Nigeria’s High Court ordered five top football bosses to face trial for corruption on Tuesday.
The five men are accused of stealing millions of dollars intended to develop the game in the country.
The men have been ordered to appear for trial on 1 July by Justice Ifeoma Ojukwu.
Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) president, Amaju Pinnick, and his four co-accused face 17 charges for financial crimes at a trial that will play out in the capital city of Abuja.
NFF vice presidents Seyi Akinwunmi and Shehu Dikko, as well as general secretary Mohammed Sanusi and executive committee member Ahmed Yusuf are Pinnick’s co-accused.
The alleged theft of US$8.4 million, paid by world governing body FIFA to Nigeria for participation in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil is at the center of this case.
The NFF officials are also accused of siphoning off funds by making unauthorized payments to player agents and arranging friendly matches that would never take place.
None of the five men turned up in court, having thus far avoided judicial summons in person. The men deny all the charges levelled against them, with NFF, a government-backed body, calling the accusations “frivolous and baseless.”
“We are expecting the accused persons, the defendants, to come to court and take their plea,” said prosecution lawyer Celsius Ukpong, from the Special Presidential Investigation Panel for the recovery of public property.
In 2015 Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari launched a campaign to prosecute corrupt officials who had stolen what he said were “mind-boggling” sums of public money.
The trial came to court after complaints against missing cash from NFF coffers meant to be used to develop the game in Nigeria. The NFF have thus far failed to account for the money paid to them by Fifa.
President of the Nigerian Players Union, Harrison Jalla, said corruption at the NFF was “endemic”, but that “hardly anyone has the courage to challenge it.”
Millions of dollars in funds to run the country’s most popular sport are allegedly unaccounted for, and the result is that the game is struggling at grass-roots levels.
Nigeria’s national and domestic league football teams have struggled because of funding from sponsorships pocketed at top levels, and not spent on the players, Jalla alleged.
“Sponsorships have been mismanaged, so that players who should be the main beneficiaries, are often left behind,” Jalla said.