For insisting that elections into the next board of the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) must be held in September as scheduled, the federal government has been commended by football stakeholders who believe another crisis in the sport sector has been averted.
It will be recalled that on June 17, the federal government through the Federal Ministry of Youths and Sports Development wrote to the president of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Amaju Pinnick, directing him to ensure that the 2022 NFF election is held not later than the expiration of the tenure of the present board in September.
The government also directed that the instrument of football administration in the country, the NFF Statutes, be amended to include other stakeholders, who had hitherto been disenfranchised, or denied equal representation in the NFF congress.
The action of the federal government was said to be necessitated by the tension that has continued to mount over what is seen in most quarters as Pinnick’s ploy to go for a third term which he had previously denounced.
Although the Presidential directive didn’t exempt the incumbent NFF president from contesting in the 2022 election, there appears to be disenchantment among some members of the Executive Committee because they feel the action as targeted at them.
Moreover, even before the order by the government, there was uneasy calm among the NFF congressmen as at least 28 of them had moved against Pinnick in a bid to scuttle his alleged third term ambition.
To achieve their objective, they teamed up with some forces like the Project 2022 Task Force led by Harrison Jalla to sustain the pressure on Pinnick and his ‘loyalists’ to get them out of the Sunday Dankaro glasshouse in Abuja.
Consequently, when the federal government came up with the directive, those sympathetic to the NFF president immediately concluded that it was an order emanating from the enemies’ camp. They are, therefore, of the unrepentant view that is risking FIFA ban.
However, some well informed stakeholders who spoke to newsmen on the matter have rubbished any talk of FIFA ban as they said the action of the government is intervention but not interference. According to them, the government has not contravened any FIFA Statutes or Regulations to warrant any sanctions.
A former chairman of the then Nigeria Football Association (NFA), Alhaji Ibrahim Galadima, said those who rode on the back of the government to positions of authority should stop talking about interference even when the same government carries out its supervisory duties.
“We have to look at this from different perspectives. One, the issue of interference is being misunderstood. It is safer for us to call it government intervention.
“It is intervention which is not even the best thing that should happen because ordinarily, the government should have no business calling on the federation to conduct its elections but it is the situation we have found ourselves in.
“The uncertainty or impossibility of holding the election is what has made people raise the alarm that has led to the government directive. Government only said, convene a congress and make it inclusive.
“Inclusiveness is one issue that has been on for a long time. When I was the chairman, we had about 100 congress members but later it was reduced to 44. So people are now questioning the rationale behind the decision to reduce the number which has shut out many other people.
“People are always talking about government interference but they forget that they used the same government to get to power. So when the government was working for you to be elected into different positions, what was it called?
Galadima, therefore, called for a return to grassroots football development as he observed that most state Football Association Chairmen have outlived their usefulness.
A former Secretary General of the then NFA, Dr. Tijani Yusuf also expressed disappointment in those who have perceived the recent government order on the NFF as interference.
He said he who pays the piper must be allowed to dictate the tune. The university Don insisted that rather than condemn, every genuine football stakeholder should applaud the government for waking up the NFF.
“It is not interference. It is sad that when it comes to this matter, they call it interference. But when it comes to money matters, it is not interference. This is very ridiculous, very ridiculous. This is negative thinking.
“The government is paying your staff salaries. Government is paying for your accommodation, yet you are claiming to be autonomous. Where is the autonomy?
“What the government has done is something that should be commended even by FIFA. I don’t think FIFA encourages abuse of power and disorderliness. Government has only reminded the NFF to conduct its elections as scheduled.
“So, where is the interference people are talking about? They have shut out many stakeholders and the government is saying no to it. Where is the interference?,” he asked rhetorically.
The fear of FIFA ban was further doused by a legal luminary and football administrator, Barrister Paul Edeh, who argued that the Minister of Sports carried out his supervisory role without infringing on any article in the NFF statutes.
“Well, I believe the Minister acted within his prerogative as the head of all sports related matters in Nigeria in directing the NFF president to follow the provisions of the NFF Statutes and FIFA rules and nothing more.
“His letter urged the NFF president to conduct elections in line with the provisions of the Statutes which brought him into office. How can this be interference? He was only reminding the NFF president to do his duty.
“Whether the Minister writes or not, the NFF president is bound to follow the Statutes by ensuring that the election is held in September. Assuming elections do not hold in September as expected, the Statutes also provide for an interim leadership to hold forth until an election is organised.
“Although the content of the Letter sounded emphatic with a sense of finality, it only sought to affirm what must happen which is, that the NFF elections must hold in September amongst other things.
“If the NFF feel offended by the letter, they should treat it as an advice and not a directive. But to rely on the non-interference clause in the FIFA Rules as a basis for not holding the election will be counter-productive considering that it is the Federal Government that still funds the NFF largely,” concluded the proprietor of NWFL side, Nija Ratels FC.
The support for the government may be overwhelming but a sports journalist and football administrator, Patrick Ngwaogu, feels the Presidential directive, as harmless as it may be, might not achieve everything it has set out to accomplish.
He said going by the situation on ground, avoiding FIFA Normalisation Committee may not be possible because the time is too short for the demands by the government to be met in full.
“I honestly don’t think we are going to achieve much out of the recent order by the government. This is because even if the court case is eventually vacated by the appellant, the time may be too short for congress to be held.
“Secondly, the Statutes can only be amended by the Statutes Amendment Committee which only the Congress is allowed to compose. So, I don’t think we have the time to set up a committee to amend the statues which must be approved by the Congress before it is handed over to the Executive Committee which in turn will review and then forward to FIFA for final approval.
“This is no doubt a long process that may be difficult to conclude between now and September. NFF General Congress is not convened like Executive Committee meetings which can be held at the shortest notice even via zoom.
“So the only realistic thing that can happen between now and September is the elections. Those who want the NFF Statutes amended must wait till after the elections. If they insist, then we would end up with a FIFA Normalisation Committee,” he explained.
However, the idea of a Normalisation Committee which must involve Pinnick who is a member of the FIFA Executive Committee was frowned at by the Chairman of the FCT Football Association, Adam Mouktar Mohammed.
“I feel there is a deliberate attempt to create a crisis somewhere by some people that will lead to no elections in order to actualise a Normalization Committee but as congress, we are working not to allow such,” he told newsmen.