There is some confusion about when Chelsea are required to release Victor Moses and John Obi Mikel for the African Cup of Nations, and neither the NFF or Rafa Benitez seem to have a firm handle on the rules
Nigerian football and Chelsea appear to be heading towards a fight over a pair of players, and frankly neither side seem to be fully aware of the rules involved in the matter. Ademola Olajire, a spokesman for the NFF, had the following to say about when the African nation was expecting John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses to report:
"The players are expected latest by January 4 according to the plan and schedule of the coach, so if anything will change, we have to be notified by the club."
This is just wrong, as Nigeria cannot force players to report that early. Chelsea do not need to release either player ahead of the January 4th "reporting date", or notify anyone of their intention not to do so. Fifa rules stipulate that the mandatory release is 14 days from the first game of the tournament, in this case, January 19*. That means that Chelsea are not required to release either player until after their game on January 5th, and that neither player is required to report to camp until January 7th.
*There is a bit of conflicting information on this rule, with some sources suggesting that it may be 14 days from the team's first game as opposed to the start of the tournament (January 21 in this case). Regardless, both will be allowed to participate January 5th but can be forced to leave before the first leg of the League Cup semifinal.
Rafa Benitez spoke about the situation today, and had the following to say about it:
"The tournament starts on the 19th (January), so they will go one or two weeks before. Maybe we can manage to keep them a little bit longer. We will talk with them. They know sometimes the players do not need to go early. But at least one week before the 19th, they have to be there."
Well Rafa would appear to be a bit off here as well*. It's not one or two weeks, with at least one week being required, it's 14 days. That is black and white in the rules, the players will both need to be released between the FA Cup and League Cup games unless Chelsea get special permission for the pair to stay longer.
*This type of thing bothered me while he was at Liverpool as well. "I don't have specifics yet, as the club are still looking into the matter. We'd prefer they stay a bit longer if possible" would have been a perfectly acceptable answer here.
As to the matter of whether or not the club has contacted the NFF about that permission, Olajire cleared that up:
"We have not been contacted by Chelsea over their wish to delay the release of our players for the Nations Cup"
There is no time frame for when this sort of request would need to be filed, but common sense would dictate that the club do so as soon as possible. That Chelsea have not would seem to indicate that Michael Emenalo is not intending to do so, although the request would likely fall on deaf ears anyway. Nigeria have certainly not been the easiest federation to deal with in the past, and other English clubs are having issues with them this season as well.
At this point it's unclear exactly how this will all play out, but I'd be expecting to see the pair available for each of the club's next three games before being released for national team duty. Regardless of when they are released, both are required to be back in London within 48 hours of their last game with Nigeria.