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Rival officials brawl at Nigeria soccer federation headquarters

2012 Olympic Games - Opening Ceremony

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 27: Sinivie Boltic of the Nigeria Olympic wrestling team carries her country’s flag during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on July 27, 2012 in London, England. (c) (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

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(AP) -- Rival officials brawled at the headquarters of Nigerian soccer on Friday after a group which claims it should be in charge broke down the front door, forced its way in, and punched the head spokesman and another staff member, the national federation said.

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The spokesman and second staff member traded punches with one of the men who forced their way in, while other NFF staff members were pushed around and harassed, the Nigerian Football Federation said in a statement.

Eventually NFF staff members, including the spokesman, the head of competitions, and the head of security, joined arms and rushed the invaders, forcing them out of the building, the federation said. Police were called to help, it said. The NFF released a photograph which it claims shows the front door of the building after it was broken open by the group of at least nine rival officials and other “thugs.”

The NFF said the group that broke in arrived in a “convoy of cars” in the early afternoon and was led by Chris Giwa, who claims he should be the head of Nigerian soccer and wants NFF President Amaju Pinnick to hand over power. Pinnick was not present at the NFF building, named Glass House, at the time of the break-in.

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In a separate release, the rival group said it took over the soccer federation premises legally according to a court order.

The NFF claimed the group earlier sent a representative to the HQ with an “unsigned, undated and thoroughly suspicious” piece of paper.

The conflict, the latest chaos to hit Nigerian soccer, threatens to lead to a ban from international soccer for the country. FIFA supports the leadership of Pinnick and has said if he is removed from his position it will open disciplinary proceedings against Nigeria. FIFA rules don’t allow outside interference in national soccer bodies and Nigeria was briefly banned from international soccer in 2010 and again in 2014 over problems at the federation.

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This dispute revolves around two separate elections for NFF president in 2014. Giwa claimed victory in the first but the results were nullified by FIFA. Pinnick was elected in a later vote. Giwa claims he has a Nigerian court order that recognizes him as the president.

Nigeria is a powerhouse of African soccer when it is not engulfed in chaos. The national team was the African champion in 2013, but failed to qualify for the next two African Cups amid player strikes, disputes between coaches and senior officials, and the issues at the federation.