Osasu Obayiuwana: Nigeria’s football Inferno, where chaos has propagated chaos

When it comes to the August 26 elections for the presidency and executive committee of the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) – if they actually happen on that day – it is evident, to keen watchers of its politics, that the more things change, the more they remain the same. For the fourth successive NFF poll, since 2005, Africa’s most populous nation is caught in the whirlwind of chaos and anarchy that typically accompanies the battle for control of the game’s administrative levers, as Aminu Maigari is in a bare-knuckled fight for a second term as NFF president.

For the rest of the world to understand the current problems that re-emerged in July, a trip must be taken all the way back to December 2005, when Nigeria failed to qualify for the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

Ibrahim Galadima, Chairman of the Nigeria Football Association (before the NFA subsequently changed its name to the NFF), was re-elected to a second four-year term, despite public anger over non-qualification for Germany.

Following protests from Galadima’s opponents, who claimed his re-election in the Northern Nigerian city of Kano was tainted by fraud, FIFA carried out a two-month investigation, which dismissed the allegations against him and reaffirmed the validity of the poll.

But FIFA’s ‘final’ verdict, which ought to have brought the crisis to an end, did nothing to end it, as the forces that opposed Galadima’s return at the time, which included Amos Adamu, the disgraced ex-FIFA executive committee member, were determined not to let matters lie.

Rather than stand by its own decision, the governing body made an inexplicable volte-face five months later.

Urs Linsi, who was FIFA’s General Secretary at the time, made a curious visit to Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, in May 2006 and said that “owing to disagreements within the Nigerian football family”, a decision had been taken to organise a fresh set of elections in August.

That the four-year mandate of an FA chairman and board was to be unfairly truncated, after it had been cleared of misconduct a few months earlier, was clearly lost on Linsi.

That unjust decision sounded the death knell for the independent-minded Galadima, who was controversially voted out of office in August 2006, sowing the seeds of discord that subsequently bloomed in later years.

Sani Lulu, who was the candidate favoured by the government and the primary beneficiary of the political manoeuvres that forced Galadima out, suffered a similar fate after the 2010 World Cup finals, with just weeks to the end of his presidential tenure.

In response to public anger over Nigeria’s very poor performance in South Africa, Goodluck Jonathan, the country’s president, sacked Lulu as NFF boss, ‘dissolved’ its board and was going to withdraw the national teams from international football for two years.

Invoking the threat of a ban for governmental interference, FIFA compelled the country to reverse all the decisions, with its officials having to travel down from Zurich and supervise the conduct of the August 2010 elections, in which Aminu Maigari, now in the eye of the current electoral storm, replaced Lulu.

Sani Lulu and two members of his deposed executive committee – Taiwo Ogunjobi, Amanze Uchegbulam, as well as Bolaji Ojo-Oba, the Secretary-General during Lulu’s tenure, have been under a criminal indictment for the last four years.

But no verdict has been delivered in the case, instigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), over corrupt acts the trio allegedly committed whilst in office.

During Sani Lulu’s tenure, over $250,000, in cash, also went missing from the NFF’s headquarters in Abuja and was never recovered.

Aminu Maigari’s present troubles began after Nigeria’s elimination by France at the World Cup in Brazil.

He was locked up for a brief period, on his return to the country, accused of misappropriating NFF funds and subsequently impeached, as NFF president, by members of his executive board.

These events went on in the midst of a court order that declared the NFF was illegally constituted, with the incumbent sports minister appointing a group of people to manage the secretariat until fresh elections were conducted.

FIFA, making yet another intervention in Nigeria that appears to have become a ritual, ordered the withdrawal of the court case, the reinstatement of the Maigari-board, whose tenure is to expire on August 26 and insisted on the strict application of the NFF statutes in the conduct of its affairs.

And the drama is developing by the minute, as Maigari’s impeachment could be reversed, as a section of the NFF executive committee have subsequently argued that the requisite number of people needed to sanction an impeachment – which must also be ratified by the NFF’s 46 member congress – was not met.

One of the exco members, Ahmed Kawu, who supposedly backed Maigari’s sacking, subsequently said his signature was forged on the impeachment document.

As if this all this is not enough – and what I’ve chronicled is only a bit of the macabre drama that has taken place so far – many claim they have been denied the opportunity to contest the August 26 polls, as they were unable to obtain the requisite nomination forms before the August 4 submission deadline, alleging the forms were withheld from them.

It is uncertain how free and fair elections can take place in what is clearly a poisoned atmosphere.

And that has not been helped by the lack of an unambiguous statutory framework for the governance of football in the country.

Rather than the existence of the one, FIFA-backed, statute for the governance of football in Nigeria, which was approved by the NFA congress in 2005, there is another law on the country’s law books – the Nigeria Football Association Act of 2004.

That Act gives the country’s minister of sport the right to appoint members of its executive board and gives him supervisory powers over the association, which are a clear violation of FIFA statutes forbidding government involvement in the internal affairs of associations/federations, which must be independent of government control.

This Act, which initially came into being as a Decree in the 1990s, during Nigeria’s last period of military rule, was supposed to have been removed from the statute books, after the country’s government promised FIFA that it would be expunged roughly a decade ago.

Whilst it has not been the active law that governs the administration of Nigerian football since 2005, when the FIFA approved statutes came into being, it still remains a valid Nigerian law.

That FIFA never carried out its threat, first issued in 2004, to ban the country if they failed to repeal the Act, was a major minus. It has ensured that the ridiculous situation of having a parallel set of laws for the governance of the Nigerian game continues to exist.

As the suits from Zurich wade, yet again, into the current crisis, one hopes that they will put Nigeria’s feet to the fire and ensure they fulfil a promise it hasn’t kept.

While FIFA has its role to play, members of Nigeria’s politically volatile football community have the ultimate responsibility for ending the crisis that continues to bedevil it.

As long as the naked pursuit of personal ambition and financial benefits trumps service to country, which requires competent, honest and selfless leadership, Nigeria’s problems will not end anytime soon.

Osasu Obayiuwana, a lawyer and BBC broadcaster, as well as the Associate Editor of NewAfrican magazine, is one of the world’s leading journalists on African football. His regular commentary on the state of the African game can also be read at footballisafrica.com. Contact him at moc.l1709043584labto1709043584ofdlr1709043584owedi1709043584sni@a1709043584nawui1709043584yabo.1709043584usaso1709043584.

Osasu is also a member of FIFA’s anti-discrimination task force.