Posted: Mar 26, 2012
Peace At Last In Nigerian Football?
I am glad that there is now a sense of ‘peace’ in Nigerian football. Whilst I was out of the country I was told that all the people involved in the struggle for the soul of Nigerian football were summoned and all the contending issues were resolved. I actually read that FIFA’s Sepp Blatter congratulated the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, for finally resolving all the issues that appeared to be bedevilling the country’s football. It is re-assuring that the federal government was involved in the process of seeking this peace.
Having said that, however, I am wondering about the nature of peace that has been restored.
To start with I notice that everyone is still referring to the body in charge of Nigerian football as the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF. What happened to a court judgement that declared that the NFF is not known to law in Nigeria? When my friend Sam Sam Jaja decided not to enforce the judgement of court he obtained, does that negate or invalidate the decision of the court? Does the NFF now exist? Is it alright now for the Nigerian government to continue to do business with it?
Sepp Blatter congratulated the NFF for their victory. Is he unaware that there is a pending case before FIFA that its Appeals Committee has found great difficulty to resolve? Is he unaware that an ultimatum that expires this weekend has already been given FIFA to act within two weeks or the matter will immediately proceed to the International Court of Arbitration, CAS, according to the statutes of FIFA? Is he wondering why the NFF matter before it is embarrassingly becoming one of the longest drawn cases in the history of FIFA because they can already see the hand-writing on the wall that its interference in the affairs of several of its members it sustaining corruption, supporting illegality and pitching it against governments and the laws of independent countries? Or has that matter been withdrawn as well?
The interesting thing is that in certain international football circles people are wondering why FIFA are finding it difficult to resolve the NFF matter brought before it since December 2010 and why its Appeals Committee has not come up with their decision many months beyond the stipulated period in their statutes.
Nigerians need to be reminded about the genesis of this matter and what has prevailed since then.
In August of 2010 the Nigeria Football Federation announced there was going to be elections. Several aggrieved persons who felt that the process was faulty, that the statutes had been mangled and manipulated, and that the NFF did not exist in law and so could not hold the elections, went to several courts in Nigeria seeking justice. On the eve of the elections a High Court in Lagos ordered that the process of the elections be halted pending the hearing of one of the cases. Everyone was served the court order including the Federal Government ministry responsible for supervising sports in Nigeria. FIFA had sent an observer to the elections who was aware of the order but was deceived into believing that it was inconsequential.
The NFF board members were served the court order. They chose to disregard it and went ahead with the elections. Some others, including this writer, also got the order, and as law-abiding citizens, obeyed the court order and stayed away from the elections. The elections went ahead. The attention of the High Court was drawn to it by aggrieved persons who returned to court seeking that the members of the board that disobeyed its order be committed to prison for contempt. A very angry judge summoned the defendants to court and only let them go after they apologised for their offence. The judge, thereafter, told them to ‘sin’ no more, and declared that the elections, held in disobedience to his order, was null and void! He also declared that the Inspector-General of Police should arrest anyone parading themselves as elected members of the Nigeria Football Association, and occupying government premises or using any government paraphernalia! The judgment was simple and clear - the elections into the board of the NFA never held!
The members of the NFF saw it all differently. They simply left the court and continued with their running of Nigerian football, and have been doing so for almost two years! Meanwhile, some stakeholders and persons have been protesting through petitions that the courts and the laws of the country are being treated with disdain and disrespect by the same people that had been warned to ‘go and sin no more’. An independent lawyer in Lagos has also gone to court seeking interpretation of the court order and its enforcement. That matter is still in court. It is this state of affairs that many people have ascribed to the lack of peace in Nigerian football.
The President of the country responded to one of the petitions sent to him and directed the Inspector-General of the Nigerian Police to enforce the order of court. The IG invited all those involved in the matter, clearly told them all that until and unless the original order of the court was reversed or invalidated, or an order of a superior court issued, the police have a duty and responsibility to effect the court order, evacuate the NFF from the Glass House and arrest those parading themselves as elected members of the NFA board! I was present at that meeting.
It was only the intervention and appeal of the Director-General of the National Sports Commission that delayed that action by the police. It is that intervention that has sustained the board of the NFF till this day. The intervention did not invalidate the order of court. It gave them in the NSC time to seek expert interpretation of the court order from the Attorney-General of the country. The AG clearly and unequivocally told the NSC that the position of the police was correct - the NFF board must vacate the seats they were occupying. The only thing that stopped the NSC from taking what everyone knew is the correct decision that will bring true peace and restore the dignity and integrity of the courts was the fear of FIFA’s reaction. The NFF board would always run to FIFA seeking their protection. FIFA have been cool of late, faced with their own myriad of challenges of integrity, fair play and corruption. Moreover, there is a lingering petition before its Appeal Committee that they know will eventually go to CAS. In CAS they know that with all the evidence presented there is no way FIFA will not be indicted and their interference in the internal affairs of one of their members confirmed. So, FIFA have stayed away from the controversy in Nigerian football, until two weeks ago when there were visited and informed that the issues confronting football administration in Nigeria have been resolved and peace has returned.
AMUSA SHITTU AND THE FORGOTTEN AND NEGLECTED, OF NIGERIAN FOOTBALL
I saw it in one newspaper. It occupied only two lines in the sports pages. The headline did not scream the significance of the news item. It just read: ‘Amusa Shittu is dead’. The two sentences that followed struggled to stretch the acknowledgement of who died. How can Amusa Shittu die and the newspapers did not have pages to write about him? How could the sports fraternity not celebrate the exploits of a man who served the game of football and his country very diligently as a club football hero, an international football player, one of the earliest football players to venture abroad to study and to play professional football, a school teacher and games master, a coach, a sports administrator and a sports activist? How could Amusa Shittu die and nothing happens in the football circles, not even a minute of silence in his honour during any league game, not an obituary or a press release by the State or national football associations? Nothing, only silence! Yet, Amusa Shittu was with us in the trenches in the past two or three decades fighting for respect for the retired footballer.
The challenge is the lack of documentation to clearly state who’s who in the Nigerian player fraternity.
So, Amusa Shittu has passed on and has had to suffer the indignity of the neglect that he fought against most of his life after football.
His death is yet another painful reminder that the struggle for the soul of Nigerian football must not be abandoned by footballers. They must rise up to fight for their rightful place in the scheme of things. The injustice and disrespect they have suffered through the years in the hands of those that have continued to rule football administration and enjoy the ‘spoils’ of other people’s sweat, blood and tears, must be confronted with the dignity, sportsmanship, discipline and decency that is our mantra in sports. That’s why Amusa’s passage hurts. Like many others before him, he has passed on as if he never existed in the first place. Amusa Shittu was a great Nigerian football hero mostly of the 1960s era. He served in various committees of the Lagos State football association and even the Nigeria Football Association at one time or the other.
He played in Jos briefly before coming to Lagos to play for several teams including ECN from where he was invited to the national team and was nicknamed ‘Bulldozer’ because of his power-play (always bulldozing his way through defences) and the power of his ferocious shots. His place in the annals of Nigerian football cannot be denied him or disregarded because there are still some around and alive that would ensure that the flame of his contributions are kept burning!
On behalf of several generations of Nigerian footballers and fans, I say ‘adieu, BullDozer’!
BUT HAS ANYTHING BEEN TRULY RESOLVED?
What happens to the subsisting order of court that declared that elections into the NFA were never held?
What happens to the Dominic Oneya Committee’s report and recommendations that were the product of the contributions of all the contending parties?
What happens to the on-going petition in FIFA? What happens to a few silent but on-going court cases still in Lagos courts? What happens to the continuos ‘romance’ of the Nigerian government sports agencies with a body not known to Nigerian laws and to which funds are being appropriated?
What happens to a body that insists on calling itself the NFF?
I am happy that some of the people involved in the crisis have agreed to sheath their swords even though their good intentions may run against the grain of justice and respect for the courts and the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
I believe that there has been peace in Nigerian football, after all no one has physically stopped the NFF from running Nigerian football.
What is needed is not ‘peace’ but justice and respect for the rule of law, for the courts and for the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria!
FUTURE EAGLES ON PARADE TODAY
They have assembled in Lagos Nigeria. Today, Sunday, March 25, by the time you are reading this, some of the best footballers from 4 secondary schools in the country would be at the Teslim Balogun Stadium in Lagos ready to showcase their talent at the finals of this year’s NNPC/Shell Cup. I am told by those that have been monitoring the competition that there are a few players in the competition that can walk straight into Nigeria’s under-17 national camp immediately.
As I write this young footballers players from a secondary schools in Borno State, Kano State, Kwara State and Delta State have arrived Lagos for the finals. In this ‘planet’ the issues of religious, tribalism, ethnicity, social and political differences do not exist. Only friendship (undiluted), love (unrequited), nationalism (untainted) and football (raw and beautiful) are on parade. These are the elements that sew the thread of unity of the country.
Nigerians love the game of football. They love the game’s heroes too. Between the game and the heroes glory and honour and laurels have been brought to the country. Nigerians ‘feed’ on football particularly at difficult political times. They get behind their national teams and forget about any differences. Football always illuminates the path of the country when the storms gather. Even now that the activities of militants and religious fanatics have darkened the horizon, imprisoned our collective psyche and cast a pall over the entire country football has remained faithful, playing its role to ease the tension and show possibilities of reconciliation, peace and unity. In every nook and cranny of the country the national domestic football matches are going on and the teams are traversing the country. Players go to honour league matches oblivious of the danger and have demonstrated uncommon faith in Nigeria that should be emulated by the rest of the citizenry. We cannot surrender our freedoms to those who chose to destroy rather than build the country.
So, all roads should lead to Teslim Balogun Stadium this afternoon to watch the next generation of Eagles on parade!
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