Nigeria may have escaped a long ban by the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA) with the last breath withdrawal of a suit that led to the disbanding of the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) board led by Alhaji Aminu Maigari late last month. FIFA considered that a breach of its rules that abhor “government interference” in football administration in member countries.
According to FIFA, the impeachment of the Maigari team, based on the decision of a high court in a case brought byNembe City FC chairman, Mrs Ebiakpo Rumson Baribote, was contrary to Article 13 (1) and Article 17 (1) of its Statutes which consider “government interference” in the running of the game as well as a resort to civil court action to settle football matters an aberration. Based on the interlocutory injunction granted by a Federal High Court in Jos, the Plateau state capital, the National Sports Commission (NSC) disbanded the Aminu Maigari-led NFF executives and appointed a sole administrator, Mr. Lawrence Katkin, in their place.
FIFA reacted by temporarily suspending Nigeria from all football related activities. It gave a deadline of July 17 for the NFF executive committee to be reinstated, failing which further sanctions would be slapped on the country.
Late Wednesday night, Baribote managed to get the court to reverse its decision, thereby enabling the reinstatement of the Maigari board. It is good news that Nigeria has managed to beat the FIFA deadline. This means that its women and youth teams which are due to participate in FIFA sanctioned competitions sometime this year will receive the all clear signal.
However, we still have an issue with the FIFA action. The world soccer governing body needs no reminder that its rules (statutes) are not superior to the constitution of a sovereign state. After all, FIFA itself is subject to the jurisdiction of Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) which, in itself, is subject to the jurisdiction of the Swiss judicial system.
Besides, the impeachment of the NFF President and the sacking of his management team were carried out by the NFF Congress which FIFA recognizes. The Congress had cited as reasons for its action “the unfortunate international embarrassment caused the Nigerian nation at the 2014 FIFA World Cup by the failure of the Aminu Maigari-led NFF to fully and firmly resolve issues of finance with the Super Eagles ahead of the championship”, the “shortchanging of grassroots development by a failure to regularly avail State Football Associations of annual grants”, and “abuse of NFF Statutes in its constitution of NFF Electoral Committee, by altering the list of persons approved by the Congress at the 2013 General Assembly in Warri, Delta state, and inaugurating a different Committee”.
We believe, therefore, that the processes leading to the impeachment the Maigari-led board and the sacking of his management team were within the purview of FIFA’s statutes and did not constitute a breach. Secondly, it seems far-fetched for FIFA to insist that a sponsoring authority does not have the right to demand accountability and transparency in the use of resources placed under the NFF care. If demanding accountability constitutes interference why has FIFA not considered sponsoring of the game by the respective national governments an aberration?
FIFA must realise that the funds placed at the disposal of the executive committee of the NFF belongs to the public and must be accounted for. Therefore, government asking the NFF to account for tax payers’ money does not constitute an interference, but builds public trust and confidence in the NFF leadership.
Furthermore, the complaint of interference by football administrators, who are always running to FIFA whenever they are asked to account for public funds in their custody, is a familiar refrain, a ruse, used to escape accountability. The Ibrahim Galadima-board deplored the full weight of FIFA on Nigeria in 2004/5; his successor, Alhaji Sani Lulu Abdullahi, did same after the South Africa 2010 World Cup when his executive committee impeached him over alleged mismanagement of finances.
We urge FIFA to, in future, consider all the perspectives to an issue before rushing to a decision. For instance, if it accepts funding of the game by governments, why can’t it tolerate their insistence on accountability and transparency? It cannot accept one and reject the other, unless it wants to promote corruption.