BY KUNLE SOLAJA.
Baring any possible last minute cancellation or postponement, it is six days to the elective congress of the Nigeria Football Federation. The exercise holds in Katsina State.
As in previous exercise, some candidates will cry foul while others will feel betrayed. This has been the pattern since pseudo election began in 1996 before culminating into full electoral process.
In the 1990s, with election based on Decree 101 of 1992, some members of the board were either Federal Government nominees or owe their membership to affiliate bodies, hence did not depend on election at the congress.
But as the now 90-year old former footballer and manager, Tommy Docherty, was quoted to have remarked years ago, – “There’s a hell of politics in football. I don’t think Henry Kissinger would have lasted 48 hours at Old Trafford”.
Talk about statesmanship, Henry Kissinger, a Jewish-American diplomat was US Secretary of State and National Security Advisor under Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford understood the art of art of politics.
The Top Dogs: Aminu Maigari, Amaju Pinnick and Taiwo Ogunjobi
But for one to have remarked that Kissinger would have failed in the politics of football underscores the dynamics that come into play. So it is in the politics at the Nigeria Football Federation.
In the NFF election, nothing is taken for granted as there are manoeuvres and counter-manoeuvring. Climate can change on the floor during election as allies may turn foes and back-stabbing ensues.
A typical example was that of 1999 in Abuja. It was a day of long knives. After weeks of anxiety, intrigues, manoeuvrings and high expectations, the elections that produced Kodjo Williams as the NFA chairman got underway on October 19, 1999 at the Press Centre, Radio House in Abuja.
In a two-phased election that was characterised by suspense and suspense and involving 16 zonal representatives, four people emerged from the professional football clubs.
They were Chive Kaave of BCC Lions who got seven votes, Christo Davis of Ibom Stars had six votes, Daniel Idama of Julius Berger got five votes, and Haruna Garba of Gombe United who also had five votes.
The election saw the incumbent chairman, Col. Abdulmumini Aminu losing out in the first electoral process in which a seating chairman lost out.
Col. Abdumumini Aminu, Chairman NFA (1996-1999) was outmanoeuvred in the 1999 NFA Elections.
In an earlier procedure of 1996, the incumbent, Air Comm. Emeka Omeruah had been schemed out even before the election as he could not get the government nomination which had been offered to Aminu.
Col. Aminu owned the Katsina United. In the election of 1999, he had just a vote, an indication that none of the other seven zonal representatives of the professional clubs voted for him.
Each representative was to vote for four people. The first drama of the elections that lasted just 25 minutes began when Oscar Udoji of the Udoji United stood up to announce that Mike Umeh, representing the amateur clubs from the Enugu Zone had stepped down for him.
The electoral guidelines provided that no zone can have two people on the board. So, once a candidate from a professional club for instance wins from a zone, his reciprocal from that zone in the amateur clubs cadre automatically loses.
It was therefore a sort of indirect election. The General Secretary, of the NFA, Dr. Tijani Yusuf, who acted as the chief electoral officer, turned down Udoji’s claims that he was the sole representative from the Enugu Zone.
“We have one candidate, and that is me. Chief Mike Umeh stepped down for me”, Udoji claimed.
But Dr. Yusuf declined on the ground that there was no official communication to that effect from Umeh who later stood up and said “we agreed in principle that Udoji should represent us”.
At that point, as the ballot papers were being shared out, Udoji walked out of the hall. Dr. Yusuf remarked that Udoji had the right not to vote. Umeh later followed and both returned about five minutes later just as voting was being concluded.
Umeh tendered a note that he was withdrawing from the race. It was a minute too late. The retuning officer announced the results of the elections conducted among the representatives of the professional football clubs, accepting that the guidelines of the elections could have had lapses, “they will be fine-tuned by the time of next elections”.
Following the emergence of the four board members, the returning officer announced that the amateur clubs’ representatives from the zones that already produced the pro clubs representatives had automatically lost out.
Apart from the Enugu Zone, the other three – Sani Lulu Abdulahi, Kabir Umar, and Ayo Bello came on board. Dr. Yusuf announced further that a by-election would be conducted in Enugu Zone to fulfil the elections regulations. To that effect, Umeh who could have had an automatic seat in the indirect election lost out.
Udoji later dismissed the electoral process. He said that he should have had an automatic seat on the board following the withdrawal of the other aspirant, Umeh, from the Enugu Zone.
His words: “In an emerging democratic society as Nigeria, democracy should be seen to take precedence over dictatorship. As the candidate with the mandate of my zone, I see the procedure adopted by the electoral committee during the delegate conference elections for club representatives as inconsistent with established practice.
“As the sole representative from the zone which comprises Enugu, Imo, Anambra, Abia and Ebonyi states, owing to the stepping down of the amateur representative from our zone, I should have an automatic seat on board”. He added that it would have been a betrayal of trust for him to go ahead with the elections, hence he walked out.
But Mrs Ayo Omidiran, who sailed through into the phase two of the elections after the disqualification of Segun Odegbami from Ibadan Zone, cried foul.
She argued that it was undemocratic to have adopted indirect elections which did not allow the amateur clubs’ representatives to test their popularity.
Ayo Omidiran cried ‘foul!’ after the 1999 NFA Elections
“They should have at least allowed the remaining three people to contest the seat that Mike Umeh rejected”. All the same, the owner of the Omidran FC, a women club, said she did not feel too bad about it as she would continue to fund her club.
The deposed chairman of the NFA, Col. Aminu was still able to hold himself. He however saw the handwriting on the wall.
“I knew what the outcome would be as there had been official manipulations to scheme me out”.
Prior to the elections that were delayed for one hour and a half following caucus meetings of the sports ministry, a list was circulated suggesting the amateur clubs’ representatives to be elected. The permutation would have been 100% accurate if Mike Umeh had not withdrawn.
One strategy that the Aminu camp had depended on was the expected withdrawal of Kabir Umar who came from the same zone with the retired colonel.
Had that happened, especially if the amateur clubs’ representatives had gone to polls earlier, Col. Aminu would have been in automatically.
The strategy failed. “Even if it worked, there are indications that the board members would not have voted him in as their chairman”, a staff of the NFA remarked.
The elected board members then elected Kodjo Williams, a government nominee to the board, as the chairman.
His emergence did not surprise most articulate observers, even Dr. Joseph Mifsud of Malta, who was an executive committee member of both FIFA and UEFA.
He was also the president of Malta Football Association. He noted the intrigues and manoeuvrings.
Dr. Joseph Mifsud, the FIFA Observer at the 1999 NFA Election.
“It is a matter of one side having a better manipulation of the electorate. It is allowed in democracy” he told this reporter aboard Chachangi Airlines on his way to Lagos en-route Valletta, Malta.
The Ministry of Sports effectively dominated proceedings, cleared the way of any dissenting voice and played active role in the emergence of Williams, the first NFA chairman from the South West since 1973 when Col. Kola Falope held the post in acting capacity.
In the last stage of the elections where the board members were to elect their head, Brigadier Dominic Oneya, who had earlier indicated interest in seeking the office was allegedly pressurised by a top sports ministry official “to avoid confrontation with a government candidate”.
He dropped his intention and opted to nominate a relatively weak candidate, Sani Lulu Abdulahi, who seven years later was to emerge as the head.
At the 1999 elections, Gina Yesibo, another government nominee on board, nominated Kodjo Williams as a candidate for the top chair.
He was surprisingly seconded by Daniel Idama of Julius Berger FC, who was among the delegates murmuring at Abuja Sheraton Hotel against the candidature of Williams.
So, as in the past three pseudo elections into the NFA board, a government nominee predictably returned as the chairman. Within the period that the delegates conference election was delayed, a flurry of behind the scene activities were going on.
The three private club owners, jostling for places on the board had met informally to fine-tune strategies.
At the meeting were Oscar Udoji of Udoji United, Chief Igbinowanhia Ekhosuehi of Insurance FC, and Abdulmumuni Aminu of Katsina United.
Every delegate was to vote for four people. The club owners decided that each person should vote himself and two other club owners, with Chive Kaave of government-owned BCC Lions and Christo Davies of Ibom Stars as alternatives for the fourth slots.
That way, all the three candidates would be on the board, with either Kaave or Davies becoming the fourth representative of clubs on the board.
But it appeared the sports ministry officials, undoubtedly wishing to put in place an NFA board it would control, had penetrated their ranks!
According to Ekhosuehi who lost his seat on the NFA board, the trio decided to seat in such a way that they could monitor the voting pattern and also see how Chive Kaave and Christo Davies would vote.
“To my surprise, I saw Christo Davies’ list without my name on his ballot paper. I looked in front again, Kaave had written his four nominations without my name, yet I had written two, putting my name first followed with Kaave’s name.
“At that stage, I knew betrayal had set in. I stopped”, lamented Ekhosuehi. He had just two votes, one of which he cast for himself. “I believe it was Aminu who cast the second vote for me said the then sole financier of Insurance FC.
Col. Aminu on the other hand had just one vote, which he must have cast for himself and contributed to the electoral fortunes of Kaave who polled highest – seven, his last vote for Oscar Udoji was lost as it contributed nothing to get the man on board.
Udoji who had stormed out of the voting hall had alleged that the sports ministry had in the previous night held meetings with caucus of delegates to determine voting pattern.
The power broker and king maker
At the time and for years to follow, in every discourse of election into sports bodies and most other matters of the sports ministry, the name of Dr Amos Adamu was recurring.
A technocrat who joined the sports ministry in the early 1990s, he was believed to always hold the ace. A sports ministry official once remarked that the fear of Adamu was the beginning of wisdom at the Ministry of Sports.
Dr. Amos Adamu, ace-holder in previous NFF elections.
He was seen as having the ability to control the minds of whoever heads the ministry. Every succeeding sports minister found him a veritable tool at shooting trouble.
As the director of sports, he supervised almost 30 associations under the ministry. At election time, he was the man who often held the ace, – a role he performed well in the 1997 elections into the Nigeria Olympic Committee and others including the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) and the Nigeria Amateur Boxing Association (NABA).
The director of sports whom many claimed authored the controversial guidelines for the NFA elections, reportedly held meetings with some delegates the night before the elections.
“You can quote me”, remarked Oscar Udoji as he was storming out of the election hall. “The sports ministry is bent on ruining football and something must be done to stop them”.
The outcome of the elections effectively shut out from the board, the direct owners of professional clubs at the time.
“This is a sad development”, remarked Insurance FC’s Ekhosuehi, who also said that the NFA might be drifting towards the 1987 scenario when private club owners were forced to disband their teams.
He added that by close of the 1999/2000 season, the professional clubs owned by private individuals may pull out if the league is not run by a body outside the NFA.
Meanwhile, while the 1999 elections into the NFA were going on in Abuja, a Federal High Court in Lagos presided by Justice Abdulkadir Jega was issuing orders, stopping the NFA elections following a petition by Austin Akosa who, as the president of the Nigeria Football Coaches Association (NFCA) had been schemed out of the membership of the NFA board and replaced by Paul Hamilton.
It was in apparent respect for the court injunction that Dr Yusuf who supervised the delegates’ conference elections, did not attend the next day’s board members election for the chairmanship.
But in spite of all the drama that unfolded, the FIFA observer, Dr Joseph Mifsud, told this reporter that the elections were well conducted even while noting the overwhelming influence of the sports ministry.
He said he was not aware of the court injunction and said that if the NFA had been served, the elections should not have held.
“I am a lawyer. The laws of the land must be respected. Anything contrary amounts to contempt of the court”, said Dr Mifsud.
The FIFA man disagreed that the international federation forbids seeking legal redress in issues involving member associations.
“If the matters are administrative, and if the laws of the land permit, you can go to court. The exception is that a court can not determine the outcome of a match”, said the FIFA observer who claimed to have handled a similar situation in Bulgaria the previous year.
Decree 101 of 1992 under which the 1999 elections were held stated that the body can sue and can be sued.
Mifsud therefore advised that NFA should seat and draw its statutes to avoid arbitrary guidelines from the government agencies.
He also said he would prefer situations in the future where the amateurs and professional clubs’ representatives would vote simultaneously to avoid indirect elections.