…Fear crisis will linger under him

By Jacob Ajom, Deputy Sports Editor,

Monday August 20  2018  was the date Nigerian football was marked for retribution by the Federation of International Football Association, FIFA. The world football governing body had threatened to ban Nigeria if the leadership impasse that had engulfed the Nigeria Football Federation was not settled on that day.

Osinbajo and Dalung

It took the intervention of the Vice President, who was then Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo to avert the ban, as the federal government struck an accord with FIFA by giving them written assurances. The ban was averted and today Nigeria remains a member of the international football family.

“It was a masterstroke,” a concerned football enthusiast said of Osinbajo’s effort, which he said was aimed at bringing a permanent solution to the crisis.

A day after, the Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Barrister Solomon Dalung issued a statement titled ‘WE STAND WITH THE RULE OF LAW’.

Dalung
Dalung

While welcoming the Vice President’s intervention in the matter, Dalung insinuated that the issue could not be considered settled with a temporary measure. Said Dalung, “This crisis cannot be solved with a temporary measure or scratched on the surface. The intervention of the Vice President should not be viewed as different from an attempt to abate an escalating situation,” insisting that the matter had a subsisting judgment of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.

“As a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, who took oath of office to protect and defend the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, I will prefer to stand with the Rule of Law instead of the opinion of men,” the statement reads, damning the repercussion and making light of the effort of the Vice President who is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.

Nigerians, who are aware that FIFA is still monitoring the Nigerian situation expressed anger and trepidation at the Minister’s arrogance and standoffish disposition in a matter he was supposed to appear as a father-figure.

Former Director General in the defunct National Sports Commission, Dr Patrick Ekeji said he was at a loss over who should interpret the law better between Professor Osinbajo and the Sports Minister. “The Vice President is a SAN so he certainly understands the letters, nuances, language of law better,” Ekeji said, adding, “it is therefore bizarre what Dalung is saying.”

Chris Giwa

A London- based journalist, Osasu Obayiwuna too is not comfortable with the position taken by the minister on the NFF crisis. The former African football correspondent for the BBC foresees more trouble. “From what I can see, Dalung will do whatever he can to cause more trouble in the future. Is it not clear that he doesn’t respect the Acting President?” he asked.

“FIFA, as football’s governing body, has its rules and conventions, which every member association willingly signed up to… Nigeria, whose membership of FIFA is through the NFF, is duty-bound to respect FIFA’s rules… “

“It would be foolhardy for the Minister of Sport to think that the NFF will be an exception to these rules… If the country, as a result of the minister’s actions, now or in the future, puts Nigerian football in further jeopardy, the Minister should be held responsible for the consequence that could follow.

“The Nigerian government made a written commitment to FIFA, seven years ago, to abrogate national laws that fetter the independence of the NFF. They should honour those commitments without further delay.”

Writing under the headline, FIFA, NFF and our regular courts, a former Nigeria international and a former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in Rivers State, Chief Adokiye Amiesimaka said, “FIFA doesn’t want to be entangled in politics of countries, so it recognises and deals directly with National Federations/Associations affiliated to it.

“Accordingly, FIFA wants such affiliates to be recognised by the laws of their countries, but not to be created by them.” He proffered the necessary solution to the imbroglio in the said write up which was published in Saturday Vanguard, last weekend. Asked yesterday to react to the minister’s position, Adokiye declined comment. “I don’t have any reaction to this nonsense. Last week I sent to you my position on the matter. That’s my response, every other thing is rubbish. We have just been going back and forth. That’s my response and solution. We are either doing it or not.

Pinnick Amaju

In his reaction, Professor Emmanuel Ojeme, Provost of the Delta State College of Education and member of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria inferred that the Minister’s reaction to the Vice President’s intervention was egoistic. “Dalung is not sincere. He is ashamed that his diabolical scheming has failed.”

When contacted, former Super Eagles coach and a former captain of the national team, Austin Eguavoen said he was happy that the FIFA ban was averted. “Congratulations to Nigeria for averting FIFA ban. Temporary or not we are free. I want to express my special thanks to those who brokered the truce and call on the minister to soften his posture.

“The minister should be able to broker peace among the warring parties and not to stoke the fire. Football speaks one language,” Eguavoen said.

His successor as national team coach and former team mate, Samson Siasia said Nigeria stood to lose so much if the understanding reached with FIFA was upturned by either the Minister or the courts. “Except we don’t want to be under FIFA anymore. We form our own League, our own World Cup and our own Africa Cup of Nations. We will be isolated by the international football body. So what are we talking about?”

Former Vice Chairman of the Nigeria Football Association, Tony Nnachetta is not pleased that the leadership crisis in Nigeria football has become a recurrent decimal. “This cannot continue all the time. Most of our sports administrators have failed to imbibe the tenets of international practices. I read with embarrassment that the Minister was planning to lead a 12-man delegation to Zurich to have a conversation with FIFA. I felt ashamed because it’s never done. Nowhere in the world would you hear of that,” Nnachetta said. He had some advice for both the Minister and the NFF President Amaju Pinnick.

“With due respect to the Minister, he has to back off. And as for Pinnick, it cannot always be winner takes all. He has to back down from his Olympian Height. There must be competence and humility. That is what matters most right now.”

Richard Nwabufo Obienu, a lawyer and one time Vice Chairman of Nigeria Football Association did not mince words in his condemnation of the Minister’s position on the matter. “What we are witnessing is the cost of putting incompetent people to run our sports. It is clear the minister is pursuing a personal agenda. Pinnick has lifted our football and the image of Nigeria in international sports politics has soared under him. Within two years he has risen to become the Vice President of the Confederation of African Football and member of FIFA Organising Committee.

“In resolving football matters, you don’t have to go to court,” Obienu said, warning, “FIFA is monitoring us. The Minister must not make us(Nigeria) look like a ‘419’ country by international organisations we belong to.”

Former Secretary General of the Nigeria Football Association, Alhaji Sani Toro is asking for a middle course. He said, “It is only fair to resolve this crisis through due process, getting Giwa to amicably withdraw the case from the court as a short term solution, while the NFF should agree to democratise the process of elections from local governments, states and national. The proposed NFF Act should reflect these processes as a permanent solution in order to avoid court cases in future.”

A retired Director in the Sports Ministry, Abba Yola dismissed Dalung’s statement as “not serious”, saying, “he is just grandstanding and capitalising on a perceived relationship. His cup has started to overflow.”

The unfolding scenario paints a picture of ignorance, incompetence and an inexorable descent to the abyss for Nigerian football. Who can stop the descent? Who can stop Dalung?

Tracing The History Of The Present NFF Crisis

The present leadership crisis of the Nigeria Football Federation, which was recently resolved through a letter to world football –governing body, FIFA by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (as Acting President), had its roots in events that happened immediately after Nigeria’s ouster from the 2014 FIFA World Cup finals in Brazil.

On the first day of July 2014, barely 24 hours after the Super Eagles were eliminated in the World Cup Round of 16 by France in Brasilia, a high court in Jos granted an injunction on a suit brought by one Chris Giwa (a club owner) dissolving the NFF and the NFF Congress. It was a novel action by any court in Nigeria, moreover as football matters are prohibited from civil courts by provisions of the FIFA Statutes and FIFA –approved NFF Statutes. But this excludes criminal cases.

A lot happened immediately after that, with the Ministry of Sports (suspected and later proved to have supported the Giwa action) immediately swinging into action and directing that the most senior staff of the NFF took charge of the Federation. That lot fell on one Lawrence Katken.

Within weeks, a plot was hatched to impeach the FIFA –recognized Board headed by Aminu Maigari, with 1st  Vice President Mike Umeh taking over the mantle of leadership.

After back-and-forth correspondence between FIFA and the legitimate NFF Executive Board headed by Aminu Maigari, with Musa Amadu as General Secretary, FIFA insisted on the board recognized by it re-taking office before progress could be made.

Nigeria had to bow. Following threats by security agencies and considering the interest of Nigerian Football, Maigari opted to withdraw from the upcoming election. The Electoral Committee empanelled by the NFF Congress played hanky-panky, refusing to sell presidential forms to any other person than Giwa, and this riled FIFA.

FIFA ordered that since the crisis had rendered the 26th  August 2014 date set for elections not feasible, the NFF must hold an extra-ordinary general assembly on the said date to fashion a road-map for elections. Members of the NFF Congress were in Abuja on the said date, only to find out that their leaders (Maigari, Board member Chris Green and GS Musa Amadu) were being held by security agencies. They left the Chida Hotel venue in a bus to the DSS Office to try and secure their release.

In their absence, they went ahead to conduct ‘elections,’ with some unknown people ‘delegates.’ An incensed FIFA refused to accept the ‘elections.’ Instead, FIFA ordered for two congresses (1) for fashioning a road-map for elections, on 20th  September, and 2) for elections, on 30th  September).

It was from the 30th  September 2014 elections, monitored by FIFA and attended by the Director General of the National Sports Commission, Hon. Gbenga Elegbeleye), that Amaju Pinnick emerged the NFF President, alongside a number of persons as Members of the NFF Executive Committee.

However, Giwa, with the support of the Sports Minister/Chairman, NSC Tammy Danagogo went ahead presenting himself as NFF President, saying that there was an injunction on the NFF not to conduct the elections in Warri on 30th  September NFF claimed, however, that it was not served. FIFA would not hear of that, and after further back-and-forth correspondence, Giwas realized there was no way he would govern Nigerian Football. He went back to court.

The High Court in his native State, Plateau State, ruled that the NFF elections of 30th  September were null, void and unconstitutional, and that Giwa was the legal NFF President. With the active support of then DSS Director General, Ita Ekpenyong, Giwa loomed large. Validly –elected Amaju Pinnick was even stopped at the airport on a trip to Namibia to watch the final of the 2014 Women Africa Cup of Nations, in which Nigeria was taking on Cameroon.

A furious FIFA, and a discomfited CAF, wrote letters to the effect that Nigeria was hours from a ban from international football for obduracy and failure to keep third party interference away from football.

It was at this stage that the country’s President, Goodluck Jonathan intervened, calling both men to the Presidential Villa and prevailing on Giwa to withdraw his case from the court. Whatever negotiation was made was unknown to the general public.

Pinnick gained full control of the NFF offices, but following the appointment of his kinsman, Solomon Dalung as Sports Minister in November 2015, Giwa resurrected his matter and went back to court to seek a re-enlistment of the suit.

The High Court in Jos granted his prayer on 8th  April 2016, and he assumed he was back in office as NFF President. But the Amaju Pinnick Board immediately appealed the ruling and the status quo was maintained.

On 25th  July 2016, the Appeal Court ruled that the High Court could not re-enlist a case that had been withdrawn, and confirmed Pinnick as the legitimate NFF President.

Giwa went to the Supreme Court, which on 27th  April granted that the High Court could re-enlist the case. But Giwa and his group assumed that with that ruling, they had been given control of the NFF. They moved into the NFF Secretariat following the FIFA World Cup in Russia, and on the back of a directive by Giwa’s kinsman, Sports Minister Dalung, that the Pinnick –led NFF Board should respect the Supreme Court ruling.

For three weeks, Giwa and his group took control of the NFF offices, but following a presidential directive, operatives of the Directorate of Special Services (DSS) took control of the NFF Secretariat, ensuring that only persons recognized by FIFA were in charge of affairs.

On Wednesday, 8th  August, and following a change in the leadership of the DSS, the operatives returned to their offices for a briefing. This allowed Giwa and his group to storm the NFF offices, believing they were back in charge, and they harassed staff to no end. This prompted FIFA, ever so concerned about the uncertain situation, to give Nigeria until Monday, 20th  August 2018 to confirm that the FIFA –recognized NFF Board of Amaju Pinnick and General Secretary had been given effective control of the NFF offices or Nigeria would be suspended from international football by 12:00 CET (Central European Time) of that day.

However, the following day the DSS operatives were back to enforce the presidential directive, and on Saturday, 18th  August 2018, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (as Acting President) transmitted a letter to FIFA confirming that the “Federal Government of Nigeria recognized the current and only NFF Executive Committee headed by Amaju Melvin Pinnick as the authentic NFF Executive Committee.”

That appeared to close the case, but true to type, Sports Minister Dalung issued a statement on Tuesday, 21stAugust 2018 insinuating that a Supreme Court judgment was subsisting, and Vice President Osinbajo’s correspondence was only a temporary measure.

It is left to be seen how the Presidency would react to this high –level breach of protocol and insubordination on the part of a cabinet minister.

The Minister’s statement issued immediately after Acting President’s intervention likened the Acting President’s action as temporary and a scratch on the surface. Below is the full text of Dalung’s statement.

WE STAND WITH THE RULE OF LAW

The Minister of Youth and Sports Development Barrister Solomon Dalung welcomes the intervention of the Vice President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo which saved Nigeria from a suspension threat by FIFA in the lingering crisis of the FootbaIl Federation.

The Minister believes in the resolution of the crisis which has a history dating back to almost 20 years since the removal of Mr Anthony Kojo Williams from office.

“This crisis cannot be solved with a temporary measure or scratched on the surface. The intervention of the Vice President should not be viewed as different from an attempt to abate an escalating situation. “

However, the Minister notes that the matter has a subsisting judgement of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.

“As a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, who took oath of office to protect and defend the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, I will prefer to stand with the Rule of Law instead of the opinion of men.

“I want to appeal to Nigerians to remain calm and give support to the NFF Elders Stakeholders Reconciliation Committee which is made up of reputable past Presidents and General Secretaries of the NFF with vast knowledge, experience and competence to resolve this crisis once and for all.

“We are a constitutional democracy and the doctrine of separation of powers is the foundation of democratic experience, therefore, the Rule of Law is the only mechanism that guarantees liberty and freedom of citizens

“This administration was elected on the change mantra meaning that impunity has no accommodation anywhere, so Nigerians must learn to believe and practice the doctrine of the Rule of Law. I believe we shall overcome this if we remain within the confines and dictates of the laws of our country.

“As we celebrate Sallah, let’s remain law abiding citizens,” Dalung said.

NB

The case of Kojo William’s removal from office was totally different from the recent case. Nobody contested Kojo William’s election. He was impeached by his own board members who felt there were irreconcilable differences. Kojo had good intentions but the sports ministry, as we have today, influenced his impeachment.

And because it was done by the board members FIFA did not raise eyebrows. Due process appeared to have been taken although their action couldn’t have been for the interest of Nigeria’s football. President Olusegun Obasanjo allowed the storm to settle before dropping Damishi Sango, another Plateau man as sports minister.

Obasanjo wanted Kojo to restructure Nigeria’s football but the ministry felt differently. Apparently unaware that the President supported Kojo to restructure Nigeria’s football, the ministry unleashed their sledge hammer. Apparently not wanting Nigerians to read conflicting signals on his government, Obasanjo tarried awhile before dropping Sango. Sango’s end came when he backed Kojo’s removal. Obasanjo is still alive today and can testify to this.

The interference in our football will end the day Decree 101 that places NFF under the sports ministry as a parastatal is finally repealed. Many sports ministers would always want to control football. They are so swayed by the spoils of office that they disregard the rules of the game and given in to self interests. Over the years, a Nigerian sports minister who supervises the country’s teams to the Olympics, World Cup, Commonwealth Games and possibly the Nations Cup would be so buoyant that he can run for the Presidency or governorship of his state.

The problem didn’t start now and may not end now until the law is amended. Ministers would always want to influence elections into the NFF or coerce the board to do his bidding. FIFA abhors taking administrative matters to conventional courts. And it is because of interference

that affects smooth running of the game especially in Africa that informed the enactment of these rules by them. Their affiliates are expected to abide to belong to the organisation. They have not said rule of law should be disregarded.

They are only insisting that administrative issues which include election disputes can be settled in Court of Arbitration for Sports, CAS. It is important to note that FIFA does not stop anybody from taking criminal cases to court. Monies or allocations from the government or sponsors must, therefore, be accounted for.

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