— A letter to the Sports Minister, Tammy W. Danagogo on the current crisis in the NFF
I AM Segun Odegbami, a Nigerian, former Captain of the Nigerian national football team, Sports Ambassador of theSegun Odegbami, a bona fide member of the Nigeria Football Association through my chairmanship of the Ewekoro Local Government Football Council, a member of the Ogun State Football Association affiliated to the Nigeria Football Association, NFA.
I am interested in contesting for a position on the Executive Committee of the NFA (NFF), a parastatal under the National Sports Commission, affiliated to FIFA, following the expiration of the tenure of the last Executive Committee headed by Alhaji Aminu Maigari on August 26, 2014.
I indicated interest to contest for a place in the next board as directed by the Electoral Committee set up by the last Executive Committee for the August 26 elections.
Those elections ended in some controversy that created further crisis that has engulfed Nigerian football since then.
After several weeks of intervention, FIFA finally stepped in to try to resolve the issues once and for all by advising that specific actions be taken failing which they will be forced to suspend the NFF without any further notification.
That was almost two weeks ago.
Since then everyone involved in the process of the final resolution has been taking steps as advised by FIFA. The first two steps are:
1. The faction of the August 26 election that claimed victory but was rejected by FIFA has vacated the premises of NFA secretariat as directed.
2. The Secretary-General of the NFF was allowed back to his work place at the secretariat.
3. The Executive Committee, whose tenure expired on August 26, has been allowed to convene an extra-ordinary general assembly for the sole purpose of designing a road map for the elections. The congress held in Warri, Delta State, on Saturday, September 18, 2014.
The fourth and last directive of FIFA is that a road map should be designed for fresh elections ‘which should be open to all persons, complying with the NFF Statutes and regulations. These elections should also to be organized as soon as possible under the NFF statutes and Regulations’.
That directive (quoted above) is what is of concern to some of us stakeholders now. It appears that several stakeholders, including me, are disenfranchised. We are being denied the opportunity to participate in a transparent and impartial election by the actions so far taken since the congress.
I am not a member of the general assembly of the Nigeria Football Federation, so I was not at the extra-ordinary congress held last weekend.
However, in line with the NFF statutes and Electoral Code that should now provide a transparent road map to fresh elections, I have been waiting patiently to receive information through the media, or through the Ogun State Football Association of which I am a member, about the decisions taken on the following:
(a) the membership of the new Electoral Committee and Appeals Committee, and
(b) the new process and time table for the new elections that must be, in the words of FIFA, ‘complying with the NFF statutes and regulations’
I needed to know the membership of the electoral and appeals committees in order to avoid (according to Article 1. A (b) on page 6 of the Electoral Code) ‘any conflict of interest that could discredit the impartiality of the elections’.
After the first election the chairman of that electoral committee appointed by the then leadership of the NFF publicly went on national television (NTA Tuesday Night Live of September 2, 2014) to accuse some Executive Committee members of attempting to induce him to influence the process and outcome of the elections.
For that reason, it is now very important that such does not repeat itself again. Unfortunately, this has already created cause for valid doubts that require that we monitor closely any future appointments into these sensitive positions.
The least we can do now as participants is to scrutinize the new membership and to assure ourselves that the eligibility and integrity of the membership of both committees are ‘complying to the NFF Statutes and Regulations’.
Are the members bona fide members of the federation as directed by Article 3.3 of the electoral code? In short, are they registered members of any of the bodies affiliated to the NFF? We must know.
Furthermore, I also needed to know the timetable and the process leading to the elections. Are they ‘complying with the NFF statutes and regulations?’
Are they in agreement with the time periods and processes provided for in the following articles of the electoral code?
Article 11.1, the candidates shall be examined by the electoral committee within 30 days of the deadline for their submission.
Article11.2, ‘the candidates shall be informed of the decision of the committees examination within the same period, and Article 13 The final official list of candidates shall be sent to all members of the general assembly and, where necessary, to the relevant government bodies no less than 30 days before the elective general assembly is held. It shall also be published in the press.
These are simple legitimate interrogations. They raise concern once the answers cannot be provided.
Instead, what has happened?
There have not been any official reports of the decisions of the extra-ordinary meeting advertised in the media for all members of the NFF family desirous to be a part of the elections to peruse and consider, particularly since most were not part of the extra-ordinary congress and needed to have the information in good time.
Some newspapers have reported bits and pieces of unauthenticated information most of which baffle me for their clear deviation from, and violation of the statutes and electoral code of the NFF.
For example, I read that the new elections will take place on September 30, only 12 days after the electoral committee was set up. And that the entire process of nomination, screening, publications, and announcement of qualified candidates will end in the first 5 days! Indeed at the time I am writing this, nominations, I hear, have closed!
Honourable Minister, the least I can say is that this is preposterous!
This is in blatant defiance of the crisis-resolution intention of FIFA and a disregard of their advise that the elections must be conducted strictly ‘complying with the NFF statutes and regulation’.
In the unfortunate situation that we now have found ourselves, the only safe process to assuage all warring parties in the election and to guarantee the success of the elections is to play strictly by the rules and follow the electoral code and guidelines put in place by the Congress of the NFF for that purpose. Anything different will be a misstep to more conflict and crisis.
We must draw lessons from what happened 4 years ago. The present situation is a re-enactment of that. Nigerian Football suffered for most of the 4 years of the life of that regime that benefitted from the crisis. Because there was a lack of integrity in the process of the elections petitions and court cases dogged it throughout the period. Up till the present, there are still outstanding unresolved orders and judgment of courts awaiting enforcement.
I need also to remind Nigerians that when the elections then were declared null and void by a court judgment that has not been vacated up till now, only the patriotic disposition of the petitioners that suffered injustice at the time halted what could have become a very ugly development for the country. Nigeria probably would have been suspended by FIFA in order for true justice to have prevailed.
But all Nigerians sacrificed the sanctity of their justice system, upon which their society rests, not enforcing the legitimate orders and judgments of a competent court, in order to avoid suspension. The cost is that they embraced what was obviously technically and morally wrong.
We are treading on that slippery slope again. 4 years down the line we are about to do the same things again. This time posterity will judge us harshly because we know better from our previous experience.
What is wrong with doing what the rules and the statutes say? Why do we choose short cuts and fire-brigade approach to things that lead to a rape on justice and fair play, and make a mockery of integrity and transparency?
Let me state that the process set in motion by the Congress of September 18 in Warri, in short-circuiting the minimum two months period between the congress and any election, is a complete deviation from the rules for the elections as espoused clearly in the ‘Holy Books’ of the Nigeria Football Federation, called the Electoral code and the NFF Statutes.
The electoral guidelines, electoral code and the NFF statutes were all distributed to all interested participants for the elections as guide at the start of this process many months ago.
Honourable Minister, you are a lawyer yourself. I humbly urge you to read them and interpret them and relate them to FIFA’s current advice. We must not sacrifice the rule of law, justice, fair play, and transparency on the altar of fear of what FIFA would do, particularly when what we do is what the rules as established by the NFF itself is applied.
FIFA will never suspend the NFF for complying strictly to its own statutesand regulations. But it can suspend Nigeria if any issues arise if they deviate from them leading to crisis.
I wish to draw your attention to the following breaches of the Electoral Codes and the Guidelines of the NFF that FIFA advised must be followed. Any deviation amounts to an uneven playing field and a lack of transparency!
Once again, the NFF Statutes, the Electoral Code and Guidelines clearly state the procedure and time lines for elections into the Executive Committee.
The NFF and its congress cannot do anything different from them unless the statutes are amended by another congress convened for that purpose. No expediency, none, can change the rules of the game and sacrifice fair play and credibility.
Be assured that some people will challenge the present situation. That’s why I am sending this to you and copying FIFA, the Presidency and all other authorities that may not be aware of what is going on.
Finally, these are my specific humble observations:
1. The membership of the Electoral Committee and the Appeals Committee must conform with the guideline that states: ‘Members of the committee must be bona fide members of the NFF’. The list of the committee members should be published for scrutiny.
2. The Electoral Committee must follow the Electoral Code and Guidelines, specifically, the procedures and time lines for the elections, and conduct the elections without interference from third parties. These must be widely publicized.
3. The electorate, those that will cast their vote, must come to the Elective Congress armed with evidence that they represent the member of the federation to which they belong, and have a mandate of their association to show that their tenures have not exceeded their 4 years tenure as allowed by the statutes in order to be eligible to vote.
Sir, these are very simple but very critical points essential to ensure a successful, just, transparent and fair election, particularly following the immediate past crisis and the fact that some members of the federation are still aggrieved and are yearning not just for a peaceful resolution but a just one too.
The crisis have created different factions and divisions within the body of the Football Federation. All factions must be brought into the fresh elections for equity and fair play to drive the electoral process. No faction must have an advantage over the other in a fresh start to the elections. That does not appear to be the case now.
Other factions (no matter their number) are not taking part in the present process of the elections called for September 30. This is because there are outstanding issues to settle. Their demands also must be considered in a true reconciliation and normalization that a fresh elections calls for.
Most of those driving a hasty September 30 election are doing so in order to benefit from the crisis and get into power.
Sir, as the supervising officer by law of all of Nigerian sports including the NFF, you have no option but to intervene NOW and play the neutral arbiter.
The present situation must be normalized. Warring factions must be reconciled. A true level field must be created to accommodate every interested person in all the factions in the crisis. The rules and regulations of the election must be in accordance to the Statutes, the Electoral Code and Guidelines of the NFF. The Electoral Committee must meet the eligibility criteria set by the Congress and captured in the Electoral Codes. Those that will vote must qualify to do so by verification of their mandates from their different constituencies.
Government has a responsibility to guarantee all these. It is only then that everyone will sheath their swords and either participate or observe proper elections that will be free of confusion and crisis.
FIFA are not a monster waiting to punish an erring Nigeria. They also want peace for one of the most important footballing nations in Africa. They will support any move that does not derail from strengthening their advice to hold the elections with transparency, fair play and the application of the Statutes and regulations of the NFF.
What the Minister should do today is not stop the elections, or change the electoral committee, or change the rules, or anything but stick to the time lines for the elections as enumerated in the Electoral code, and use the time in between to supervise the final resolution of all outstanding issues.
Once again, Honourable Minister, for the NFF elections to hold without rancor they must be guided by the NFF Statutes and regulations – the Electoral Code and Guidelines.
Any deviation from them can only be as a result of constitutional amendment brought before the Congress at a meeting convened for that purpose. The Congress cannot wake up one day and start to take actions outside its Statutes. It will portend an ulterior and suspicious motive.
Finally Sir, having invested money, time and other resources in legitimately seeking to contest in the elections that FIFA advised should be restarted, I am insisting that for transparency, for justice, for fair play to sustain, the Statutes, the Electoral Code and Guidelines of the NFF must be followed to the letter.
I, therefore, humbly seek your urgent intervention in this matter. I am copying this letter to FIFA so that they are brought into the picture by one of its own members in order to avert any more confusion and an escalation of the present crisis.
There is no justification for a rushed election that will only benefit those that brought us to this present situation.
Several bona fide members who intend to compete in the elections are waiting patiently for the right time and environment. They will not be a part of a chaotic process skewed to favour anyone. Nigerian football owes them a level playing field, clear rules, and neutral umpires.
I believe in the good intentions of the federal government to avoid any thing that will attract a ban by FIFA on Nigeria. I also believe that it is those who choose to flout the rules of the elections as clearly enumerated in the Statutes and the Electoral Code of the NFF that should be held responsible should that happen. They are fanning the embers of that possibility.
The elections slated for September 30 should be delayed with apostponement to allow normalization of the situation for elections to beorganized according to the correct procedures and time lines prescribed by the NFF Electoral Code and Guideline.
I remain your humble Ambassador.
Chief (Dr) Segun Odegbami MON, fnim,
General Secretary, FIFA
The Secretary to the Federal Government, SGF,
Chairman, Senate Committee on Sports
Chairman, House of Rep. Committee on Sports
Inspector General of Police
Director General, DSS