By Victor Okoye
As the 2018 Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) elections get underway today (Thursday) in Katsina, there is no doubt that it would only pave the way for further drama in the Nigeria football house.
The unfortunate leadership crisis in Nigerian football that has plagued the football body since 2014 has indeed been a big setback to the country in many ways.
The Glass House has been occupied at different times by both the Chris Giwa and Amaju Pinnick factions of the federation’s congress.
This occupation has, however, been with the aid of men of the Nigeria Police and the Department of State Services at such times.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that battle for the seat started shortly after Pinnick won a parallel election in Warri in 2014.
Giwa had dragged the Pinnick-led board to court over forceful takeover of the NFF secretariat following Pinnick’s emergence as president in an election conducted on Sept. 30, 2014.
The election prevented Giwa, who emerged as NFF president at an earlier election held in Abuja on Aug. 26, 2014, from assuming office.
The NFF Congress had disregarded the order of a Jos High Court to stay action on the Warri election until the determination of the suit brought before it by Giwa.
The matter eventually got to the Supreme Court which in April, set aside a 2016 judgment of the Appeal Court on the leadership tussle and sent the matter back to the Federal High Court sitting in Jos, Plateau State, which had earlier mandated Giwa to take over as president.
As part of the reconciliatory move to resolve the crisis, the Amaju-led faction of the NFF held an Extra-Ordinary General Assembly in Benin City on Aug. 2.
The Benin congress had, among other issues, directed a review of the NFF election guidelines in a bid to accommodate all aggrieved parties.
The directive, which was part of the communique issued by the congress at the end of the meeting, also asked all parties to withdraw their court cases.
The congress also considered lifting the ban on Giwa and members of his faction.
The NFF Congress had at the assembly suspended the statutory provisions of the 2010 NFF Statutes, NFF Electoral Code 2009 and Guidelines for Elections into the NFF 2018.
However, Giwa who spoke with NAN through Victor Iroele, his Senior Special Assistant (SSA) on Media, said the congress was not only illegal but inconsequential, adding that it was a mere gathering of Pinnick and his friends in Benin City.
He also rejected Pinnick’s advice to Giwa to withdraw the orders of court recognising him as the NFF president with a view to contesting in a fresh election.
“What he sees as a compensation is out of place and an outright injustice.
“A Federal High Court sitting in Jos has declared the elective Congress of 2014 that brought Pinnick as illegal, null, void and of no consequence in law.
“The court has also, through Justice Haruna Kurya, affirmed that Giwa shall hold office as NFF President pending when the suit before that court will be determined.
“The same orders have been re-affirmed by the Supreme Court. However, Pinnick continues to parade himself as the NFF president.
“The plea to reconcile with Giwa has indeed exposed his desperation to remain in office by having the court orders withdrawn,” he said.
Iroele also said the Benin congress had challenged the court’s competence and jurisdiction, adding that any reconciliatory move was supposed to be at the instance of Giwa and not Pinnick.
NAN also reports that as a fall out from the Amaju-Pinnick led Extraordinary Congress, the Electoral Committee announced an adjustment of the election time-table from Sept. 30 to Sept. 20.
Giwa, once again, reacted in a statement in Abuja, saying that his board would have nothing to do with the adjusted 2018 NFF Elective Congress time-table.
He said that the time-table must be disregarded, as “it has no place in law and was not sanctioned by our legally-recognised board’’.
He warned those parading themselves as members of the electoral committee to desist from doing so as they were in breach of the laws of the land.
Giwa told NAN that he would not relinquish his mandate, which was given to him in an earlier election by the NFF congress in Abuja and urged his supporters to be calm as the rule of law runs its course.
“By the grace of God, we employed patience to go through the judicial system of the land as guaranteed by Article 1.1 of the NFF Statute to reach where we are.
“Except if the law and the judiciary is no more significant can what happened on Monday be allowed. Evil will not thrive over good.
“I urge our friends, allies and supporters to remain calm. Truth shall return to the centre stage.
“What you have seen is like the different scenes in a Nollywood film. All I know is that the rule of law will not lie low against the rule of might and influence peddling,’’ he said.
Following a FIFA threat however, the Federal Government on Aug. 20, chose to recognise Pinnick and his men as the authentic leadership of the NFF, to avoid the country being expelled by the world football governing body.
FIFA in turn sent a correspondence confirming the receipt of a letter from the Federal Government as tweeted by Laolu Akande, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity.
Sadly enough, the crisis cannot be said to be completely over from all indications as the Minister of Sports, Solomon Dalung, only recently insisted that the forthcoming elections into the NFF board would be in futility if the court order was not obeyed.
The comments by Dalung was coming shortly after the Federal Government had assured FIFA that all was well with the country’s football and that Amaju Pinnick was recognised as NFF boss which allowed the country escape the FIFA hammer.
The Chris Giwa-led faction on the other hand staged a meeting in Abuja in spite of the Federal Government’s decision to back Pinnick and go in line with FIFA’s statutes as they await the verdict of the case which was adjourned till Sept. 25.
With the Sept. 20 elections in Katsina and the effects of the crisis, football lovers, stakeholders and administrators are however eager to see the seemingly intractable crisis rocking the football sector laid to rest.
Will the elections be the panacea to the crisis? Only time will unravel the facts.
It is, however, important to be focused on how the country’s football will be in the next four years.
Pinnick, who is now CAF’s Vice-President and committee member of FIFA, is eyeing a second term but there is a strong opposition from Aminu Maigari, a former NFF President and Chief Taiwo Ogunjobi, a former NFF Secretary-General.
Also, Ogunjobi, who lost at the last election in Warri is competing again this time.
The three football buffs are the gladiators of the election, while first Vice-President Seyi Akinwunmi is also seeking re-election.
It expected that his love for the growth of the game will give him an edge over other contenders, however, you never know with football politics in Nigeria.
Interestingly, the football scene has been too calm about the election maybe due to the crisis.
It is normal that there will be intrigues and keen politicking in the next few days but truth is football politics is not like the conventional one.
All the aspirants into various positions are expected to plan well and play their games well respectively to win.
The leadership crisis of the last election lasted the whole tenure and it is important that we do not have a repeat of the same scenario.
The country’s domestic football league was on break during the crisis and after the escape of FIFA ban, it was also difficult to run the full course of the season.
The elite league was 14 weeks away from the end and there were only seven weeks before the deadline given to all countries by the Confederation of African Football to submit the names of representatives for African Championships.
For leading the table for most part of the 24 Match Day of the Nigeria Professional Football League 2017/2018 season, the League Management Company and the club owners decided to end the season with 14 games to go and announced Lobi Stars as the champions and the country’s representative for the CAF Champions League next season.
The decision generated so much negative reactions but the chieftains of the game in the country stood firm on the unpopular decision.
A former international, Victor Ikpeba, noted that it was a bad decision for the growth of the game in Nigeria.
A former English football superstar, John Fashanu, also criticised the decision to award the title to Lobi that were just two points above the second team, Akwa United, before the break.
There are other effects of the abrupt end to the league.
The match officials who make their living from officiating games will be counting their losses, while fans and the petty traders who make brisk business during league matches will also be lamenting over this development.
This, certainly is a bad precedent that could affect football development in the country.
It is left to see how football stakeholders will resolve the lingering crisis, while FIFA and the Executive arm of government continue to back Pinnick, even as the ruling by the Judiciary had favoured the Giwa-led board.
After all said and done, the truth is, we need peace in our football so that the players can flourish and the administrators will be in the right frame to take the right decisions and move the game to enviable heights in which all Nigerians can be proud of. (NAN)