LAGOS/ABUJA, Aug 20 (Reuters) - Nigeria acknowledged a FIFA-approved appointee as the sole head of its national soccer federation on Monday, minutes before the world body was due to ban the country from international matches over political interference in filling the post.
FIFA had said it would suspend Nigeria at 1100 GMT - thereby excluding the team from next month’s African Nations Cup qualifiers - over alleged state meddling in the running of the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF).
The NFF voted in FIFA’s recognised leadership team, under Amaju Pinnick, in 2014. His long-standing rival Chris Giwa appealed against that result and, after a protracted legal battle, the High Court found in his favour in June.
Giwa was handed a five-year ban by FIFA for breaches of NFF statutes and the FIFA code of ethics in February 2017.
But he appeared to have the backing of the Nigerian government. Sports minister Solomon Dalung included Giwa in a proposed list of delegates to meet FIFA president Gianni Infantino in Zurich last week – an idea FIFA rejected.
FIFA does not accept third party interference in its member federations and said the NFF must be led by Pinnick. It issued Nigeria with a final warning on 14 Aug.
In a tweet posted at 1038 GMT, a spokesman for Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said Nigeria had “already conveyed to FIFA its firm position recognising Amaju Pinnick-led NFF as the current & only NFF Exco (executive committee).”
The government would work with all stakeholders “to resolve (the) dispute in a timely manner,” he added.
FIFA did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
Pinnick was in Lagos on Monday, rather than the capital Abuja where NFF’s headquarters are located. He told Reuters by phone that FIFA would not be banning anyone and it was in talks with the government.
Mohammed Sanusi, NFF’s general secretary under Pinnick’s leadership, said “there are talks at the top level of government and I will confidently tell you there is no course for alarm.”
In Abuja, armed security agents were posted outside NFF’s offices preventing people from entering. “The media is not allowed in until 3 p.m. Signed: Management,” a sign read.
Nigeria are due to play a qualifier for the 2019 African Nations Cup in the Seychelles on Sept. 8. (Reporting by Angela Ukomadu in Lagos and Mike Oboh and Abraham Achirga in Abuja; Writing by Paul Carsten; editing by John Stonestreet)