FIFA versus Nigerian courts – a stalemate!
Once again Nigerian football is in crisis. There has never not been crisis in the administration of Nigerian football. The country’s football federation and crisis are conjoined like Siamese twins.
Another such crisis is upon the country and this one has the potential to rock the country to its very foundation. The setting is old and well worn – a crisis erupts during and after the election for the office of President of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) every four years. It lingers through the reign of the president until the next election, and another crisis erupts again.
The problem is that the election process is always riddled with anomalies that are also always challenged in regular courts by aggrieved persons because they seek quick interventions and a fair hearing, both of which they believe they will not get by protesting to the arbitrators recommended by the statutes of their national federation. These are usually appendages of incumbent administrators and will be heavily biased in their favour.
Seeking justice from FIFA is also seen as a long, expensive and futile effort from records of previous experiences.
Aggrieved parties are forced to seek redress from the law courts out of the futility and the frustration involved in getting it the prescribed FIFA way.
The problem with taking the matter to an ordinary court, however, is that an article in the statutes of FIFA forbids it. And in order to deter such practice, FIFA threatens, or sometimes even suspends football federations from all its activities once it is requested to intervene in any such matter brought to its attention.
In Nigeria, such FIFA threats have become commonplace, always coming to the fore with every election. So, there now exists an intractable battle between FIFA on the one hand and the local Nigerian courts on the other, even if there is absolutely no relationship between them.
The drama that plays out every four years is classic. Crisis comes during and after every election. One party goes to court. The court intervenes and takes a decision based on the evidence before it, which is often an invalidation of the election as a result of glaring flawed processes that even a blind man can see.
The court’s judgment is reported to FIFA and FIFA immediately reacts by threatening to suspend the country if the court’s judgment is obeyed. Out of fear everything is thrown overboard – the evidences, common sense, the root cause of the crisis, government’s interest, even the law. End of story!
The ‘thief’ enjoys his ‘loot’ for four years, all aggrieved persons lick their wounds, the ‘cancer’ festers and Nigerian football, imprisoned in the grip of powerful forces under the cover of FIFA, suffers.
Election after election this same drama plays out through the years, and the real stakeholders of the beautiful game look on, helplessly and hopelessly.
In 2016, with the present crisis, things are unlikely to go the usual way. A new scene has been added to the play. There is a new government in power whose mantra of change is anchored to strict adherence to the rule of law!
So, the strategy of hiding under the canopy of FIFA’s threat, with the entire country rattled and forced to disobey the orders of its own court, thereby endorsing impunity and disregarding the rule of law, may not work this time around.
A court judgment, right or wrong, will not be treated like toilet paper, used and dumped into the trashcan of impunity, no matter FIFA’s threat! A country that disregards its own laws sets itself up for anarchy. That was what has continued to fuel the endless crisis in its football administration. Now the battle line is drawn between the law of the land and FIFA’s threat. Period!
No one wants the crises that have become a source of national humiliation and a blemish on the image of Nigeria, to continue. Yet no one thinks the price to pay is to throw to the trashcan respect for the rule of law.
So what should Nigeria do in this case between Amaju Pinnick and Chris Giwa over the presidency of the NFF?
Lets examine the issues creating the crisis once again, and more closely.
What is the root cause of the crisis?
Answer: The election.
What is it about the election that generates the crisis?
Answer: The procedure of conducting the election.
What is wrong with the procedure?
Answer: It is laden with loopholes that allow for malpractices that are so open and so blatant that the process can never pass the lowest level of an integrity test.
That’s it, so simple. The guidelines are tools in the hands of powerful puppeteers.
Every four years the guidelines and the statutes are distorted, altered and manipulated to achieve narrow parochial objectives. The rules are changed, the umpires are compromised and the electorates are bribed. Even venues are changed to allow for wanton manipulation of the system.
These, of course, are well known to everyone in the football system. Most that benefit from it embrace it and keep quiet, a few that are aggrieved challenge it by heading to court to stop the election, or to annul it.
Of course, the court simply looks at the evidences presented before it and pronounces judgment. It has no business with FIFA and its statutes, but has business with the Nigerian organisation called the NFA (or NFF) that can sue and can be sued according to Nigerian laws!
It is the threat of a FIFA ban that renders all the parties and all the issues impotent, including a helpless Nigerian government and the worthless judgments of its courts.
In the present political dispensation it does not matter whose ox is gored, or the price the country has to pay, to protect the rule of law. That means the days of impunity are over; the days of political solutions to clear cases of maladministration and corruption are over.
That is the challenge of the present crisis. Who is the president of the Nigeria Football Federation (or Association) in the wake of the ongoing crisis?
There is an order of a court that invalidates the election that brought in Amaju Pinnick as president of the NFF. Unless it is vacated by a superior court, that order is law, FIFA ban or no FIFA ban.
Something must happen to that judgment and it is not to disregard it, or to treat it with scorn and to trash it.
So, can Amaju rightly claim to have been, or still be the president of the NFF?
Amaju’s main challenger, Senator Chris Giwa, on the other hand, cannot take over as president of the Nigerian Football Association, because he will never be accepted by FIFA being a beneficiary of flouting FIFA’s fundamental rule of not taking any internal matter to a regular court. Although he may have fought a good and brave fight, he also has reached a dead end. He must accept it.
What this may finally mean is that neither Amaju and his board, nor Giwa and his board can benefit from the present crisis. I do not know what else anyone can do with the judgment of a court under the present political dispensation but to obey it first and appeal against it later.
That is why, I am told, the law is often described as an ass. A court judgment is right even when it is wrong!
The ultimate solution is to take away a gift from the present crisis; to use the situation as an opportunity to fix the flaws in the process of conducting free and fair elections into the NFF board.
A special team, set up by the congress of the NFF, working under the guidance of FIFA, should be set up to look again at the statutes of the body and its electoral guidelines, to make them simple, transparent, all inclusive and uncomplicated so that the playing field becomes level and every qualified and interested stakeholder can have a fair chance to contest for a place in the Executive Committee of the NFF.