By Ikeddy Isiguzo
I CANNOT lie, I am happy about the cauldron Nigerian football has driven itself into without a possibility of escape from sanctions from FIFA, the Nigerian public and government.
If it is serious, government would want to know how a private organisation had access to money meant for a public institution for more than six years. Maybe accountability would for once mean something.
Lies have their place for those who abhor the truth. The Nigeria Football Association changed its name to Nigeria Football Federation, ignoring Act 101 of 1992 that set up the NFA. The joke was that one former NFF chairman admired the title of President and fast tracked the change.
Whatever occasioned the change, the body was illegal from inception. With its populous composition of lawyers of all shades, over the years, nobody saw anything wrong in what the lords of NFF were doing. NFF turned Nigerian football into a crisis, each election re-enacted that crisis.
The National Assembly joined the gravy train. Every year it allocated billions of public funds to the NFF, a body that our laws do not know. Interestingly, the money was allocated to NFA for NFF’s benefit.
For all the law is worth, I would like to see the NFF go back to court. It is not a legal body. According to its own affidavit last year, it is a private body, unregistered too. How is it spending public funds? How has an illegal body been entering contracts, opening bank accounts and awarding football properties to itself?
On 12 August 2010, Vanguard in an editorial asked for the postponement of the elections for non-compliance with the much-touted NFF Statutes. The stakeholders pushed ahead, equally ignoring a court order. Today, there is no legal body running football, the court said so. The complications that we had foretold could have been avoided.
In that editorial, Vanguard had mentioned the illegality of the NFF. “There are laws guiding the operations of the Nigeria Football Association (illegally known as the Nigeria Football Federation). The foundational law is Act (Decree) 101 of 1992, which is still in our law books.
This is the only national law on Nigerian football and it calls the body running football the Nigeria Football Association,” the Vanguard editorial noted, while calling for the postponement of the elections because they would not meet the requirement that State FA chairmen should be elected.
On the same day, 21 years after Sam Okwaraji died the National Stadium, playing for Nigeria in a World Cup qualifier, the House of Representatives invited me, among so many others, for a public hearing on Nigerian football. I, again made the point about the illegality of the NFF, just as Gara Gombe, before me, had done. We blamed the National Assembly for sustaining the illegality by approving money for a body unknown to our laws. Was the National Assembly unaware of the illegality of the NFF?
Many of my readers remind me that we have NFF not NFA. I have told them of my resolve not to write about the NFF unless I was referring to the illegality of the organisation. The law knows the NFA.
I blame the National Sports Commission (itself unknown to the law) for the crisis, not in the way some are suggesting that it should tell the group calling itself NFA to stay off football.
Today, there is no legal body running football whether in the States or in Abuja. This illegality took years of the NFF’s refusal to adhere to its own statutes which stipulate that States should have district and divisional associations (all elected) which will elect the State FAs in a manner to reflect the three senatorial districts of the State. It is only those thus elected who could elect the board of the Nigeria Football Federation.
NSC fuelled this crisis by allowing the elections of last year to hold. Then Minister/Chairman of the NSC Isa Bio caused the elections to be postponed for one week until he was back from a foreign trip. He drew his powers from Act 101 of 1992. I had asked him then to use the same powers to postpone the elections until they complied with the statutes.
My arguments in Crisp Shots of 27 August 2010 were, “The Statutes expect States to have district and divisional football organs that would handle the development of the game at those stages. The officials from the districts and state registered clubs would elect State FA boards in line with provisions that State FA membership must reflect the geo-political spread of the State.
“Bio in his half measures and posturing is as guilty for whatever finally happens to the game as the collection of those who think so much of their chances to dig into notches of power in football, that they would start by disobeying the Statutes which, when elected, they would swear to uphold.
“I cannot blame Bio too much because he is simply representing the interests of government, which wants nothing for sports.”
The evolving crises are great opportunities to reform our football. They should not be wasted unless government still wants nothing for sports.