By Segun Odegbami
I am writing on this issue again out of a sense of responsibility to the game that has dominated my activities through most of my years on earth.
I believe that if the elections into the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, are held today, I have a good idea who the winner will be. I am almost certain about the long list of persons who would be left frustrated at the end of it all when the reality dawns on them on the futility of their ambition to become President through the present process.
The next President of the NFF would have come without question from one of the State FA Chairmen. Thereafter, that constituency would have continued their stranglehold on Nigerian football and its administration, something that has not augured well for the game during this outgoing regime.
Whilst many contestants will be busy counting their losses, on the other side of the aisle they will find a group pumping hands, hugging and kissing each other in celebration of an assured victory once again, having succeeded in cowing the government and the people of Nigeria into submission, making them surrender their most valuable sports property to the shenanigans of puppeteers manipulating the system of elections.
Without fixing that system and process, the crisis during national sports federations elections, and the resort to the civil courts for justice, will not end. The crisis of the past two decades are clear confirmation.
Crisis-ridden elections have become the norm, a well-established ‘game’ played every time the elections into the board of the Nigeria Football Association are to be carried out. They follow the same pattern – complaints by aggrieved stakeholders, litigation in Civil courts, Sports Ministry’s intervention, and a rush to FIFA by those holding on to the rein of power, screaming ‘Third Party’ interference.
The Outgoing regime ‘wins’ as soon as threats of suspension from international competitions are dangled, and the country retires from the fight, its tail tucked between its legs, as the old regime, clad in new clothes, settles down to reap the bountifully from its harvest.
This pattern has become blatant, frustrating stakeholders who once clamoured for a withdrawal from all FIFA competitions for 2 years even at the risk of sanctions, to enable the country fix its domestic problems before returning to the world body again.
What is certain is that those enjoying the spoils of this present crisis-ridden process would not let go of the power gifted them by the same government that now wants to take it back. They will not give up without a fight, as no one surrenders power that easily.
That is what these seemingly, intractable crisis during elections are about.
Meanwhile, I will not be tired of raising the issues and attempting to clear the cobwebs of understanding the issues.
A few days ago, the old problem has reared its head again.
Two weeks to the elections slated for September 30, an aggrieved stakeholder, seeing the handwriting of the same old script on the wall, that some members are been side-lined from the elections, returned to the civil courts and secured an order suspending the elections.
Surely, the elections will not now take place in September again without the court order being vacated.
The Ministry of Sports had foreseen this possibility and, to forestall the present situation, got the President of the Country to intervene in the best interest of all Nigerians by advising the NFF to applying appropriate articles in its statutes to accommodate more members and give room for more equitable participation by all members.
It is clear to every Nigerian that something is wrong with the process of electing the leadership of National federations.
It had not always been so. Why has it been impossible to deal with it once and for all? It is not rocket science.
What is it that needs amendment in the statutes?
Some of the current NFF board members say they will do the needed amendments after they have elected the next president? Why not do it now, instead of later?
They are independent, even from FIFA intervention, in their domestic affairs. They created the rules themselves.
FIFA does not hand out any template to national federations on how to conduct elections. Each federation establishes its own process. That’s the reality. In the same vein, the federation can amend its rules, whenever it chooses to, period!
So, what actually is critical and needs amendment in the process of the present election process?
The problem is the composition of those that elect the leaders.
That is, the elective Congress. They Congress elects the members of the board including the President.
It should not be such a difficult matter to resolve, therefore, but it is, now.
The present members do not want to give up the power ( in their number) they have in the Congress and to determine who becomes the new President. Unfortunately, until and unless they give it, or part of it, up the present crisis will not go away.
What the Minister of Sports did with the 10-year Football Masterplan, is propose a compromise of some sort, asking every member to temper their demands, give a little and take a little, in order for enough peace to reign to enable for fuller reforms and amendments when a new board is installed after the elections.
The Amaju regime actually set up a reform committee. It abandoned the very sensible recommendations of the committee when it found that some of the recommendations would erode the overwhelming stranglehold on power.
The President’s advise is that rather than go ahead with the elections, the organisation should use its independence to amend the rules and accommodate more aggrieved members, create a more level playing field, and then conduct elections that would usher in a leadership from a more equitable electorate. It makes sense.
The choices are now clear. The board can accept the recommendation of the President, or to go into a brawl with the Ministry and other aggrieved stakeholders. It appears the regime is bent on the former choice. So, the battle has returned to the courts, and, in the end, it is football and the people that will suffer the consequences.
Nigerians should now know who are responsible.
The Nigerian Players constituency have become a necessary ‘evil’ to bring an end to the crisis in Nigerian football, and by extension, in sport. The other constituencies are not even asserting their rights and demanding their rightful place on the board. Their leaderships have either been compromised into silence, or are ignorant of their place and role. The referees association, the coaches association, the school sports associations, NAPHER, the military and para military constituency, the leagues, and even some relevant new members, have all become victims of their silence and acquiescence to their unwarranted exclusion from the board.
I have just read the letter from the NFA Secretariat inviting its members and delegates to the 2022 Annual General Assembly.
I can see the answer to the present crisis in that letter.
The AGM actually creates a platform to resolve this present impasse without offending the order of the Abuja High Court.
The NFF should go ahead with its General Assembly on September 30, and conduct the business of all the listed items in the agenda except those ones that have to do with the court order.
Interestingly, part of the listed items includes: (i) ‘vote on proposals for amendments to the statutes, the regulations governing the application of the statutes…’.
So, that meeting can discuss amendments to the statutes;
(s) ‘Election of the President, Vice President and Members of the Executive Committee’. This item, now temporarily halted by the Courts, and which must not be conducted until vacated by the court, should be stepped down at the meeting;
(m), ” ..any further items proposed by the members of the Executive Committee of the NFA’.
If the present board means well for Nigeria and for football, they will seek the Ministry of Sports’ input in setting up a transition committee that shall handle the affairs of Nigerian football until the court order is vacated and elections are eventually held.
The contribution of the Ministry of Sport is to ensure neutrality in choice of the committee membership.
That is my humble submission!