The State Football Association (State FA) is a common feature in the football administration system in Nigeria. They are basically sub-units of the Nigeria Football Association (nowadays referred to as “Nigeria Football Federation”), present in each of the 36 States of the country as well as the Federal Capital Territory. Article 10(1)(a) of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) Statutes 2010 recognizes each State FA as a member of the NFF.
In the case under review, the National Industrial Court (in Suit No: NIC/EN/32/2011) determines the juristic personality of the State FA in Nigeria i.e. whether they can sue or be sued. Generally, the National industrial Court has exclusive jurisdiction in civil matters relating to labour, employment, trade unions, industrial relations and their governing enactments (section 254C of the Constitution).
Brief Summary of the Facts
In 2009, the government of Delta State dissolved some of its state-owned football clubs, one of which was Okpe United FC. The Chairman of the club, Mr. Osiwa Igbuya however continued on his own to fund the club, which even made it to the final of the Delta State FA Cup in 2011.
Mr. Igbuya however sued the Delta State FA, claiming that the State FA had a statutory duty to continue funding the club. He claimed a refund of the sum of N96,219,000, which he had spent in funding the club since 2009 (which included payment of salaries and allowances of players and officials of the club).
The Delta State FA then filed a preliminary objection, arguing that the court lacked jurisdiction. One of the grounds on which the argument was based was that the Delta State FA was not a juristic person and thus could not be sued.
In raising the preliminary objection, the Delta State FA argued that it was not a juristic person; hence, could not be sued. It was further argued that a person who is made a party to an action either as Plaintiff or a Defendant must be a legal person or, if not, a body vested by law with power to sue or be sued. The State FA therefore asked that the suit be struck out, since lacking juristic personality, it was the only defendant.
Mr. Igbuya, on the other hand, argued that a State FA is a juristic person because it is recognized as a state branch of Nigeria Football Association by the Nigeria Football Association Act, section 7(2)(b) of which makes the Chairman of each State FA a member of the National Football Association Council.
Decision of the Court
Upon examining the Nigerian Football Association Act, the court found that there was nowhere the Act stated expressly that a State FA was a branch of the Nigerian Football Association. While section 7 established the National Football Association Council, subsection (2)(b) thereof – in making each State FA Chairman a member of the Council – merely contemplated the existence of state football associations, which would then become members of the Council.
The court also found that there was nowhere in the said Act where the specific mention of the State FA was made as a body created under the Act or to have such powers or functions of the NFA under the said Act.
The court further noted that the argument of Mr. Igbuya that in cases such as Irabor & 2 Ors vs National Executive Council of Academic Staff Union of Universities (2011) NLLR (Pt 68) p. 287, ratios 2, 3, and 4, it was held that unincorporated bodies could sue and be sued. However, the court held that the distinguishing factor was that in that case, the NEC was a creation of the Constitution of ASUU and therefore its organ was actionable as a body that had clear responsibility to carry out the functions of ASUU; whereas the State FA is not an organ or body responsible for the carrying out of the functions of the NFA but rather only one of the numerous members of the National Football Association Council.
The court thus decided that the Delta State FA was not a juristic person and therefore could not be sued.
Perhaps one could argue that given the important roles they play in the administration of football in Nigeria (including organizing state leagues, State FA Cup, coordination and security arrangements during league matches, membership of the NFA Executive Committee and NFA Council, nomination of candidates for NFF presidency, etc.), there is the need for more in-depth provisions on the status and functions of state football associations in Nigeria.
Ultimately however, the fact that Mr. Igbuya picked to sue the Delta State FA, whereas the origin of his claim was that the Delta State Government had dissolved Okpe United, indicates the blurry and indistinct relationship that exists among government, sports ministry and the football association, both at the Federal and State levels in Nigeria.