Abuja, Nigeria — FIFA has given Nigeria one last chance to avoid a "lengthy' ban that would prevent the reigning champion from defending its title at next year's African Cup of Nations.
FIFA wants a court order nullifying recent Nigeria Football Federation elections to be rescinded by midday Friday Nigerian time, regarding it as government interference in football, which isn't allowed under the world body's rules.
FIFA said in a statement to The Associated Press that Nigeria has until the deadline to prove the court order has been withdrawn and the elected NFF leadership is able to work "without any hindrance." If Nigeria doesn't comply, FIFA said it will be banned from international football at least until FIFA's Congress in Zurich on May 28-29 next year.
That would mean Nigeria is thrown out of the ongoing qualifying campaign ahead of the start of the finals in January. None of its national or club teams would be able to play in international tournaments under a FIFA suspension.
Nigeria's football federation has been in turmoil for months and it has been warned repeatedly.
The country — which made the last 16 of the World Cup in Brazil — was already suspended from internationals for nine days in July after previous NFF President Aminu Maigari was detained by security forces on his return from the World Cup and ousted from office. A new leadership was then installed in government-backed elections that were not recognized by FIFA. Maigari was reinstated and oversaw proper elections on Sept. 30, when Amaju Pinnick was voted in as new NFF President.
But FIFA said the Nigerian government is interfering again after "persons claiming to have been legitimately elected previously went to occupy the offices of the NFF."
"We also have been informed that security forces prevented the (new) NFF President from travelling to Namibia where he was supposed to represent the NFF at the final match of the African Women's Championship," FIFA said.
Nigeria is also the African women's champion after winning the title last weekend, but was nearly prevented from playing in that game because of the federation problems, the NFF said. The African women's final only went ahead after Confederation of African Football President Issa Hayatou, who is also a FIFA vice president, pleaded with his FIFA colleagues to give Nigeria one more chance, according to the NFF.
According to the federation, Hayatou met with Nigeria sports minister Tammy Danagogo at the African women's championship in Namibia and told the minister that "FIFA and CAF have had it up to their neck with Nigeria."