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Tough times for Nigerian referees seeking to go professional

A Nigerian referee on duty
by Ijeoma Okigbo, AIPS Member
Abuja, May 14, 2018 - Refereeing in Nigeria has in the past been treated as a part-time engagement, but the refs are slowly embracing the trade as a full time job. As football in Africa continues to go professional, referees have not been left behind. Some have even abandoned high paying jobs to focus on refereeing. Investigation by AIPS media reveals that the League Management Company (LMC), the organizers of the Nigerian league pay about 120, 000 naira per game (about 334 USD) to the referees in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL), the country’s top tier. The above amount is relatively a good monthly pay in Nigeria but sometimes the referees are allegedly being lobbied by club administrators to officiate in favour of certain teams thereby creating basis for bad officiating. Besides, these referees have a lot of challenges in discharging their duties. Input of Club Administrators This is one of the ills of good officiating in Nigeria and Africa as a whole. Emmanuel Zira, the chairman of Adamawa United Football Club, a second tier side in Nigeria, accused the club owners of being the architect of bad officiating in the country. “Officiating is part of football and therefore we need to raise the quality of officiating in our league. It is a fact that there are good referees and bad ones too,” Zira told AIPS media. “But it must also be emphasized that we (club owners) are the architect of this bad officiating, because it takes two to tango. “If you don’t give, they (referees) will not collect. “If club owners make it a collective decision not to give money to referees and instead work with LMC to increase the referees’ package, then our league will grow. “This is the only way we can bring out the best in our coaches. Otherwise they will just fold their arms and expect the club management to win matches for them,” he said. Bribing referees could mean we have probably been grooming lazy coaches in Nigeria who expect the clubs to win matches for them. At the moment, Nigerian referee Joseph Ogabor is serving a one year ban by CAF for trying to manipulate the first leg playoff tie between the NPFL champions Plateau United and USM Alger of Algeria in favour of his Nigerian home side. Fans As we all know, football is a religion in Nigeria and the fans contribute immensely to its growth or destruction. It is regrettable to say that in the NPFL, fans are not educated on how to conduct themselves at match venues. It is almost impossible to go through a season without an incident of crowd violence or harassment of referees. If officiating does not favour a section of the crowd, violence is almost inevitable. A week ago, Heartland Football Club was fined 6.25 million naira (about 17,361 US Dollars) by the LMC over fans assault on referee Yusuf Garba, injuring him badly during Match day 18 against NPFL defending champions Plateau United. This incessant situation makes referees bow to the yearnings of the crowd for sake of their lives. Some are openly threatened with their lives making the profession very tricky. Limited Security These referees are not even confident that the security (usually policemen) provided at match venues can save them from the anger of the crowd. The number of policemen at the stadia is usually one tenth of the crowd, if at all it is up to that. They cannot even protect themselves well enough let alone saving match officials when the heat is on. Little wonder referees fall victim always to violence at match venues. Zira wants security operatives at match venues to be trained in crowd management. “I cannot remember the last time any security agent was trained on crowd management and this is perhaps the reason why referees lives are always on the line. “This is because the security operatives are poorly trained and we as administrators should begin to look at that,” he said. Zira was also quick to point out that poor officiating, which reduces the quality of the league contributes to the country’s weak performance in continental tournaments. Meanwhile, Sharif Rabiu Inuwa, Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Referees Committee chairman, shortly after his appointment said the present board is committed to ensuring transparency in refereeing decisions. “The NFF Referees Committee under my leadership will offer zero tolerance for non-transparency in refereeing matches during the 2017/2018 season. Our referees must show highest possible level of dedication, integrity and transparency in all their decisions. “We are very much determined not to stop at anything to install a refereeing structure that benefits the standard of the game in Nigeria while promoting the game and sustaining rapid development of our country’s football culture” Inuwa said. It is however, pertinent for Nigerian fans to be conscious of the fact that referees are humans and the league can only improve if we provide a safe platform for our referees to operate.
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