive criticism.”
This was the response of a top member of the Nigeria Football Federation in reaction to my immediate posers in the wake of the peaceful resolution to the football crisis last Wednesday.
Sports minister Bolaji Abdullahi had gathered NFF Board members to his ministry and in the meeting the members agreed to pay various forms of compensation to Dr. Sam Sam Jaja and Ray Nnaji, a former sports commissioner in Enugu who later served on the league board but was disqualified from recontesting.
While Nnaji had a case pending in court against NFF, Jaja had already obtained judgment on January 20. It was the judgment that set fire on the house. Justice Okorowo had declared NFF as an illegal body. Although NFF appealed the sports ministry was to withhold their monetary allocation and the minister asked them to resign.
There had been stories of the sports ministry sponsoring cases against the NFF and the new minister was thought to have keyed into the war of attrition. The minister was later to clear the air and said that his actions were a ploy to achieve peace.
I welcome the peace so achieved. I commend the minister for this. But, sincerely, I fumed at the price that our football was made to pay for this. Fifa statutes (Article 64) prohibit taking football matters to ordinary law courts.
Those who do are sanctioned. So why should Nigeria compensate them? NFF that should be the custodian of football statutes is being made to violate them. I was outraged. We could have achieved the same peace without violating the statues. I cherish peace and it pained me that our football had been in crisis for long.
So I celebrate the peace ordered by Pius Anyim, scribe of the Federal Government, and implemented by Abdullahi. My position on the terms of agreement is on principle. I always fight for football. I felt that Jaja was the best candidate at the time he was disqualified.
It pained me because I knew that he was the best and I dreamed of the changes he could make in our football. I supported him then. I’ll still support his candidature any day. Disqualifying him was wrong and the best compensation would have been to validate his candidature and hold the election again.
It’s same with Ray Nnaji. They were wrong to disqualify him from contesting. So many dirty things happened in then. If they knew Nnaji they would have avoided trouble and allowed him to contest. He is a fighter and he is always winning cases.
That aside, Article 19 of the NFF statutes states how somebody can be made Honourary member. The Congress decides that and not the Executive Body. So, NFF Executive flouted their own statutes and those of Fifa and Caf.
I maintain that if somebody pointed out the flaws to the minister he probably could have found other ways to achieve the same peace other than compelling NFF to violate football statutes. But I agree with Mike itemuagbor that no price is too much for peace.
And going by the answer I quoted above of a top NFF man I really appreciate the position the football officials found themselves. And from other sources, I gathered that some people were actually working to provoke Fifa to ban us. And it was getting to that before the peace accord.
Abdullahi might not have understood the game initially but he later got a good picture and worked out peace. What with the plan to set up a committee to run football after sacking NFF? The men who planned that knew how Fifa would have reacted to it.
Against this background, I appreciate the position of NFF Executive. They were really pushed to the wall and I’m mindful of their need to fight for survival of the game. Some planned to destroy the game in Nigeria because of personal reasons. And it was good that they stooped to conquer. Kudos to Bolaji Abdullahi who swung into action after grasping with the intrigues and eventually resolved the matter.
My only fear is that many people may be encouraged to take football matters to court.
But Itemuagbor, the sports marketer, has an answer to this. “All contestants and people involved in future elections should be made to sign an undertaking that they will never resort to litigation in ordinary law courts.” Well said Mike. Over to you, NFF.
And for that to work I suggest that Nigeria Olympic Committee should speed up processes to set up Court of Arbitration here in Nigeria. It was probably the lack of trust that Jaja and Nnaji had in the system and the arbitration panel set up by the football house that forced them to resort to litigation in law courts. I welcome peace to our football and I thumb up for Abdullahi.