Aug 17, 2018

The Fifa Statute And The Nigerian Sovereignty: A Legal Perspective | Eseoghene Palmer Esq

Matters came to head almost immediately after the conclusion of the FIFA World cup which was held in Russia between the months of June and July, 2018. With the Federal High Court of Nigeria, Jos Division giving a judgement which categorically declared Mr. Chris Giwa as the lawfully elected NFF president in opposition to Mr. Amaju Pinnick (current president, NFF). This decision has caused a widespread upheaval in the executive arm of the Federal Government, particularly with the Ministry of Sports & Youth Development and the Ministry of Justice down to the Football Parastatal. The major problem unfortunately is how this turn of events will purportedly affect the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) and its healthy affiliation with the Football world governing body (FIFA).

A lot of arguments against FIFA’s involvement in the political squabbles of the NFF has been in ignorance of the FIFA STATUTE (Regulations Governing the Application of the Statutes and Standing Orders of the Congress) May 2008 edition. Article 64, which stipulates the obligations of Member Associations, particularly under par. 2 & 3 states respectively:

Recourse to ordinary courts of law is prohibited unless specifically provided for in the FIFA regulations”

“The Associations shall insert a clause in their statutes or regulations, stipulating that it is prohibited to take disputes in the Association or disputes affecting Leagues, members of Leagues, clubs, members of clubs, Players, Officials and other Association Officials to ordinary courts of law, unless the FIFA regulations or binding legal provisions specifically provide for or stipulate recourse to ordinary courts of law. Instead of recourse to ordinary courts of law, provision shall be made for arbitration. Such disputes shall be taken to an independent and duly constituted arbitration tribunal recognized under the rules of the Association or Confederation or to CAS. The Associations shall also ensure that this stipulation is implemented in the Association, if necessary by imposing a binding obligation on its members. The Associations shall impose sanctions on any party that fails to respect this obligation and ensure that any appeal against such sanctions shall likewise be strictly submitted to arbitration, and not to ordinary courts of law.”

On the other side of the divide, the Section 251 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria particularly in paragraph P states:

Notwithstanding anything to the contained in this Constitution and in addition to such other jurisdiction as may be conferred upon it by an Act of the National Assembly, the Federal High Court shall have and exercise jurisdiction to the exclusion of any other court in civil causes and matters; (p) the administration or the management and control of the Federal Government or any of its agencies

The facts leading up to this dilemma reveals that there were two domestic elections conducted and each respectively made Pinnick and Giwa president of the NFF. The recognition of Amaju Pinnick by FIFA to the exclusion and ban of Chris Giwa, definitely forced the hand of the latter to seek remedies from the Nigerian judiciary. The interpretation and declaration of the Federal Judge is agreed to be in line with the stipulation of the Nigerian constitution. The effect, however, from this interpretation has resulted to a gross violation of the FIFA standing rules as stated above. Consequently, Nigeria as a whole, risks the reality of being banned permanently by FIFA from football related activities internationally.

The bone of contention legally speaking would be as to which of the two legislations should be followed. Section 1 of the Nigerian constitution clearly answers this. It states:

“(1) This Constitution is supreme and its provisions shall have binding force on the authorities and persons throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria. (2) The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall not be governed, nor shall any persons or group of persons take control of the Government of Nigeria or any part thereof, except in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution. (3) If any other law is inconsistent with the provisions of this Constitution, this Constitution shall prevail, and that other law shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void”.

The fact remains that the NFF is an agency under the Government of Nigeria, similarly FIFA rules are merely an international treaty that is yet to be domesticated by the nation, additionally, FIFA’s arbitration jurisprudence is natured after the laws of Switzerland, flowing from this, the constitution is far more superior to the FIFA standing rules. With utmost defiance to whatever the consequences may be, the Judgment for Giwa stands. It must be appreciated that the sovereignty of Nigeria is hinged on non-interference of a foreign body in domestic affairs of the state, Section 1 of the constitution is a staple for this. However, the reaffirmation of our nations sovereignty would spell an economic and social backlash in retrospect.

There is no legal solution to this insipient negative outcome. Nevertheless, in the spirit of sportsmanship and nationalism, Chris Giwa ought to understand the implications of the enforcement of his legal right. There is no Win-Win to this. Such selfish venture although sanctionable constitutionally, would attract highly negative setbacks for the future of Nigeria football. Likewise, FIFA cannot go back on its standing rules; in truth. Nigeria will not be the only country to be banned for the mere reason of governmental intervention in its own domestic sport administration within the last decade.

The remedy to this should be mediation between the warring parties, a return to status quo and a hearty compensation to Chris Giwa. Similarly, the legislative arm of the Nigerian Government ought to incorporate the FIFA standing rules into our laws. FIFA on the other hand may need review its seemingly overbearing and frankly unrealistic demand from independent nations like ours that have recognised judicial systems. 

Eseoghene Palmer Esq is an associate with Adedunmade Onibokun & Co. He has cultivated interest in Corporate Law, Real Estate, Intellectual Property, Sports, Entertainment law and Mediation.

Photo Credit - The News Nigeria