Tag: Jos court

Jos Hosts Crucial Triple-Header on Monday

 

In the build up to any high-profile football match, it is typical to see fans and spectators trooping towards the stadium and focus shifting to match ahead of kick-off. Come Monday, 26th September, 2016, Nigerian football focus will be on the city of Jos for a crucial 9:00am kick off in an unprecedented triple-header. The venue is not the Rwang Pam Stadium; rather it will be the Jos Division of the Court of Appeal.

The assigned Justices of the Court of Appeal shall be the umpires in three football cases listed for hearing on the day. The cases involve the Mr. Chris Giwa-led faction (seeking to lay claim to the mantle of leadership of the Nigeria Football Federation) and the NFF led by Mr. Amaju Pinnick; as well as a couple of cases stemming from the case filed by Mr. Mustapha Abubakar on behalf of Giwa FC, challenging the decision of  the League Management Company to expel Giwa FC for failing to honour three matches as stipulated in the League Rules. In recent years, Nigerian football has been embroiled in legal disputes, but never before have three cases, with the possibility of severe consequences on the administration of the sport, come up on the same day, before the same court at the same location.

So, why is Jos suddenly the host city of modern Nigerian football crisis? Also, why are the High Courts in Jos quick to interfere with sports administration by issuing injunctions and ex-parte orders? There is no disputing the role of courts as a sanctuary for justice; but the issue is not just about whether or not there is a valid grievance. The focal point is the procedure being adopted to seek redress – whether it is a sustainable means for the development of the sport.

It is common knowledge that the globally accepted norms and regulations governing football prohibit the taking of football dispute to ordinary courts of law. The point has often been stressed that this principle is not to deny an aggrieved party access to justice, but to deliver justice in a forum that promotes the speedy, amicable and specialist resolution of whatever sporting dispute there may be. Football administration worldwide favours arbitration and other internal mechanisms, which better serve these purposes.

The ripple effect of the current state of affairs where any aggrieved person can simply approach a court and obtain an injunction to stifle the administration of a professional sport is clearly being felt. It is high time our courts acknowledged the need for a sustainable reaction to sports disputes in Nigeria. This includes the acknowledgement of the peculiar nature of sports administration and the specificity of sport. Two examples of the global standard of sports jurisprudence, from which our courts can learn are illustrated in the decisions of the Court of Appeal of Paris, France and the Federal Court in Switzerland, briefly highlighted below.

In 1998, Laurent Piau filed a complaint against the FIFA Players’ Agents Regulations. The dispute eventually reached the Paris Court of Appeal, which in arriving at its decision to reject the appeal stated that sports organizations know the specific nature of each sport and are in the best position to apply the regulations to meet the objectives and to protect the ethics of the sport. While this is a pointer as to why football matters and disputes should be left to the internal specialist mechanisms, one wonders what would have been if a court had restrained the implementation of the FIFA Players’ Agents Regulations for the whole of the 18 years it took for the case to reach this decision.

Another example is the Swiss Federal Court, which refused to issue a preliminary injunction that would have allowed Russian athletes to compete at the recently concluded Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. In a further appeal against the International Paralympic Committee’s decision to ban Russian athletes from the Games for state-sponsored doping, the Russian Paralympic Committee’s request for an injunction was rejected on the ground that the interest of the sport governing body in fighting doping and in the integrity of the sport ordinarily outweighed the interest of the Russian Paralympic Federation in an immediate lifting of the suspension. What readily comes to mind is how the interest of a single supporter (or even a single club) will outweigh the interest of a governing body in implementing the regulations to preserve the integrity of competition, or the interest of all other participating clubs, players, supporters or even sponsors, etc., to the extent of issuing injunctions or orders to interfere with or even stop a professional league from running.

It will be apt to summarize by borrowing from the words of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. According to Abdulhakeem Mustapha (SAN) in a recently published interview, the series of court cases on football matters will cripple the sport, if not checked. He advocated for the resolution of football disputes via the internal mechanisms, as is done in other parts of the world. By this, a preliminary check that a court should make when approached with a football matter, is to confirm whether or not the aggrieved party has explored the internal dispute resolution mechanisms. A party that has failed to resort the internal mechanisms is then usually referred back to the sports dispute resolution mechanism. This will certainly serve to prevent the opening of floodgates to endless law suits that will only serve to cripple the administration and development of football in Nigeria.

How the Court of Appeal Dismissed Giwa’s Case

I have just spent the past hour reading through the 53-page decision of the Court of Appeal in the infamous ‘Giwa case’ and thought to pen these thoughts.

On 25th July, 2016 the Court of Appeal, sitting in Jos, overruled the decision of the Federal High Court, which had earlier relisted the case, leading to controversy as to the effect of that decision, with the Giwa group claiming that the decision recognized Chris Giwa as the President of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF).

Perhaps it is worth stating here that although the original case was actually filed by Yahaya Adama and another (on behalf of the Executive Committee of the Giwa faction) against the members of the defunct Executive Committee of the NFF (led by Aminu Maigari) and others, one will refer to both parties as “the Giwa group” and “the NFF” respectively.

The Court of Appeal Decision

The Federal High Court, Jos struck out the original case on 30th October, 2014. This was after the Giwa group had formally informed the court of their decision to withdraw their case – their reason being “to give greater consideration to national interest”. However, earlier this year, they returned to the Federal High Court, requesting that the case be relisted. On 8th April, 2016 the Court granted their request. The NFF then appealed to the Court of Appeal.

In its appeal, the NFF argued, amongst other things, that the case should not have been relisted after almost two years, since there was no cogent reason to do so.

In arriving at its decision, the Court of Appeal noted the following:

  • that it is not permissible for parties to jump in and out of court whenever they like;
  • that even though the case technically remained alive due to the fact that it was merely ‘struck out’ and not ‘dismissed’; what was the reason for it to be relisted after almost two years? More so, given the fact that the reason it was struck out in the first place was national interest.
  • was it suddenly in the interest of the nation to have the case relisted?
  • that the Giwa group did not at any time give any reason why it would now be in the national interest to relist the case.

Upon the above considerations, the Court of Appeal was of the opinion that it was justifiable to set aside the decision of the Federal High Court. It therefore dismissed the application of the Giwa group seeking to relist the case.

The Effect of the Decision

The implication of this decision is that the case remains struck out. This simply means that the Court – and the law – does not recognize any legal challenge to the NFF Presidency of Amaju Pinnick. Presently, this certainly should bring an end to any claim to the NFF Presidency by Chris Giwa.

In his many incursions against the NFF led by Amaju Pinnick, Chris Giwa had often hinged his audacity on the phrase “he who the law of the land recognizes”. One now wonders what his stance will be, given this decision of the Court of Appeal, the interpretation of which is devoid of controversy.

——————————————-

Note: The decision in respect of the suit, Appeal No.: CA/J/119/2016 was delivered by Joseph Tine Tur, JCA on Monday, 25th July, 2016.