Hours before FIFA’s deadline handed Nigeria to fix its football body expires, the Government was between disobeying a Supreme Court verdict and Nigeria being banned from international football. It chose the former.
FIFA’s threat to ban Nigeria came after years of leadership tussle, between Amaju Pinnick and Chris Giwa, at the Nigerian Football Federation. While Pinnick is recognized by FIFA as the legitimate NFF Chairman, Giwa, who took the matter to Court and lost at the highest Court of Sports Arbitration in Switzerland, secured a local Court verdict in his favour, a verdict which has been backed by the Supreme Court, placing the Government in an awkward position as NFF is an affiliate of FIFA which is not, ordinarily, under the Government its affiliate operates from.
One Sack, Many Crisis
The journey to understanding the NFF crisis dates back to 2012 when 17 Club Owners agreed to sack Rumson Victor Baribote, who was the Chairman of the Nigerian Premier League. Baribote was one of the two private club owners in Nigeria, the other was Chris Giwa, whose Giwa FC has been in Court battles with the NFF. When his club was suspended for missing matches, Giwa got court order suspending the Football League as a whole. Order from his State Plateau, as usual.
Baribote protested this sack and went to Court. He claimed that his removal was illegal and as a result of his refusal to support the sack of Coach Samson Siasia who comes from the same State as him.
Baribote petitioned FIFA making allegations against the then Chairman of NFF, Aminu Maigari. This petition was thrown out for lack of merit, but NFF decided to set up a Committee to advice it and by October it slammed a 15 years ban on Mr. Baribote claiming he impersonated the NPL Chairman in his correspondence with FIFA whereas he had been removed. Baribote replies saying he is innocent and even identified himself as the legally elected NPL Chairman who was unduly removed.
The NFF Committee also claimed that Baribote is not the proprietor of Nembe FC as he claims as it is “registered” to his wife Mrs. Ebiakpo Baribote.
Involving Mrs. Baribote turned out to be a mistake as she dragged the NFF to Court and by July 2014, a High Court of Justice in Jos ordered Maigari and his board to stop parading themselves as NFF Executives. This began a circle of Court involvement in the leadership of football in Nigeria and caused a stir which was to later create parallel Congresses.
The Government of the time obeyed the Court order and removed Maigari, FIFA responded by suspending Nigeria and giving a July 17 deadline for the government and its Court to stay out of football in Nigeria. Under pressure to save Nigeria’s football, Mrs. Baribote applied for the verdict to be vacated and on July 16, Justice LP Lot, who gave the judgment earlier, vacated it and Maigari was restored to power, sanctions lifted. FIFA had established that it recognized Aminu Maigari as President of NFF and Musa Amadu as Secretary. This would later become relevant to the present case.
Welcome, you are impeached
Days after Maigari resumed office as the President of NFF, 8 out of 13 members of his Board impeached him for what they described as financial mismanagement and secrecy. Mike Umeh, the second Vice President, was elevated to act in Maigari’s capacity, and an election was fixed for August 26th of the same year, as Maigari was on his way out anyway, being that it was his fourth year.
But FIFA again rejects the impeachment. In a letter dated August 4, addressed to the General Secretary of the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, Musa Amadu, FIFA asked Nigeria to explain the reasons behind the impeachment of Aminu Maigari. The world football governing body also stated in the letter that the dismissal of any executive committee member was the prerogative of the NFF Congress/General Assembly and not the Board of the NFF.
Another letter signed by Markus Kattner, who was FIFA’s Deputy Secretary-General reinstated Mmaigari, saying,
“The NFF Congress will exercise its sovereign power through the electoral process which shall be open to everybody and managed by the electoral committees elected by the Congress in their entirety. Furthermore, we advise you that President Maigari must preside over the NFF Congress on 26 August.”
Then Minister of Sports, Tammy Dangogo, complied with this position through a directive. At this point, Maigari complained of shortness of time for the elections.
Before the 26th August Congress, FIFA decided that the opportunity should be used to unite the house rather than elect officials as it puts elections for a later date. On the day of the Congress, however, the DSS arrested the NFF Chairman and Secretary.
Giwa was elected NFF President at this meeting, even though delegates, including NFF Secretary, who later attended, had walked out saying election was not in the agenda.
By September of 2014, FIFA declared the August 26 election illegal and threatened to suspend Nigeria. It directed the Aminu Maigari-led Board to return to office and to conduct elections.
The NFF later held its planned election on the 30th of September and Pinnick won in the presence of FIFA and CAF observers who were absent at Giwa’s election because the body had reached an agreement with the NFF that a later date is fixed for election.
Giwa defeated Mike Umeh by 27 votes to 2 in Abuja, while in Warri some weak after, while Pinnick defeated 6 others with 32 of the 44 votes. In comparison, the past NFF Chairman came into office by defeating 4 others with his 31 votes while 43 votes were cast.
Court and Government gets involved
Before Maigari’s NFF election, Chris Giwa had approached a Federal High Court. The Court made an Interim Order on Sept. 19, 2014, recognising the Executive Committee elected on Aug. 25, 2015, as valid; and further restrained the Executive Committee led by Maigari from conducting any Congress or Election to re-elect any other person to the same office.
So when Pinnick was elected in Warri it was against a Court order. The Court went ahead to declare Pinnick’s election null and void. At this point, efforts were made by former President Goodluck Jonathan to resolve the issue out of Court and Giwa dropped his case.
Dissatisfied with the outcome, Giwa again approaches the Court to re-enlist the case and all the orders including the one which restrains Pinnick. The Court obliges, Pinnick appeals and wins at the Appeal Court but loses at the Supreme Court which said the case should continue at the High Court and the High Court can re-enlist its orders.
This in mind, in July this year, Minister for Youths and Sports, Solomon Dalung, ordered the current NFF board led by Pinnick to vacate the office as he has been directed by the Attorney General to ensure the verdict of the Supreme Court stands. Dalung also asked Chris Giwa to take over the running of the Glass House. And he did, just after men of the DSS were removed from the complex.
The Supreme Court order compels Dalung, the defendants, their servants, agents and privies howsoever, the Inspector General of Police (IG) and all law enforcement agencies to forthwith enforce the orders made by the court on September 19, 2014, and October 23, 2014, and give recognition to the General Assembly meeting and election of the NFF held on August 26, 2014 Giwa’s pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice.
Days after this instruction, however, just as FIFA slams Nigeria with another warning with a deadline of 20th of August, a letter from the same AGF asks the Sports Minister to be silent on the issue and ordered both parties to maintain “status quo”. In line with this, DSS operatives threw Giwa out of the NFF office on July 23. In between these, CAF made Pinnick its 1st Vice President. Again reinforcing that just like it stood with Maigari, FIFA will stand with whoever it recognizes as the leader of NFF.
Just as the deadline by FIFA was about to end, the Federal Government has written to FIFA, upholding Pinnick as the NFF Chairman in clear violation of a Supreme Court order.