12.01.2019 12:44 h

Nigeria eyes graft charges against football officials

The head of a Nigerian presidential anti-corruption body has said charges will be brought against football officials for allegedly misappropriating public funds.

Okoi Obono-Obla disclosed that the body was in the process of finalising charges and that a "prima facie case" had been established.

"We will now file charges against them," said Obono-Obla, who is chairman of Muhammadu Buhari's Special Presidential Investigation Panel for Recovery of Public Property.

"They will be arraigned before a court of competent jurisdiction," he told Kiss FM Abuja radio in an interview on Friday, without identifying the individuals by name.

Obono-Obla has previously interviewed the head of the Nigeria Football Federation, Amaju Pinnick, and his two deputies, Seyi Akinwunmi and Shehu Dikko.

NFF general secretary Mohammed Sanusi and executive committee member Ahmed Yusuf have also been questioned.

Pinnick was re-elected for a second term as head of the federation in September last year, despite a long-running battle over the legitimacy of his position.

The dispute has led to a string of court cases and political interventions, prompting world governing body FIFA to threaten to ban the African powerhouses from international competition.

President Buhari launched a high-profile campaign in 2015 to prosecute corrupt officials who had stolen what he said were "mind-boggling" sums of public money.

The main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has accused Buhari of conducting a political witch-hunt because most of those arrested and charged have been party members.

Obono-Obla, who is also the president's special assistant on prosecutions, has denied coming under any direct or indirect political pressure in the latest case.

The federation is a so-called "parastatal" in that it receives direct government funding in addition to external commercial sponsorship and football development grants.

He also rejected the possibility that FIFA could again intervene and ban Nigeria, as taking football matters to domestic courts was against its statutes.

The case was a "criminal matter", he added.

In October, Nigeria's main anti-corruption body, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, charged three NFF officials with fraud.

They were accused of diverting $9.5 million in FIFA grants for personal use in 2015.

The charges came a month after the NFF banned former national team coach Salisu Yusuf for 12 months and fined him $5,000 for receiving cash from undercover journalists posing as agents.

The sting was part of a wider undercover probe into graft in West African football that prompted the resignation of Ghana Football Association chief Kwesi Nyantakyi for allegedly soliciting bribes and kickbacks.