Okiki Afolabi Abscondment: The Legal Implications

It is no longer news that Okiki Afolabi, who at a time was the front runner for this Glo NPFL season Highest Goal Scorer award abandoned his contract at Sunshine Stars of Akure to embark on a foreign sojourn under the guidance of Marcelo Housemann, a football agent. To the shock of many Nigerian football fans, Okiki left Sunshine Stars at a time he was the leading scorer in the Nigerian league and ended up in Argentina, a country with no record of being a platform from which any Nigerian player has ever achieved great things in the beautiful game.

Many Nigerians were dumbfounded that Okiki who seemingly had the world at his feet would take such a step, and we all were expectant, waiting for a pronouncement to be made on his next career move in the days after we received the news.

The days have turned to weeks, weeks are now turning to months and yet all we hear is that Okiki is training with some Argentine club preparatory to making a move. When this move will happen, I don’t know. But one thing I know is that the summer transfer window in most countries closes by 31st of August, which is but a few weeks ahead.

Meanwhile, in Okiki’s absence, the league has been going on. Godwin Obaje has eclipsed him at the top of the scorer’s chart and people like Abdulrahman Bashir is in red hot form and just a goal short of Okiki’s 13 goals and it is safe to bet that in the next two games he (Bashir) will overtake Okiki and push him (Okiki) further down the top scorers’ charts.

Also in Okiki’s absence the NPFL have called together an All Stars Team selected from the best legs in the league to proceed on a playing tour of Spain where they will play against three top La Liga club sides. These games will no doubt put the players in the spotlight of clubs and scouts from Spain and around Europe, and certainly anyone that does well in those games will most probably move to Europe before the transfer window closes on the 31st.

It is not in any doubt that Okiki would have been in that team based on his current form and prowess, and position as the leagues top scorer. There is no doubt that with his quality, Okiki would have made an impact in Spain. But alas Okiki is in Argentina, training with an unknown Argentine team, for reasons best known to him and Mr. Housemann.

In Okiki’s absence too, Chisom Chikatara has joined WAC of Morocco from Abia Warriors. Ifeanyi Matthew has joined Lillestrom of Norway from Kano Pillars. Other league stars like Anthony Okpotu, Bernard Ovoke, Emmanuel Edmund etc are trying out with various clubs in Europe hoping to get lucrative new deals before the window closes.

As an intermediary registered with the Nigerian Football Federation, I took an instant interest in Okiki when his name started popping up in the scorer’s chart as I am always on the look out for good talent to export to foreign clubs. When I read in the sporting press that Okiki terminated his contract with Sunshine Stars over unpaid salaries.As a seasoned sports lawyer, I decided to investigate this.

From news reports immediately after Okiki absconded it became clear that he was on loan with Sunshine Stars from Prime FC of Oshogbo. It was from Prime FC too that he played for 3SC on loan in the past.

I have been in touch with the management of Prime FC and they showed me documents in proof of this. So even if Okiki was being owed by Sunshine, even if he could terminate his contract with them what it means is that he then returns to his parent club being Prime FC.

Since April 1st 2015, a player can terminate his contract with JUST CAUSE if he is owed salaries for more than 30 days (one month). The previous period was 90 days (three months). This is captured in Article 12 bis of the FIFA Regulations for the Status and Transfer of Players 2015.

However, there are certain steps to be taken before a player can terminate his contract with JUST CAUSE. Let’s glean this by taking a look at the relevant Article 12bis:

12bis Overdue payables
1.Clubs are required to comply with their financial obligations towards players and other clubs as per the terms stipulated in the contracts signed with their professional players and in the transfer agreements.
2.Any club found to have delayed a due payment for more than 30 days without a prima facie contractual basis may be sanctioned in accordance with paragraph 4 below.
3.In order for a club to be considered to have overdue payables in the sense of the present article, the creditor (player or club) must have put the debtor club in default in writing and have granted a deadline of at least ten days for the debtor club to comply with its financial obligation(s).

In Okiki’s case, he did not inform Sunshine Stars in writing in line with paragraph 3 above. So, even if it is not in doubt that he is being owed many months salaries, unless the proper steps are taken he is still bound by law to his loan agreement with Sunshine.

That means that what he has done is to terminate his contract unilaterally, without just cause. The consequences of such an action is that if he attempts to join another club, or if his parent club report him, he may be made to pay a huge fine and also be banned from playing.

17 Consequences of terminating a contract without just cause
The following provisions apply if a contract is terminated without just cause:
1.In all cases, the party in breach shall pay compensation.

3. In addition to the obligation to pay compensation, sporting sanctions shall also be imposed on any player found to be in breach of contract.

At this point in his career, this kind of drama is not what Okiki needs. Okiki should instead be thinking of genuinely moving on to greater things in his career either in Nigeria or in any of the numerous clubs genuinely interested in him.

If Okiki returns to Nigeria and doesn’t move but plays and goes ahead to end the season as one of the top three goals scorers in the league,  his profile will rise even bigger and definitely he will make a good move in the January window. But even in this summer window, I know that there are at least 5 solid offers waiting for him should he ever resurface from Argentina.

Anyone who knows anyone who knows anyone who knows anyone who knows Okiki should candidly advice him to retrace his footsteps back to Nigeria and back to his club so they can put heads together to forge a way forward before he destroys his promising career in Argentina following Mr. Houseman. If I remember correctly, Victor Obinna Nsofor missed out on a chance to go to Holland 2015 World Cup because of issues arising from a dispute when Mr. Housemann took him to Brazil where he could not be cleared to play. Only when he retraced his footsteps to Enyimba International was he later able to regain his composure and move to join Chievo Verona in Italy.

The legal implications of terminating his contract without just cause, or abandoning his contract are dire and not what Okiki needs at this point in his career. He should come back to Nigeria immediately to save his career.