Monday August 20 2018 was the date Nigerian football was marked for retribution by the Federation of International Football Association, FIFA. The world football governing body had threatened to ban Nigeria if the leadership impasse that had engulfed the Nigeria Football Federation was not settled on that day.
It took the intervention of the Vice President, who was then Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo to avert the ban, as the federal government struck an accord with FIFA by giving them written assurances. The ban was averted and today Nigeria remains a member of the international football family. “It was a masterstroke,” a concerned football enthusiast said of Osinbajo’s effort, which he said was aimed at bringing a permanent solution to the crisis. A day after, the Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Barrister Solomon Dalung issued a statement titled ‘WE STAND WITH THE RULE OF LAW’.
While welcoming the Vice President’s intervention in the matter, Dalung insinuated that the issue could not be considered settled with a temporary measure. Said Dalung, “This crisis cannot be solved with a temporary measure or scratched on the surface. The intervention of the Vice President should not be viewed as different from an attempt to abate an escalating situation,” insisting that the matter had a subsisting judgment of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. “As a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, who took oath of office to protect and defend the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, I will prefer to stand with the Rule of Law instead of the opinion of men,” the statement reads, damning the repercussion and making light of the effort of the Vice President who is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. Nigerians, who are aware that FIFA is still monitoring the Nigerian situation expressed anger and trepidation at the Minister’s arrogance and standoffish disposition in a matter he was supposed to appear as a father-figure. Former Director General in the defunct National Sports Commission, Dr Patrick Ekeji said he was at a loss over who should interpret the law better between Professor Osinbajo and the Sports Minister. “The Vice President is a SAN so he certainly understands the letters, nuances, language of law better,” Ekeji said, adding, “it is therefore bizarre what Dalung is saying.”
A London- based journalist, Osasu Obayiwuna too is not comfortable with the position taken by the minister on the NFF crisis. The former African football correspondent for the BBC foresees more trouble. “From what I can see, Dalung will do whatever he can to cause more trouble in the future. Is it not clear that he doesn’t respect the Acting President?” he asked. “FIFA, as football’s governing body, has its rules and conventions, which every member association willingly signed up to… Nigeria, whose membership of FIFA is through the NFF, is duty-bound to respect FIFA’s rules… “ “It would be foolhardy for the Minister of Sport to think that the NFF will be an exception to these rules… If the country, as a result of the minister’s actions, now or in the future, puts Nigerian football in further jeopardy, the Minister should be held responsible for the consequence that could follow. “The Nigerian government made a written commitment to FIFA, seven years ago, to abrogate national laws that fetter the independence of the NFF. They should honour those commitments without further delay.” Writing under the headline, FIFA, NFF and our regular courts, a former Nigeria international and a former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in Rivers State, Chief Adokiye Amiesimaka said, “FIFA doesn’t want to be entangled in politics of countries, so it recognises and deals directly with National Federations/Associations affiliated to it. “Accordingly, FIFA wants such affiliates to be recognised by the laws of their countries, but not to be created by them.” He proffered the necessary solution to the imbroglio in the said write up which was published in Saturday Vanguard, last weekend. Asked yesterday to react to the minister’s position, Adokiye declined comment. “I don’t have any reaction to this nonsense. Last week I sent to you my position on the matter. That’s my response, every other thing is rubbish. We have just been going back and forth. That’s my response and solution. We are either doing it or not.
In his reaction, Professor Emmanuel Ojeme, Provost of the Delta State College of Education and member of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria inferred that the Minister’s reaction to the Vice President’s intervention was egoistic. “Dalung is not sincere. He is ashamed that his diabolical scheming has failed.” When contacted, former Super Eagles coach and a former captain of the national team, Austin Eguavoen said he was happy that the FIFA ban was averted. “Congratulations to Nigeria for averting FIFA ban. Temporary or not we are free. I want to express my special thanks to those who brokered the truce and call on the minister to soften his posture.
“The minister should be able to broker peace among the warring parties and not to stoke the fire. Football speaks one language,” Eguavoen said. His successor as national team coach and former team mate, Samson Siasia said Nigeria stood to lose so much if the understanding reached with FIFA was upturned by either the Minister or the courts. “Except we don’t want to be under FIFA anymore. We form our own League, our own World Cup and our own Africa Cup of Nations. We will be isolated by the international football body. So what are we talking about?” Former Vice Chairman of the Nigeria Football Association, Tony Nnachetta is not pleased that the leadership crisis in Nigeria football has become a recurrent decimal. “This cannot continue all the time. Most of our sports administrators have failed to imbibe the tenets of international practices.
I read with embarrassment that the Minister was planning to lead a 12-man delegation to Zurich to have a conversation with FIFA. I felt ashamed because it’s never done. Nowhere in the world would you hear of that,” Nnachetta said. He had some advice for both the Minister and the NFF President Amaju Pinnick. “With due respect to the Minister, he has to back off. And as for Pinnick, it cannot always be winner takes all. He has to back down from his Olympian Height. There must be competence and humility. That is what matters most right now.” Richard Nwabufo Obienu, a lawyer and one time Vice Chairman of Nigeria Football Association did not mince words in his condemnation of the Minister’s position on the matter. “What we are witnessing is the cost of putting incompetent people to run our sports. It is clear the minister is pursuing a personal agenda.
Pinnick has lifted our football and the image of Nigeria in international sports politics has soared under him. Within two years he has risen to become the Vice President of the Confederation of African Football and member of FIFA Organising Committee. “In resolving football matters, you don’t have to go to court,” Obienu said, warning, “FIFA is monitoring us. The Minister must not make us(Nigeria) look like a ‘419’ country by international organisations we belong to.” Former Secretary General of the Nigeria Football Association, Alhaji Sani Toro is asking for a middle course. He said, “It is only fair to resolve this crisis through due process, getting Giwa to amicably withdraw the case from the court as a short term solution, while the NFF should agree to democratise the process of elections from local governments, states and national. The proposed NFF Act should reflect these processes as a permanent solution in order to avoid court cases in future.” A retired Director in the Sports Ministry, Abba Yola dismissed Dalung’s statement as “not serious”, saying, “he is just grandstanding and capitalising on a perceived relationship. His cup has started to overflow.” The unfolding scenario paints a picture of ignorance, incompetence and an inexorable descent to the abyss for Nigerian football. Who can stop the descent? Who can stop Dalung?