Nigeria received a reprieve on Friday in its face-off with world football governing body, FIFA, as the ban placed on the country last Monday was lifted on Friday after a meeting of the football body’s emergency committee.
“The FIFA Emergency Committee decided today, 8 October 2010, to provisionally lift the suspension of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF). The decision was taken after observing that the situation had taken a positive turn in recent days, with the claimant at the origin of the court actions publicly committing itself to withdrawing its claim, the acting General Secretary of the NFF returning to his post on 5 October 2010 and the issue of the Nigeria League being left totally within the ambit of the NFF,” FIFA said in a statement released after the meeting.
“The suspension has been lifted provisionally until 26 October 2010, after noting that the next hearing before the court is scheduled for 25 October 2010 and that only then can the judge vacate the court orders. However, should the NFF still be embroiled in court actions or any other issue preventing it from working freely on that date, the suspension will be automatically confirmed until all problems have been definitively solved.”
The decision coming at the time it did was not surprising. In the 72 hours preceding the reprieve there had been a flurry of activities geared towards getting the football body to rescind its decision. A number of prominent sports personalities including Mary Onyali-Omagbemi, Falilat Ogunkoya, Henry Amike, and Yusuf Alli had met in Lagos on Tuesday and called on FIFA to to lift the ban. They also castigated some individuals within the football family for initiating the ban on Nigeria.
That same day, Rumson Baribote, the chairman of Bayelsa United was fired by the Bayelsa State Government along with other members of the board. The action was done without much fanfare and people did not think much of it. But for those who have followed events keenly, it was a strategic move.
Baribote was one of the central figures in the furore over the enlargement of the Nigeria Premier League to 24 teams. His club had been relegated and he had threatened to head to the Court of Arbitration in Sports (CAS) in Switzerland if he did not get justice in Nigeria. Many believe the enlargement of the league was done to appease him, an action that irked FIFA, which had been informed by its agents in Nigeria that Ibrahim Bio, the Minister of Sports, was responsible for the move.
In order to appease FIFA therefore, Baribote had to go. The reasoning was very simple. If he is fired as Bayelsa United boss, he will have no basis to head for CAS. With Baribote out of the way, the next step was to get Harrison Jalla, the man who had gone to court insisting that elections must be held first into the state football associations before that of the NFF, to withdraw the case.
On Wednesday, Amos Adamu, Rafiu Ladipo, and a few others met with Jalla in Lagos during which Jalla agreed in principle to withdraw the case from court subject to the fulfilment of certain conditions, which were not immediately made public. Jalla said if those conditions were not met before October 25, the day the case comes up for another hearing, he would have no choice but to continue with the suit. With that agreement, Adamu contacted his people at FIFA headquarters informing them that the coast was clear for the lifting of the ban. The following night Bio met with Jalla to “encourage” him to withdraw the case.
It was thus not surprising that FIFA went into an “emergency” session on Friday after which it lifted the ban. Jalla was not immediately available for comment but Princewill Oviesan, Media Officer of the National Association of Nigerian Footballers, said that in going into negotiations, his organisation was motivated by the need to spare Nigerian football as much pain as possible.
“We were concerned about the Africa Cup of Nations qualifying match between Nigeria and Guinea, that was one of the reasons we went into negotiations and we made our position clear that if by October 25, the agreements reached have not been implemented then we would have no choice but to continue with the case in court,” he said.
Not yet over
While October 25 is two weeks away, the worst may not be over yet. One of the agreements reached at the meeting between Jalla and Adamu was that bodies like Sports Writers Association of Nigeria (SWAN) and the Nigerian University Games Association (NUGA), who former President Sani Lulu removed from the list of delegates eligible to vote during NFF executive committee elections, should be re-instated. This is in addition to his main demand that state elections must hold before those into the executive committee.
It may be easy for concession to be made with regard to the first demand, but it is not likely that there will be progress on the matter of state FA elections. The reason, NEXT learnt, is because Adamu, whose tenure on the FIFA Executive Committee comes to an end in less than a year’s time, is desperate to ensure that his lackeys appropriate leadership positions on the NFF board. That way, his re-nomination by Nigeria for another term on the FIFA executive committee, is assured.