Nigeria’s football federation avoided a suspension from FIFA this week, after the government of the African country dispatched a letter that recognised the leadership of Amaju Pinnick as the head of the NFF.
Pinnick is the FIFA-recognised president of Nigerian football, and the wrangling between Chris Giwa, who claims to be the leader but is under a FIFA ban, and Pinnick’s supporters came to a head in July.
The country’s football has been in disarray ever since, with all league activity suspended, and FIFA gave the country till Monday 20 August to sort it out, and for the government to step back, or be banned from the global stage.
A suspension would have led to serious consequences for Nigerian football, the most important of which would have been the elimination of the country from the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers, which will be played in early September.
While the country heaves a collective sigh of relief at walking back from the precipice, the drama is by no means over. Long term solutions are needed to bring lasting peace to Nigerian football.
Extend a longer olive branch
A critical starting point is to acknowledge all parties. At its congress in Benin last month, the NFF made moves to find solutions by presenting a number of conciliatory offers to Giwa and his group.
Part of those long term solutions included unbanning Giwa and others and re-opening a path for him to seek election into the board of the NFF, but only on the condition that all cases in court were irrevocably dropped.
Giwa’s team rejected the olive branch, and although the deadline has since expired, high level sources have informed KweséESPN that the offer remains on the table.
At the same time, a reconciliatory committee set up by Sports Minister Solomon Dalung has been sitting in Nigeria’s capital Abuja and has heard from both sides of the dispute. A report from that committee is expected within the next week.
It is important that that door be left open, at least until as close as possible to next month’s elections. It is only by embracing an open, inclusive and transparent system going forward that things will change.
Expedite moves for NFF independence
Nigerian football is still largely dependent on government, and not just for financing. One of the biggest sticking points during the crisis was that FIFA Statutes of government independence were not domesticated in Nigeria.
There also remains the question of the legal appellation of the football governing body. Although the name was changed to Nigeria Football Federation in 2007, opponents claim that it remains known as the Nigeria Football Association in law, by virtue of the NFF Act of the national Assembly.
To resolve the disparity, a Bill has been at the Nigeria parliament since 2007 and is in the final stages requiring harmonisation between both the House of Representatives and the Senate before it can be transmitted to the president to sign into law.
Sources tell KweséESPN that there is no significant difference between both Bills and would require less than half an hour to harmonise and send for assent.
Pinnick and his executive committee have been playing nice with members of parliament to try to woo them to expedite action on the bill. It is the reason the process has gone this far, the furthest it has been since 2007.
Now they need to make even more effort to get it over the line. Once that happens, the NFF gets autonomy, runs strictly on FIFA Statutes of no government interference, and avoids further crisis.
Install dispute resolution mechanisms
In 2012, the Nigeria Olympic Committee set up a group led by former International footballer Adokiye Amiesimaka to establish a legal framework for an alternative sport-related dispute resolution body. In other words, a Nigeria Court of Arbitration for Sport.
That group submitted its report the same year. Six years later, there has been no movement in any direction.
The establishment of an independent local dispute resolution chamber, with eminent jurists and arbitrators, will go a long way towards ending the embarrassing cycle of taking sports-related disputes to regular courts and the attendant delays in the dispensation of justice.
Football will not be the only beneficiary. In the last year, there have been disputes in basketball, taekwondo, athletics, rugby and others.
With disputes dealt with fairy, transparently and expeditiously, administrators can focus squarely on developing and managing their different sports.