Hanging in the Balance

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Maigari

The fate of Nigeria’s football on the international scene is hanging in the balance following the recent FIFA ban on the country for the government’s interference in the affairs of the Nigeria Football Federation

|  By Anayo Ezugwu  |  Jul. 21, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT

NIGERIA football is again on the edge of a precipice. Less than a month to the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup, in Canada in August and also less than a week for the country’s U-17 team to participate in the Confederation of African Football, CAF, qualification match in Democratic Republic of Congo, slated for July 20, the world governing football body has suspended Nigeria from all its foot ball events. FIFA is kicking against government’s interference in the running of the Nigerian Football Federation, NFF, which its executive was sacked by a high court in Jos. Nigeria, has until July 15, to reverse the decision or lose its participation in all FIFA organised football tournaments until further notice.

When the ban was announced on July 9, Tammy Danagogo, sports minister, led a three-man to FIFA office in Brazil, where the 20th World Cup is still ongoing to present Nigeria’s case. But the delegation was said to have been rebuffed by FIFA officials who insisted that the NFF should go and put its house in order.

A press statement on the FIFA website said that its emergency committee decided on Wednesday, July 9, to suspend the NFF with immediate effect, on account of government interference. Article 13, par. 1 and article 17, par. 1 of the FIFA Statutes oblige member associations to manage their affairs independently and with no influence from third parties.

The decision, according to the statement, followed a letter sent by FIFA to the NFF on July 4, 2014, in which it expressed its great concern after the federation was served with court proceedings and consequently an order preventing the president of the NFF, the NFF executive committee members and the NFF congress from running the affairs of Nigerian football was granted by a federal high court of Nigeria.

“The suspension will be lifted once the court actions have been withdrawn and the properly elected NFF Executive Committee, the NFF general assembly and the NFF administration are able to work without any interference in their affairs. As a result of this decision, no team from Nigeria of any sort (including clubs) can have any international sporting contact (art. 14 par. 3 of the FIFA Statutes). During the period of suspension, the NFF may not be represented in any regional, continental or international competitions, including at club level, or in friendly matches. In addition, neither the NFF nor any of its members or officials may benefit from any FIFA or CAF development programmes, courses or training during the suspension period,” the FIFA statement said further.

Danagogo had asked Lawrence Katken, a very senior public servant, to act as the sole administration and secretary general of NFF, in view of the court order. The restraining order was granted by Justice P.L. Lot in respect of a motion initiated by Ebiakpo Rumson Baribote, owner of Nembe FC, asking the court to restrain Aminu Maigari-led NFF from further controlling and managing the affairs of all football matters in Nigeria pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice for interlocutory injunction filed before the court. The court also ordered the minister of sports to stop relating with the Maigari-led executive.

Danagogo
Danagogo

The implications of the ban, analysts have feared is that the country would not be allowed to participate in the upcoming FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup, in Canada between August 5 and 24. Besides, the country would also forfeit Confederation of African Football, CAF, U-17 qualification match in Democratic Republic of Congo, slated for July 20, if the ban is not lifted by July 15. Realnews learnt that Nigerians were working frantically to get FIFA to renege its order.

In the meantime, the NFF in a statement on Wednesday, July 9, denied that FIFA had stopped Falconets from travelling. In the statement by Katken, NFF, acting general secretary, the body said: “It is a blatant lie to say FIFA refused to issue tickets to the Falconets. What happened was that the former General Secretary, Musa Amadu, mistakenly cancelled the earlier reservations, so when the delegation got to the airport, they could not find seats on the flight. FIFA has told us they are working hard at alternatives, because Lufthansa Airline flights from Abuja are fully booked for the next weeks, and promised to get the players and officials to their training camp in Canada even if they have to travel in batches, from Thursday.”

Danagogo had said before the FIFA ban was announced, that the world body had no reason to sanction the country over the removal of Maigari as the NFF president. He said FIFA would not sanction Nigeria because Maigari’s removal was not as a result of government’s interference in the affairs of the federation. He explained that the decision to remove Maigari was taken by a legitimate NFF congress. “Nigeria is safe, I can tell you that. What FIFA wants is for the right things to be done and there should be a high-level independence in what is happening. So far, if you look at what has happened, I think the government has been very fair; the government has done everything possible not to unduly interfere. As a government, we have constitutional duty to maintain law and order. When factions in football family begin to dispute, we have a duty to see that we don’t allow them kill themselves, we don’t allow them destroy the buildings where they are operating. Beyond that, we have not done anything. What we have done is to see that law and order is maintained,” he said.

The minister said that when he returned to the country from the World Cup in Brazil, the Maigari-led NFF wrote to inform him that there was a court order saying that they were not the legitimate executive council of the NFF and that a civil servant had been appointed and directed to take over. He said the NFF through the letter urged him to intervene so as to maintain law and order. He said the group of football association chairmen and stakeholders, who also did not want the Maigari government to continue, called their congress and passed a vote of no confidence in the executive council.

According to Danagogo, FIFA must have handed down the ultimatum to Nigeria on the matter with the belief that Maigari’s removal was an action by the government. “Ordinarily, the tenure of the Maigari-led executive has almost come to an end by July, August. And it is a routine, even in our politics, that once we get to election season, there is always disputes between parties who are interested. So, what you are seeing is the normal election conflict within the NFF. The Maigari exco had tried to set up electoral machinery to ensure they were re-elected and the majority have come together to say no.”

Maigari, who assumed office in August 2010, has been severally unsettled by many court orders on basis of motions initiated by many disgruntled parties challenging the legality of his election. But he has always weathered the storm because he is recognised by FIFA which is always not comfortable with football disputes being brought before civil courts of competent jurisdiction.

However, Nigeria is not experiencing FIFA ban for the first time. In December 1989, the country was banned from age group competitions for two years by FIFA after the organisation discovered age discrepancies involving some of its top internationals like Samson Siasia, Andrew Uwe and Dahiru Sadi.

Nigeria also received a ban threat in 2010 after the Super Eagles crashed out of the 2010 World Cup hosted by South Africa unceremoniously. Irked by the dismal performance, President Goodluck Jonathan said he was withdrawing Nigeria from all international competitions for two years to enable the country prepare very well. It thus, sacked the Sani Lulu-led NFF and accused it of corruption. To spare the country of the FIFA sledge hammer, the president later rescinded his decision, but Lulu’s group did not have the mandate to continue in office as it was ousted by Maigari and his team. Will FIFA rescind its order or Nigeria succumbs to the FIFA rule? The next few days are very crucial about which direction Nigeria is likely to take.

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