Category: Cases

Case Update: ‘Giwa v. Pinnick’ NFF Leadership Tussle

Having keenly followed the controversial ‘Giwa v. Pinnick’ case since 2014, yours truly was on hand at the Supreme Court today (20th February, 2017) to keep up with proceedings.

The current matter may not necessarily add significantly to the sports law jurisprudence in Nigeria, primarily because it simply entails whether or not the case earlier filed by the Giwa-faction, which was struck out, should be relisted. So, one does not believe the Justices of the Supreme Court – the apex court in Nigeria – have been presented with an opportunity to deliver a landmark decision in the Nigerian sports law context.

However, given the intrigues that this Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) leadership tussle has delivered both in and out of court, the case is worth following.

Brief History

Two factional elections into the Executive Board of the NFF were held in 2014, on 26th August and 30th September, which produced Chris Giwa and Amaju Pinnick respectively, each of whom claimed to have been elected President of the NFF. The Pinnick-led board was given recognition by the football authorities, including FIFA, which prompted the Giwa-led board (suing through its members led by Yahaya Adama) to go to court seeking to validate their election.

The case travelled back-and-forth through the Federal High Court, where the Giwa faction (following the intervention of former President Goodluck Jonathan, as reported) withdrew their case, which was then struck out on 30th October, 2014. Over a year later, with the end of the Jonathan Presidency and no end to the dispute, the Giwa-faction returned to court. On 8th April, 2016 the Federal High Court made an order relisting the case that was earlier struck out.

Upon Pinnick’s appeal, the Court of Appeal reversed the decision of the Federal High Court and in effect dismissed the application to relist the case. Mr. Giwa has now approached the Supreme Court to further pursue his application to relist his case.

The Supreme Court Proceedings

On the last court date – 16th January, 2017 – the Supreme Court had adjourned the case to 9th May, 2017 to determine, amongst other pending motions, a motion filed by the Pinnick-group lawyer, Festus Keyamo, requesting that the appeal be struck out. Mr. Keyamo is contending that the lawyer who signed the Notice of Appeal at the Supreme Court was not competent to do so in the circumstances that he had previously been barred by the Court of Appeal from appearing in the matter.

Presently, the Giwa faction requested the Court for an accelerated hearing of their own motions seeking for extension of time within which to file their appeal as well as for accelerated hearing of their appeal (i.e. before the return date of 9th May 2017).

The Supreme Court panel however delivered a quick ruling, stating that all circumstances were taken into consideration before the case was adjourned to 9th May and that no special circumstances had been shown as to why the adjourned date should be brought forward. The application was therefore refused, with the effect that the case will continue on 9th May, 2017.

Conclusion: The Road Ahead

There is indeed an incredibly long road ahead if the Giwa v. Pinnick dispute is to be resolved by litigation. Incredible because one struggles to see how a judicial solution can be reached ‘timeously’ in the present circumstances.

If the Supreme Court agrees to the relisting of the case, that would seem to take the substantive matter all the way back to the Federal High Court (i.e. for the Federal High Court to proceed to determine which is the valid election between Giwa and Pinnick), not to mention possible appeals therefrom.

On the other hand however, it could be the end of the road for the Giwa-faction if the Supreme Court decides on 9th May 2017, or thereafter, that there is no basis to relist the case that was earlier struck out.

Also, looking ahead to the possible implication if the judgment goes in favour of the Giwa faction, one wonders what effect such judgment would have on the ban imposed on Giwa and others. Earlier this month, FIFA announced a worldwide extension of the five-year ban imposed on Chris Giwa and four others (including Yahaya Adama and other members of his Board).

On 12th May 2016, the NFF Disciplinary Committee banned Christopher Giwa, Muazu Suleyman, Yahaya Adama, Sani Fema and Johnson Effiong from taking part in any football activity, owing to their breaches of NFF statutes and FIFA Code of Ethics (the charges included taking football matters to court).

Apparently, that would take us back to the cycle of imminent FIFA sanction on NFF for judicial interference.

Case Review: State FA is not a Juristic Person (Osiwa Igbuya v. Delta State Football Association)

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.

Arguments

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.

Comments/Conclusion

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.