Nigeria Escapes FIFA Hammer!

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Duro Ikhazuagbe

World football governing body, FIFA, has confirmed that Nigeria will not be suspended following Federal Government’s explanation that Amaju Pinnick-led executive committee remains the legitimate board of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF).

A statement from FIFA on Monday afternoon read: “Following the decision of the Bureau of the FIFA Council of 13 August 2018 concerning the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), FIFA received confirmations that the legitimate leadership of the NFF under President Amaju Melvin Pinnick and General Secretary Mohammed Sanusi has been given back effective control of the NFF and its offices.

“In view of these circumstances, FIFA deems that the conditions set by the decision of the Bureau of the FIFA Council have now been met and consequently the suspension of the NFF will not take effect.

“FIFA will continue to closely monitor the situation in order to ensure that FIFA’s rules and regulations are fully adhered to,” concludes the statement.

Earlier monday, Laolu Akande, the Special Adviser on Media to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, had tweeted FG’s position on the leadership tussle at the Glass House, insisting that the Amaju Pinnick-led executive committee remains the authentic board of the NFF.

The statement was a follow up on the communication between the Vice President, Pinnick and FIFA at the weekend.

Before the Vice President’s intervention, Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung, had made spirited efforts to visit FIFA headquarters last weekend with a 17-man contingent. Dalung who is a known supporter of Chris Giwa to take over the leadership of the NFF, wanted to go to Zurich to justify why the Supreme Court ruling of last June should be obeyed.

The apex court had thrown the NFF matter back to the lower High Court for retrial. The minister who is a lawyer interpreted it to mean that the status quo referred to in the judgment was to legitimize Giwa’s claim to the coveted seat.

FIFA however turn down Dalung’s request made through Nigeria’s ambassador to Switzerland. It stressed that its notice to ban Nigeria if Pinnick and his board members were not handed back the NFF was very clear and unambiguous.

Nigeria was to be handed a lengthy ban monday, a development that would have thrown Super Eagles qualification for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations into serious jeopardy.

After missing the AFCON 2012 in similar fashion, Super Eagles came back to win the 2013 edition in South Africa. Squabble again over the NFF post led to Nigeria again failing to qualify for the 2015 and 2017 editions of the AFCON in a row.

The country would have also been disqualified from the Under-17 African zonal qualifiers in Niger Republic, which kicks off on September 2.

Nigeria’s last team in continental football this season, Enyimba FC of Aba would also have been disqualified from this year’s CAF Confederation Cup even after a crucial win at Djoliba of Mali on Sunday night.

The latest squabble over the leadership of the NFF began even before the September 30, 2014 elections in Warri that brought Pinnick to power.

Both Giwa and Pinnick have been in and out of courtrooms ever since.

This is the genesis of the fight that has marred the tenure of Pinnick ending in barely one month from today: Immediately after Super Eagles second round exit at the World Cup in Brazil in 2014 and with another election into the board of the NFF slated for the following month, the federation’s outgoing President, Alhaji Aminu Maigari was ousted through an emergency congress initiated by the then Sports Minister, Tammy Danagogo.

On July 23 of the same year, eight out of the 13 board members passed a vote-of-no-confidence on Maigari and was replaced by the 1st Vice President, Mike Umeh who was in charge in acting capacity.

But with FIFA ban looming and Falconets’ fate of participating at the FIFA Women U-20 World Cup tournament in Canada about to vanish, the rebels within the NFF board were flushed out with the active support of the Department of State Service (DSS) for sanity to return to the administration of the Beautiful Game in the country once more.

FIFA thereafter restored Nigeria back into its fold of football playing nations.

With Maigari out of the picture, a supposed level playing field was declared for all contestants.

There was however a snag: The inability of the stakeholders and the Giwa group to agree on the date for the elective congress to usher in a new executive led to two different elections in Abuja and Warri.

The Giwa group who were not sure of getting the majority of the NFF stakeholders ignored the September 30 FIFA approved congress in Warri and held its own election at Chida Hotel in Abuja where Giwa emerged President of NFF on August 26.

To preempt the election in Warri from holding, the Giwa group sought and got a court injunction stopping the FIFA approved elective congress from taking place.

Some how, NFF claimed it did not receive any court order stopping the Warri election from going ahead.

At a well-attended General Assembly at the BrownHill Event Centre in Warri, the former Delta State Sports Commission Chairman, Pinnick, was elected the new president of the NFF.

But the Giwa group would not accept, insisting that a court order was flouted in getting Pinnick elected.

They went back asking the court to nullify that election. He got judgment in his favour and tried to take over the Glass House.

Pinnick and his board appealed the judgment and won. Not satisfied, Giwa went to the Supreme Court. The apex court however referred the case back to the lower court for retrial.

However, Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung, who is from Plateau State like Giwa preferred to carry out what he called the decision of the Supreme Court by asking the Giwa FC proprietor to take over the affairs of the football house even before Pinnick returned home after Eagles crashed out of the World Cup in Russia.

Dalung also claimed that he was carrying out the Supreme Court ruling as interpreted by the office of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF).

Even when another letter emanated from the AGF office asking the minister to stop further heating of the football polity with his interpretations of the case, Dalung simply ignored the directive from the Presidency, claiming it did not emanate from President Muhammadu Buhari.

The present scenario would have been avoided if only the Giwa group had accepted that the tenure in dispute was about to expire and that the next elections were slated for September 20 in Katsina.

Rather, under police protection, Giwa’s men, occupied the offices of the NFF in Abuja and began making funny appointments that were not going to stand.

At another time, the Directorate of State Security (DSS) were called in to flushed out Giwa’s men and legitimate General Secretary, Mohammed Sanusi, and the staff presumed loyal to the Pinnick board were allowed back to the same offices.

The DSS was believed to have acted on the instruction of the Federal Government, even though Dalung disagreed.

With the militarisation of the NFF offices, almost becoming a recurring decimal, it was just a matter of time before the hammer from FIFA descends heavily on Nigeria.

The intervention of the Presidency at the weekend is the fifth time Nigeria will be at the brink of another suspension since the 1989 FIFA two-year ban on the country from age-graded competitions.

The suspensions had always been hinged on governmental interference on the running of the football governing bodies.