Nigerian football once again finds itself mired in crisis. This, after enjoying just under two years of relative, if fragile, peace.
Last Friday, Justice Musa Haruna of the Jos Federal High Court not only agreed to re-list an election-related case against the current board of the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF), but he also restored the injunctive reliefs previously granted by Justice Ambrose Allagoa of the same court in September 2014. That suit, which sought to restrain the NFF from holding a FIFA-directed Extraordinary Annual General Meeting, or fresh elections, had been withdrawn when the world football governing body threatened to suspend Nigeria for third party interference in football matters.
Crisis and Nigerian football is a recurring theme which comes together every election cycle. It is hard to remember a changing of the guard in the NFF (or its previous incarnation, the Nigerian Football Association) which went trouble-free. This latest iteration began in November 2013, when the NFF AGM scheduled elections for Aug. 26, 2014.
In July 2014, with elections two months away, things took a turn. Ebiakpo Baribote, whose husband Rumson Baribote had been handed a 15-year ban from all football activities by the NFF, went to court.
The Federal High Court in Jos made a ruling dismissing the NFF Executive Committee led by Aminu Maigari and directed Nigerian Sports Minister Tamuno Danagogo to appoint a senior civil servant to oversee the affairs of the body until elections. Danagogo tabbed Lawrence Katken, who promptly called for an Extraordinary AGM, which was held on July 5 in defiance of a written FIFA warning. That Congress voted to sack the Exco, accusing its president, Maigari, of "financial impropriety and abuse of office."
FIFA responded by suspending Nigeria, and Maigari and his Exco were reinstated. But the drama was only just beginning. Maigari was impeached by members of his Executive Committee, a move which would effectively truncate his plans for a second term. His deputy, Mike Umeh, who had set his sights on running for the job, was installed in his place.
Maigari appealed to FIFA stating that not only was he not given a fair hearing, there were other procedural irregularities in his removal. FIFA agreed, and wrote to the NFF, directing that Maigari be restored to his position, and that he must oversee the elections of Aug. 26. Again, Maigari was reinstated, but within a few days he was pressured into handing in his resignation, although the wording of the letter meant it would only take effect after the Congress in August.
With all of this confusion, the NFF then wrote to FIFA advising that the Aug. 26 Congress would no longer be elective, but would be re-purposed to draw up a road map for elections to be held two weeks later.
FIFA gave the go-ahead, which is when the crisis really started to take shape. NFF President Maigari, General Secretary Musa Amadu and Exco member Chris Green were all invited to the offices of Nigeria's Directorate of State Security and detained on the morning of the Congress.
According to Amadu's deposition with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), 39 delegates then left the venue to go look for them. Sports Minister Danagogo also went to the DSS office but only to secure the release of Amadu, leaving the other two men behind.
According to Amadu, he could only identify five legitimate delegates during the roll call and was forced to stage a walkout when a motion was moved calling for elections. Despite the absence of a significant number of delegates, elections went ahead and Chris Giwa was elected.
The other delegates, after securing the release of Maigari and Green, then continued their Congress elsewhere and fashioned the road map for elections to be held on Sept. 30. Giwa went to court, and obtained an injunction barring the NFF from any fresh elections. That ruling was ignored and new elections went ahead in which all 44 delegates were present and Amaju Pinnick was elected president.
When brought up on contempt charges, the NFF successfully argued that they were not properly served the court order. The judge agreed, but maintained that his earlier order must stand, in effect, nullifying the elections which brought in Pinnick.
FIFA were again forced to step in with the threat of a ban if Pinnick and company were not allowed to function independently. Giwa backtracked. The case was withdrawn from court and all looked well... for the time being.
Giwa's latest action to have the case re-instated was triggered, among other things, by the NFF's misguided decision to severely restrict eligibility for candidacy into its Executive Committee, limiting it only to past or current members of its congress. Not even FIFA's eligibility conditions are so restrictive.
Despite Giwa's grandstanding, CAS did rule that because of third party influence and lack of quorum, FIFA were right not to recognize his election and dismiss his appeal. Clearly, it is hard to see the Jos High Court ruling differently when the main lawsuit comes up for trial on May 30.
In any case, Obinna Ogba, one of the two plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit, has aligned himself with the NFF and was present, along with Nigeria's Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung, at Wednesday's Extraordinary General Assembly in Abuja.
In a worst case scenario for the NFF, one where Giwa gets a favorable judgment in court, Nigeria would most likely bear the brunt. It is hard to imagine FIFA going back on its decision to not recognize Giwa's election, especially after affirmation from CAS. In which case, the world football governing body would insist on Pinnick being restored. Failing that, Nigeria would be suspended from football.
But here's the kicker. For Nigeria to be restored, Pinnick and his Exco would have to first be reinstated, no matter how long the suspension lasts.
In the interest of Nigeria, the best solution would appear to be a negotiated political settlement.