Recently, a Plateau state court declared the illegality of the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF). However, it is not the first Nigerian court to make such declaration and it might not be the last if changes are not made to the NFF’s existence as an institution. What we do in this piece is to briefly explain what has led to this situation and what are the alternatives for escaping this situation. Please understand that there are several pieces to this issue, some complex and others less complex but the intent here is to be brief and clear without being clouded by minor issues that may distract from a clear understanding of the situation.
By January 2004, FIFA required Nigerian football to comply with FIFA’s statutes requiring affiliate associations to be independent from government interference in local football. Before then, Nigerian football was governed by the infamous Decree 101 which stamped government’s total control over football administration including specifying that the daily affairs of administration was led by a Secretary appointed by the government. NFA’s Galadima (Chairman) and Ogunjobi (Secretary) met with FIFA in Paris on May 19 to review Decree 101 in an attempt to persuade FIFA of the Decree’s appropriateness with minor tweaking. FIFA rejected this and demanded a new and compliant statute. The challenge then was how to abrogate Decree 101 and introduce another statute amenable to FIFA guidelines of football administrative independence. However, in Africa this must be noted as difficult considering that most of the football associations depend on government funding to operate.
The Birth of a New Statute
The Sports Ministry that controlled the Nigerian Football Association (NFA) dragged its feet, understandably, since complying with FIFA directive meant losing its authority over Nigerian football. With FIFA pressure mounting, the Football Association set up a review committee headed by Prof. Gye-Wado that drafted new statutes, which the NFA Annual General meeting approved in Port Harcourt in 2004. The statute received further approval by FIFA. However, at the time Decree 101 remained in the books as the Nigerian legislative assembly was yet to abrogate the decree. Minister Musa Mohammed declared the review committee’s work illegal and instead set up a restructuring committee headed by the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary Alhaji Babayo Shehu. Subsequently, the National Council for Sports (NCS) met in a 3-day emergency meeting at Otta voting to repeal Decree 101 and approving a replacement bill drafted by the Restructuring Committee set up by the Minister. The bill was an amendment of Decree 101 and retained considerable government power over football administration. The Minister forwarded the bill to the Federal Executive Committee (FEC). The FEC approved the repeal of Decree 101 in January 2005, which was then sent to the National Assembly. With this, there was an erroneous belief that the NFF statute was surely going to be the football law and Decree 101 was dead. Note also that a group tagged Concerned Friends of Nigerian Football led by Obienu Nwabufor also drafted and submitted a private bill to the House of Assembly to restructure Nigeria’s football administration.
Refusal to Sign Bill into Law
As FIFA faced Nigeria’s persistent delays in abolishing Decree 101, FIFA announced that “Nigeria is playing a game of poker with its international football future. . . we have come to the end of our patience with Nigeria.” It then issued a fresh deadline of April 30. The reality is that FIFA’s patience exercised since 2004 is still tested today, a decade later! In any case, in May 2005, the Senate acted and repealed Decree 101 while passing a new Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) bill removing government management of the country’s football.
In the next month, the House of Representatives also passed a modification of Decree 101 forwarded by FEC and both legislative Nigerian houses moved to resolve differences in the passed bills.
Nevertheless, FIFA through its Deputy General Secretary Jerome Champagne told BBC in June that it was wrong for Nigerian legislators to draft football laws as it smacks of government interference. Meanwhile in early July, President Obasanjo refused to sign the bill, passed by both the Senate and the House into law noting that it was not the bill he had sent to the legislative houses. The President was reportedly displeased that the legislators not only added more seats to the proposed NFF board but completely removed control that the government wanted.
A Solution and Drawbacks
By March of 2006, the FA Chairman Sani Lulu, facing increased FIFA pressure to ensure abrogation of Decree 101, claimed that the decree had died a natural death and that in any case “there are so many decrees before the National Assembly that by now should have been annulled but everybody knows that it is not easy.” In essence, he was not pursuing fast tracking of legislative action but simply attempting to convince FIFA that progress was being made.
The facts: (1) The NFF is today using the statutes that FIFA approved back in 2004.; (2) The Nigerian President has not signed into law the abrogation of Decree 101 nor has he signed into law the new NFF Act approved by the Nigerian legislative House; and (3) The NFF has not registered legally as a business under the Nigerian Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC).
The facts stated above have introduced a chaotic situation into administration of Nigerian football that have been exploited through numerous court cases that declare the NFF illegal as the NFF is neither established by law nor is it registered by the CAC.
Ways to Overcome Drawbacks
The Nigerian situation, compounded by the fact that government provides over 90% of funds for football, has intensely made issues complex. Government wants control because of how much it invests and the fact that government maintains an obligation to develop its youth and uses sports as a means for achieving such goals. But FIFA wants its affiliate federations to abide by FIFA rules, which require independence from government. The question is how best for the Nigerian federation to wade through these demands. Here is what to consider:
1. The football federation must meet FIFA rules or simply cease to be a member. You cannot be a member without the rules being applied to you. If Nigeria wishes to change the rules then it must build a coalition with other FIFA members and press for a change via FIFA Congress.
2. There is no reason for the Nigerian Legislature to make football rules. This is not only based on the comment made by FIFA’s Jerome Champagne but also on analyses made by several Nigerian lawyers as well as cases elsewhere. Nigerian lawyers point to the fact that the Nigerian National Assembly’s power to legislate is set out in an Exclusive and/or Concurrent Legislative list of which sports is not a listed item. Moreover, the Nigerian constitution does not empower the legislative arm to make laws pertaining to sports. In several other FIFA affiliate countries, a collective of football stakeholders come together to form an association drafting rules that guide sporting activities and management.
3. Based on the above, it seems clear that the NFF was correct in drafting its own statutes without reference to the Nigerian National Assembly.
4. However, registration with the CAC is also required to ensure legality of the NFF’s statutes defining management of football business.
5. It is time for the Nigerian President to promptly sign abrogation of Decree 101 into law. The legislators have done their part. No new law establishing the NFF needs to be signed for running football in the country.
6. Government should have no ongoing obligation to support the NFF via federal budget. However, government may continue to provide funds to the NFF (as well as other NGOs who meet government’s interest) via grants that will be audited by government. This way, government is assured that its responsibility and obligation to the Nigerian public to develop youth is met via non governmental organizations that would include the NFF. Each of those organizations must formally apply for funding by responding to requests for proposals (RFPs).
Clearly, the unresolved situation in Nigerian football today will continue and will not only distract from goal achievement but may well retard progress. What we have done here is suggest the way forward if concerned parties have the true interest of the country’s football.