The apex court also ordered the High Court to give the case an accelerated hearing.
NFF president Amaju Pinnick has been locked in a bitter battle with Chris Giwa over who rules Nigerian football in the last four years.
Giwa and his board had dragged the Pinnick-led board to the Supreme Court, to set aside the verdict of the Appeal Court which set aside the ruling of a Federal High Court in Jos that ordered the continuation of the case.
However, the apex court refused to make any pronouncement on the suit seeking the sacking of the Pinnick-led board of the NFF.
A five-man panel of the apex court led by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, held that the Appeal Court was wrong in setting aside the ruling of a Federal High Court in Jos, which ordered the continuation of the case and unanimously set aside the judgment of the appellate court, which had held that the case could no longer be re-listed before the Federal High Court having been earlier withdrawn by the plaintiffs.
Other members of the five-man panel, Justice Dattijo Muhammad, Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, Chima Nweze and Ejembi Eko, agreed with the CJN’s lead judgement.
The Supreme Court held that the case could be re-listed before the Federal High Court after the settlement talks on the dispute broke down, but rejected the plea by the appellants to have the case heard and determined on its merit.
The appellants had, in the main, appealed against the decision of the Court of Appeal nullifying the Federal High Court’ re-listing of the case, but they had requested the court to take over and determine it because of “the need for the expeditious disposal of the suit”.
But the apex court agreed with the appellants, in part, by allowing the re-listing of the case, but held that the “core conditionality” that could warrant it to take over the case which ought to be heard by the Federal High Court had not been met.
Meanwhile, Chris Giwa’s lawyer Chinedu Eze said the Supreme Court’s judgement has justified his client as the recognised man to lead Nigerian football.
He said, “Clearly, what happened today (Friday) is that the Supreme Court set aside the judgment of the Court of Appeal and confirmed the decision of the Federal High Court re-listing the case and restoring all its previous orders.
“That is to say, the decision of the Federal High Court re-listing the suit and restoring all its orders, including the order recognising the Chris Giwa board and the order as setting aside the election of Amaju Pinnick, still subsists. Let no one be deceived.”
But a statement from Pinnick’s attorney Festus Keyamo said the Supreme Court judgment did not oust the Pinnick-led board.
“The summary of the Supreme Court judgment in plain language is that the complaints of Giwa and his supporters should be taken back to the Federal High Court so that they can be properly heard and the case determined one way or the other. The Supreme Court did not also sack the NFF board from office,” the statement signed by Festus Ukpe and Arinze Egbo read.
The appellants, who are the plaintiffs in the original suit sent back to the Federal Court for hearing, are Yahaya Adama and Obinna Ogba.
They had on September 19, 2014, filed their suit before the Federal High Court in Jos, praying for among others, that they along with others allegedly elected on August 26, 2014, be declared to be the legitimate executive board members of the NFF.
On September 19, 2014, the Federal High Court granted an ex parte order restraining the NFF from conducting its General Assembly.
But the federation went ahead to conduct the General Assembly in Warri, Delta State, which led to Pinnick’s emergence as NFF president on September 20, 2014.
Three days later, the Federal High Court nullified the General Assembly and the elections for being held in defiance of a pending suit and the court’s restraining orders.
Due to settlement talks brokered by ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, Adama and Ogba, on October 30, 2014, applied to withdraw the suit and the court promptly struck it out.
But when the talks broke down, the plaintiffs subsequently applied for the re-listing of the case, a prayer the court granted.
The court in granting the prayer also restored all the injunctive orders set aside while earlier striking out the suit.
But the Maigari-led board appealed to the Court of Appeal in Jos against the Federal High Court’s ruling.
On July 25, 2016, the Court of Appeal delivered its judgement by allowing the appeal and nullifying the Federal High Court’s ruling re-listing the case.
The Court of Appeal also set aside the injunctive orders which the Federal High Court restored.
Dissatisfied with the judgement of the Court of Appeal, Adama and Ogba, through their counsel, P.I.N Ikwueto (SAN), appealed to the Supreme Court, to among others, uphold the re-listing of the case by the Federal High Court.
They also urged the apex court to invoke section 22 of the Supreme Court Act by taking over the case and decide it on merit.
But the respondents, through their counsel, Mr. Festus Keyamo (SAN), opposed the appeal and urged the court to dismiss it.
Delivering judgement on the appeal on Friday, the CJN ruled that the Court of Appeal was wrong to disallow the re-listing of the case by the Federal High Court.
The apex court held that the Federal High Court was right to re-list the case since it had not been heard on merit before it was earlier withdrawn.
But the court rejected the prayer for the invocation of the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction to take over, hear and determine the case.
In rejecting the prayer, the court held that a core condition among the four that needed to be present for it to take over such suit was absent in the appellants’ case.
“The real issue raised up by the claim of the appellants at the lower court (the Court of Appeal) must be seen to be capable of being distilled from the grounds of appeal,” the CJN held, adding that this core “conditionality” was absent in the appellants’ case.”