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FIFA AND THE FUTURE OF NIGERIAN FOOTBALL

By NBF News
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As a result of alleged government interference in the affairs of Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), the world governing body, FIFA, recently banned Nigeria from participating in all its activities until the nation's football house is put in order. Although FIFA has temporarily lifted the ban in response to public outcry, the issues that necessitated the development are yet to be thrashed out.

The ban was slammed on Nigeria because FIFA is not happy with subsisting court cases against elected members of the NFF Executive Committee, which it says prevents them from performing their functions and duties.

Other reasons why FIFA invoked the ban include the stepping down of the Acting NFF General Secretary, Musa Ahmadu, at the instance of the National Sports Commission; the decision of the Minister of Sports, Alhaji Ibrahim Isa Bio, to have the Nigerian League start without relegation from the previous season, and the fact that the NFF Executive Committee cannot work properly due to this interference.

The world football body also said that it would maintain the suspension order until the court actions ceased and the duly elected NFF Executive Committee is able to work without interference. If the ban had not been partially lifted, the NFF would not be represented in any regional, continental and international competitions, including club level and friendly matches. In addition, neither the NFF nor any of its members or officials can benefit from any development programme, course or training from FIFA or CAF while the federation is on suspension.

FIFA rule as stated in Article 13.1(g) states that national associations are obliged to 'manage their affairs independently and ensure that their own affairs are not influenced by any third parties.' Any violation of FIFA rules will attract suspension from international matches and other football related businesses. There is no doubt that Nigerian government is unduly meddling in the affairs of NFF in administering football in the country. It is a fact that government interference in our football has for years stalled its growth and development.

This is clearly illustrated by our recent woeful outings in continental and global football events. It is not a plus to our football that the Super Eagles failed to advance beyond the group stage at the recent World Cup fiesta held in South Africa. We agree with FIFA on the need to put our football house in order and adhere to all the rules that would help the growth of football in Nigeria. On that count, we can safely say that what FIFA has done is right. In fact, in the technical areas of the ban, we are in support of FIFA. It is our firm belief that our football should conform with all FIFA regulations.

But we disagree that the government should distant itself while the officials of NFF are helping themselves with the football funds, most of which are provided by the government. Perhaps, FIFA is not aware that some of these officials are standing trial over N1 billion fraud charges slammed against them. These are financial crimes which the government's anti-corruption agencies, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) are empowered to investigate and prosecute.

FIFA should have liaised with the Nigerian authorities to find out why the NFF officials were taken to court before carrying out its ban. It should have waited for the outcome of court's verdict on the matter. The ban ought to have been the last step and not the first. The laws of the land, especially where they concern corruption, must take precedence over FIFA's laws. There is no way a responsible government will look the other way while some of its citizens hide under FIFA's rules to perpetrate financial malfaescence. FIFA should understand that the cases in court border on corruption allegations and not necessarily football per se. FIFA should have waited until the conclusion of the court cases before slamming the ban. In view of the hasty nature of the ban, we hold that the world soccer ruling body is wrong.

It is interesting that the ban has been temporarily lifted. We think that FIFA should consider getting the country off the hook completely. Since the matter is pending in the temple of justice, let the courts expedite action on them so that the whole matter is resolved forthwith. We appreciate FIFA's concern to ensure the growth of Nigerian football, but it must be done without mismanagement of public funds that has become commonplace in the administration of the nation's football.