About two weeks ago, we received the much awaited letter from FIBA communicating its final decision on the crisis in the Nigerian Basketball Federation. The letter was supposed to put an end to the long drawn division. However, from the contents of the letter and the reactions of stakeholders, the crisis might not be over just yet. Matter of fact, the letter has raised many questions than gave answers.
Tales from the Northern Cities.
Mr Tijjani Umar declared his intention to run for a third term shortly before the end of his second tenure as President of the Federation. He was to contest against Mr Kida. It was clear from the very beginning that there would be issues as regards the elections as the two contestants differed on one of the fundamental factors - the election regulations and guidelines.
Mr Kida announced that he would follow the election guidelines and procedures released by the Ministry of Sports and the National Olympic Council (NOC) for all Federations` elections in 2017. Mr Umar, on the other hand, insisted that elections would be guided by the provisions of the NBBF Constitution that was passed at the Annual General Meeting held in January 2017 in Abuja. Prior to the election, some stakeholders had raised concerns that they were not duly informed of the constitution before the Annual General Meeting and thus didn’t have ample time to read, make amendments and recommendations to the constitution before it was passed. Having it as a basis for election was questioned.
As a result, two separate elections were held on 12 and 13 June in Kano and Abuja respectively, which produced two NBBF Presidents and Boards - Mr Umar and Mr Kida. Not to anyone`s surprise, the two presidents claimed legitimacy to the throne of basketball kingdom of Nigeria. The two boards sent two separate teams to Cotonou, Benin for the FIBA Africa Zone 3 3x3 Championship (Nigeria was disqualified from the championship and both teams were sent back), and had two separate invitational lists released ahead of the FIBA Women`s Afrobasket Championship in Mali.
FIBA to the Rescue?
As the international governing body for basketball, Nigerians looked up to FIBA to wade in and solve the crisis. It would not be the first time there would be crisis within a sport Federation in Nigeria. The National Football Federation (NFF) has had its fair share and it took FIFA`s intervention and stern decision to restore normalcy. People expected the same stronghold from FIBA.
Six weeks after the elections, FIBA reacted. In the letter signed by the organisation`s Secretary General and addressed to the two factional Presidents, FIBA stated that it was `not entirely satisfied that either election was carried out in accordance with the FIBA General Statutes`. This position was reached based on the conflicting reports received by FIBA in respect to the two elections and therefore did not recognise either of them.
FIBA added in its letter that, pending the 30th November when FIBA hoped the crisis would have been resolved internally, it would communicate with Mr Musa and his vice, Mr Babatunde Ogunade. To avoid confusion and misinterpretation, FIBA emphasized in its letter that this communication should not be understood and interpreted as recognition of the board elected on the 13th of June.
From the events that followed in the Nigerian basketball scene, it was obvious that the extra paragraph in FIBA`s letter was not enough to prevent misunderstanding and misinterpretation. Basketball activities in Nigeria were divided among the two factions. The Musa Kida led board handled all the national team activities - Men and women`s FIBA Afrobasket, while Mr Umar supervised the completion of the Kwese Premier Basketball league and the Zenith Women`s Basketball League.
Finding a common ground
FIBA`s first resolution option was to give the two factions four months to resolve the crisis under the supervision of the National Olympic Committee. The two factions could either look for an amicable solution or agree to new elections. FIBA had earlier, in the same letter, alluded to the fact that the NOC recognised the election held on 13 June in Abuja. Therefore, having the NOC mediate between the two parties would have been a futile effort. No surprise then that the NOC failed to resolve the matter between the two parties internally.
When the NOC eventually met with the two factional leaders a few weeks before the November 30th deadline, the two Presidents were said to have presented their positions and were allowed privacy for a gentleman negotiation and agreement. None yielded. From press statements released after the meetings, Mr Umar had confirmed his openness to fresh elections while Mr Kida insisted on holding on to his mandate.
With no resolution in sight, FIBA agreed during its Central Board meeting held on December 9, to send a 3 man delegation on a fact finding mission in an attempt to get firsthand information to aid its final decisions. The delegation was to report its findings to the Executive Committee and discussed during the FIBA Executive Committee meeting scheduled for the 10th of March 2018 in Mies, Switzerland. This was announced via a letter of extension sent to both Mr Kida and Mr Umar. FIBA reiterated its position to maintain communications with Mr Kida and his vice, Mr Ogunade.
The Ultimate Decision - More Questions.
After its Executive Committee meeting, FIBA ruled that the 12 June 2017 elections did not comply with Article 9.3 and the 13 June 2017 elections did not comply with Article 9.7, and since there was no amicable solution between the two factions of the NBBF, fresh elections should be held. The apex body also added that the fresh elections would be held in accordance with the NBBF Statutes and it would continue to communicate with Mr Kida and his vice, Mr Ogunade.
The expectation of many Nigerians was that FIBA`s ultimate decision would put an end to this long distraction. However, with the reaction of stakeholders including the two factional leaders, this FIBA letter leaves a lot to be desired. It has raised more questions and answered few.
1. No time for new elections - Unlike the prior FIBA letters that gave deadlines for specific actions, no election date or deadline was included in the letter communicating FIBA`s final decision. Does this mean there would be another letter from FIBA stating a time or deadline for conducting fresh elections? Or is FIBA delegating this to the gentlemen it is in communications with in Nigeria, Mr Kida and Mr Ogunade? If the latter is the case, won`t that be a classic case of conflict of interests?
Also, will the new elections be restricted to only these two gentlemen or will other interested contestants be allowed to participate.
2. The NBBF Statutes - FIBA will work with the relevant stakeholders to amend and develop the NBBF Statutes. By using the word `amend`, is the NBBF Statutes referred to in the clause same as the existing NBBF Constitution prepared by the Mr Umar led board passed at the AGM in January? If this is the case, does this imply that the Constitution was not up to FIBA`s standard when it was passed at the AGM and does this vindicates Mr Kida who chose to follow the electoral guidelines release by the NOC and the Ministry of Sports instead of this Constitution?
This also brings to discussion FIBA’s decision to communicate with Mr Kida and Mr Ogunade, when the erstwhile recognized NBBF board had drafted and passed the referred NBBF Constitution, however substandard they were.
Who qualifies as stakeholders in this matter - the board that drafted the constitution or the gentlemen FIBA has chosen to communicate with or both of them?
3. Neither elections recognised - Since FIBA has expressly stated that neither elections held in June were in accordance with the FIBA General Statutes and have called for new elections, the 12 June Umar led board and the 13 June Kida led board DO NOT EXIST. This can either mean two things - an extension of Mr Umar`s second tenure or an appointment of an Interim/Caretaker Committee pending new elections. By choosing to communicate with Mr Kida and Mr Ogunade, is it safe to assume that FIBA has conferred the role of Interim Committee on these gentlemen?
4. The phrase `Communicating with` - FIBA has consistently used this phrase to describe its relationship with Mr Kida and Mr Ogunade. It raised a number of question then. Now, even more. What rights do Mr Kida and Mr Ogunade have as regards basketball in Nigeria being in communications with FIBA? Does communicating with them puts them in charge of all basketball activities in Nigeria or only on FIBA related matters? Does it mean they have no business with other activities that do not require FIBA`s direct intervention or communication such as the Male & Female league, Division 1 and 2 Championships?
And if communicating with them indeed makes them the Interim/Caretaker Committee, and thus putting them in charge of basketball activities in Nigeria - albeit temporarily, won’t Mr Umar will be acting ultra vires by organising the 2018 season of the male and female leagues?
Both Mr Umar and Mr Kida have confirmed that they will seek further clarity on the FIBA letter. Mr Kida has stated his plans to write to the governing body for further clarification while Mr Umar confirmed he has forwarded the letter to legal advisers for proper interpretation. This again indicates that there are a number of questions that need answers and that there is a possibility that the two parties will interpret the letter differently and will act based on their interpretations of the letter.
The Drama Continues
As long as there are ambiguities in the FIBA letter, each party will interpret it in its own favour. In a statement issued in reaction to FIBA`s decision, Mr Kida stated that; `Going by the letter received this morning, FIBA was silent about the date for a new election as they unequivocally stated that they will maintain communications with the Musa Kida led board. We as a responsible organization with a passion for basketball development in Nigeria will work closely with FIBA during this critical phase, forging a way forward for basketball in Nigeria.”
Despite FIBA`s disregard of the 13 June election and ordering of a new election, Mr Kida still seems to believe there is a `Musa Kida led board` and that FIBA is communicating with the board and not solely and exclusively with him and Mr Ogunade as stated in the FIBA letter. We expect Mr Kida to conduct his affairs between now and the new elections with this interpretation and mindset.
The other party feels otherwise. Mr Umar, who had consistently and openly advocated new elections as the only way for a fair and equitable settlement of the dispute, believes that the 12 June election should have been endorsed. His stand is that since FIBA has not recognized either of the elections held last June and pending the fresh elections, his team will continue with the organisation of male and female leagues and other local activities including concluding the National Divisions 1 and 2 championships.
As long as there are disparities in interpretation of FIBA`s communication from these two gentlemen, the crisis in the Nigerian Basketball Federation will continue until fresh elections are held. The only way this can be avoided - a temporary panacea - is if each party compromises and partially accepts the interpretation of the other party, hence allowing for a segregation of duties. This way, Mr Kida will handle all national team activities in conjunction with FIBA while Mr Umar oversees all local basketball activities including the leagues.
I am certain each party will see this as giving too much, but maybe that is what basketball in Nigeria needs, people looking beyond their self-interests (however they choose to brand it, even Hitler believed he served a greater purpose).
If not, we can only hope the fresh elections are held as soon as possible.
- Adedammy Adedotun (@adedeebaba)