Tackling NFF Crises: Dalung’s Reconciliation Moves

Tackling NFF Crises: Dalung’s Reconciliation Moves

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By Amaechi Agbo

The Honourable minister, Youth and Sports Development, Bar. Solomon Dalung in this interview with bestchoicesports.com.ng Editor, Amaechi Agbo, explains the efforts he has made in trying to broker peace in the Nigeria Football Federation’s lingering crisis.

GENESIS OF THE NFF CRISIS

I am an African so let me start my answer with an African adage which says that if the elders are at home, the due ram will not die in parturition. 

This is the foundation of this because there is no society in the world that does not have elders. Even criminals have elders. And so when a situation persists and is moving towards the understanding of the key actors, then definitely, there is only one mechanism in Africa and I don’t know of Europe, the elders are invited into it. Basically, this is the foundation of our today’s meeting.

We have called for a roundtable dicussion on the waynforward. In selecting the elders, we went into history to look for those who have contributed to the development of football yesterday and selected them as the representatives of the larger society of elders we have in football because if we are going to invite all the elders in football, we might require a stadium to accommodate them. 

It has become necessary for me to grant this discussion in order to brief you on the current development, the governance structure of the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF.

It will be recalled that NFF conducted an election on the 26th of August, 2014. The election put Chirs Giwa-led executives into the NFF board. The elected members were duly sworn-in and assumed office immediately.

On the 30th of September, 2014, another election led by the then president, Alhaji Aminu Maigari who had vacated office, took place in Warri, Delta State and through it, another new board under the leadership of Amaju Pinnick, was elected.

The Chris Giwa-led executive upon becoming aware that the second election was going to be conducted by the Maigari-led group approached the court and obtained an interim order stopping the conduct of the election.

The Amaju-led group went ahead to conduct the election in defiance of the court order of a federal High Court, Jos.

The plaintiff, Chirs Giwa applied to the court to commit the defendants to prison for contempt. The court found the defendants in contempt and nullified the election and his board and all the proceedings that brought them set aside.

FORMER PRESIDENT GOODLUCK JONATHAN’S PEACE MOVE

The then President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, stepped in and initiated a reconciliation between the two parties and Chirs Giwa accepted the reconciliation and agreed to discontinue the court proceedings. 

But while withdrawing the case, he left a caveat in the court that if the reconciliation process is inconclusive, he will return to court. Unfortunately, the former president lost the election in 2015 and the negotiation was consequently abandoned.

When this government came into power on the 29th of May, 2015, there was no briefing as regards the development that was on ground before we came in and even when I was sworn-in in November 2015, in my official briefing, there was nothing suggesting there was a crisis on ground that was negotiated and that as government lost power, it was abandoned so that I can pick it from there. There was nothing, so for me, I inherited the Amaju Pinnick executive as the executive of the NFF. 

HOW THE CASE WAS RELISTED BY CHRIS GIWA

But not too long in office, I received a letter written by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, representing Chris Giwa drawing my attention to the negotiation that was inconclusive and his desire to assume his office. That is, to go back to his position before the negotiation started. That took me aback.

I immedfiately sent a copy to Amaju Pinnick to comment on the letter. They also stated their own version of the story and issues were properly joined.

I then called the two parties together to make their presentations before me and other people and see if we will be able to pick up the negotiation from where the former president left it.

FIRST RECONCILIATION MEETING

The meeting took place in the National Stadium, Abuja and five members were invited by both parties; Amaju led his group while Giwa led his own group. Amaju’s group were the first to make presentation and they did theirs and concluded.

Giwa’s group then took up to make their own presentation but there was exchange of unpalatable words from the other group which led to a compromise from the entire process because it resulted into inviting the primitive man into the act. 

So I stood up and intervened and also discontinued the process. I later invited them into my office and told them that ‘both you are Christians and better Christians than me because both of you call the name of Jesus so many times in a day than I do. So I believe it will be very easy for you two to understand each other better. What actually is the issue?’

Amaju apologized for the use of wrong word the other time and Giwa said he had forgiven him. I then asked Giwa what he intend to achieve with the resurrection ot the issue after the former president had appealed to him. 

He said he was not given attention after Goodluck left office so he felt abandoned.

I made him understand that the man who appealed to him then was not Jonathan but the President of Federal Republic of Nigeria and that the president is President Mohammadu Buhari. So he should look at who inherited the process. It was then that I asked him what he want and he opened up.

GIWA’S OLIVE BRANCH

He said that he will support Amaju Pinnick and forget about the presidency but that Amaju should give him two positions in the board and chairmanship of a committee that he is ready to work with him.

When I asked Amaju if he was ready to accept his conditions, he said he agreed to it and that he will get back to me. Thus I felt that the issue has been resolved. I was waiting for a report in fulfillment of the two positions so that the matter would res judicata (concluded). But nobody got back to me again.

PINNICK RENEGED

The next thing I heard was that Giwa has been banned. Then I was served a court process from the Federal High Court, relisting the matter and also restoring the order that were granted by the court in 2014. I tried to get back to Giwa, but he could not pick my calls because he felt I betrayed him. Therefore, he did not communicate with me. 

I got back to Amaju and told him that this development is becoming very unhealthy for my liking. That I wish it is resolved. But he said no; football issues should go to CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sports) but for him to have gone back to court again, he must be banned.

I told Amaju that my role is that of an observer; our responsibility is to mobilize money for you and just watch you. So I don’t have a say in the activities of NFF because my position is that of a watchman. But I think the issue should be resolved.

WHAT RELISTING GIWA’S CASE PORTENDS

With the Giwa’s case being relisted, the court has therefore restored all the orders and I was also served. 

I want to mention here that I am a party in this case; I am not just a minister in this matter because I am also sued in the court.

When I was served, I got over to my board and informed them that things are bad because the court will definitely move to defend its integrity by this order. I tried to reach Giwa, but he weren’t picking my calls.

The next thing, Amaju appealed against the judgment and when the appeal proceedings were served me, as a lawyer, I knew that it constitute a stay. I held on to the appeal proceedings until the court granted a stay. At the Court of Appeal, Amaju got judgment nullifying the relisting of the matter and the resurrection of the orders. 

GIWA GOES TO SUPREME COURT

Giwa was dissatisfied with the Court of Appeal ruling and moved to the Supreme Court.

I drew Amaju’s attention and said that this issue going to the Supreme Court is not going in interest of anybody. So the best, I am suggesting, is that we come back as a family and sit down on this issue because if Supreme Court is dragged into this matter to make a pronouncement, it is going to be very difficult for anybody to wriggle out of it.

GIWA BANNED WORLDWIDE

I did not hear from Pinnick again until the announcement came that Giwa has been banned worldwide. That the ban has extended to FIFA

The matter was in Supreme Court and Pinnick group has the Apeal Court decision in their favour, so I continued for over a year without hearing from them.

 This year on the 27th of April, the Supreme Court roled out its decision and the major landmark of that decision is found on page 25 where the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, said: ‘I have to point out here that the relisting of the case automatically restores all the orders that were existing in the suit despite the fact that it is going back to any judge.’ 

Meaning that those orders which were challenged at the Court of Appeal, in which it set aside, have been resurrected. The CJN did not even stop there, he went ahead to say that the appeal succeeded; thus making us to be into another trouble.

SUPREME COURT JUDGMENT DEBACLE

When I got the papers served on me, I started consulting. I drew the attention of Amaju Pinnck informing him about the paper I have been served and enquired if they were served too and he acknowledged that the paper was served to them too.

Then I decided to send the decision of the Supreme Court to the Anthony–General of the Federation, AGF for advice.

While awaiting the advice of the AGF, I was served with contempt proceedings from the federal High Court, Jos. After serving me with the contempt proceedings, three days later, the Supreme Court roled out the judgment and the orders were restored and also served it on me. 

The counsel to Giwa wrote to the AGF and served him with a copy of the court order. The AGF then advised me and according to his wit, ‘court orders are sacrosanct; disobedient to a court order is a threat to rule of law; you are hereby advised to comply since there is no another court order in place.’

WORLD CUP DILEMMA

These came while we were preparing to go for for the Russia World Cup. So I was in a very big dilemma. I reached out to Giwa and he came because when he got judgment, he picked my calls.

I told him about the letters and papers that I have been served and informed him that since he is a Nigerian and is not struggling for personal thing but want the development of football in Nigeria, he should downplay the enforcement of the order.  

He told me that his group is mountain pressure on him. I told him that once the big masquerade stops dancing, the smaller ones will stop even if the drum is going on. 

He promised to get back to me and later came back and said his group were ready to stay action otherwise they were ready to take over the office. 

GIWA’S SECOND OLIVE BRANCH

Chris Giwa came back later and said they will stay action until the World Cup is over but with a request that they want some of their group members to travel to Russia for the World Cup.

To me, I felt it was a healthy development since they want to be part of the Russia team.

Immediately, I wrote a letter to the NFF Secretary-General (Sanusi Mohammed) along with the names Giwa gave me. I requested that NFF consider the letter and took them along for the purpose of promoting understanding in the family.

PINNICK PLAYED HIDE-AND-SEEK

After some time, the NFF wrote me back telling me that some of the names on the list were banned from football so they cannot travel and those who are not banned; the federation does not have money to take them to Russia.

I called Mr Sanusi, the Secretary-General, and told him that by my thinking, we have a problem on ground. If somebody is fighting you and the person says ‘can I get water from your house to drink’, it means that if you give him the water, you people will be able to discuss. That was how I looked at the issue but I was disappointed that you do not have money to take them to Russia. 

I told him that about a thousand people were going to Russia from Nigeria, why can’t we do this for them?

GOVERNMENT IS HELPLESS

Again as I said, the position of government in the administration of football in Nigeria is like a wheelbarrow; carry money and bring but you don’t have a say on what is happening because ban will come. 

So left them there until we came back from World Cup and the legal advice came. 

WHY GIWA WAS RESTORED AS NFF PRESIDENT 

The court order served on my ministry directed me to recognize Giwa as the duly elected NFF president.

The Inspector-General of Police, IGP and the Department of State Services, DSS were also served the same court order to take Giwa to the office. 

It is not the ministry that took Giwa to office; no. we don’t even know how he got there, the only thing I did was to issue a statement to say that I have complied with the orders served on me.

Then the next thing I heard was that the police had taken Giwa to NFF office. 

I BELONG TO NOBODY

Expectedly, blame game followed but I maintained my position that obeying the court order does not mean I stand with anybody. I stand for the rule of law. 

If the court vacates the order that brought Giwa to office today, I, Solomon Dalung will tell Giwa to leave the office. The law has asked you to vacate the place. 

As far as I am concerned, I am minister in the temple of justice. I took an oath to protect and defend the rule of law. What happens if I am corrupted by my office and decided to move against the court order and I am convicted for five minutes? I will become an ex-convict.

I have seen it in Jos where a local government chairman was convicted for one day and the following day he was thrown out of the office because he is an ex-convict. The man was charged to court and was sentenced for a day in prison and was discharged the following morning, but government sent him out because an ex-convict cannot hold office.

I am making this emphasis because people think maybe I have vested interest. People are also saying that because I and Giwa are from Plateau State, then Plateau people do not deserve justice. That is the interpretation of what they are saying. But I don’t care. I don’t believe in sectionalism, I believe in this country. Any Nigerian from anywhere should be given justice.

Finding lasting reconciliation

While we were on this, the idea of a roundtable meeting with the stakholders came up because a group cannot exist without leaders. 

So I organized the roundtable in July for us to come and put heads together on the way forward for football in Nigeria.

DSS evicts Giwa out of office

Then, while we were planning for the meeting; on Monday, July 23rd, we woke up with another development. I was informed that the DSS had gone to the secretariat and returned the Amaju group to office. 

The President’s (Buhari’s) name was mentioned everywhere as having ordered the action. But I said no, I don’t think we should drag the name of the president into this. 

It is not as if the issue cannot be resolved because they are all family members. However, bad as the issue is, it can still be resolved. It is just a question of interest.

I have narrated the situation to the best of my knowledge without any sentiments or bias. It is as it happened that I put before you believing that where my wisdom ends, the elders’ wisdom will begin from there and will be able to solve and save the football in Nigeria. 

I believe we are capable as a family to solve our problems by ourselves and not court orders, order from above or below; not order from hell, not order from heaven. 

Thank you and God bless Nigeria.

THIS INTERVIEW WAS FIRST PUBLISHED IN PRESIDENTIAL DIARY MAGAZINE, July 2018 Edition.

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