Beyond the Nigerian referees’ indemnities

The League Management Company, LMC, a group charged with running the Nigeria League until the end of the current season came up with a new innovation to help the Nigerian refereeing situation.

They decided to increase the indemnities of referees to one hundred thousand naira (about $660) per game.

Currently Nigerian referees are paid between fifty to sixty thousand naira (about $374) per game.

The referees are also given a transport allowance calculated based on the distance travelled to cover the game.

The decision to increase indemnities of referees has been applauded by fans, the media and the referees themselves but will that really stop the issue of bad refereeing in the Nigerian League?

Bad referees

There are some really bad and corrupt referees in the Nigerian League. There are those who will call officials of the club as soon as the appointment is made and say, “Na me dey come your match o. I hope say you get something for us.” Which simply means, I’m the one scheduled for your game so I hope you have made the right arrangements?”

No prizes for guessing what these right arrangements are.

These referees then go ahead to send their bank account details to you via text message and will be very disappointed if you do not transfer money to themto help you win the game in question.

One official of a Nigerian league club based in the South tells of a time a referee told his players during a game that they will surely lose because they refused to give him money.

“We lost that game through a penalty made up by the referee. We scored a goal that was disallowed too,” he said under the condition of anonymity.

Increasing the allowance of referees like these may be the solution because they are simply hungry and want money.

Maybe if they were paid more, they won’t need to be bribed and then bring the game to disrepute.

We also know that “a little is enough for a man who is not greedy” so a greedy man will want some more no matter how much he is paid.

But is the problem of referees in Nigeria only about money?

Security at stadia

The LMC should know that not all referees who make wrong calls do it because they have been compromised with money so they must look at how to plug all the loopholes.

One issue at our stadia is security or lack of it.

Enyimba’s assistant coach, Imama Amapakabor tells of a game he played in goal for Sharks against Iwuanyanwu Nationale in Owerri in 1994.

“A penalty was given to the home team and taken by Tony Nwigwe. I saved it and the referee told him not to worry that he will continue replaying it as long as I save them.

“I saved the second replay but the third time it was retaken it hit the bar and went out of play.

“Now I do not know why the referee did that if it was about security issues but at a game in Gombe against Gombe United the referee actually told me to let the home side score so we could all leave the stadium alive,” Amapakabor said.

The Team Manager of a club based in the South of Nigeria in the early 2000s told under the condition of anonymity that his tactics to get the best out of referees in his home matches were different yet more effective.

“After the pre-match meeting while the referees are resting in their rooms, they will get a knock on their door from housekeeping at the hotel.

“As soon as they open the door they have heavily armed men enter, show them their guns and simply warn them of the consequences if we do not win since the referees’ abode was no longer secret.

 “That was enough for the referees to behave themselves and we kept on winning our home games with that tactic,” the Team Manager said.

What the home clubs do

Managers of clubs are a big problem in Nigerian football and must be checked if the league will improve.

When a manager offers money to an upright referee and he turns it down, the same manager goes to tell the fans that the referee had already been bribed by the away side so he rejected their money.

“The referee comes to the stadium to meet hostile people telling him how he will be killed for daring to take money from the away side rather than them.

“This always works because these referees have families at home that they must return to and will do anything to be safe so they compromise in favour of the home side to appease the fans,” another team manager told

The home clubs, every single one of them in the Nigerian league each have a group of social miscreants also known as area boys on their payroll.

The brief of these boys is to threaten and intimidate referees. If results do not favour the home team at half time, these boys are let into the referees’ dressing room by the state Football Association officials to do the business.

Re-jigging the league rules

According to the Nigeria Professional Football League rules and regulations Article 3.4(1) on security at venues

A minimum of 50 law enforcement agents are required before the start of a game. However, the Match Commissioner shall commence matches if satisfied with the security available on ground.

Now fifty policemen in a league game could work in Abeokuta or Port Harcourt where the people hardly turn up for games but in places like Owerri, Ilorin, Kaduna and Kano where between five to forty thousand fans watch games then that number is not enough.

The League must review the laws and increase the number of policemen at our grounds, at least the forestall some of these circumstances.

The Oga at the top syndrome

Another issue that has affected good performance by Nigerian referees in the league is what I call the “Oga at the Top” symdrome.

This is where an influential and top ranking member of the league body or the Football Federation calls up a referee and tells him he has been sent to a particular game on a mission because “we are interested in that match”

The referee is told that the home side must win or the away side must not lose and he is promised more recommendation for CAF Champions League and Confederation Cup games and if he refuses, threatened that they will truncate his career as a referee.

More often than not these referees play ball and toe the line of their superiors. Now this has nothing to do with money or increasing their allowances, does it?

Big task for the League

The League Management Company, though interim have a big task on their hands to rebrand the Nigerian League.

When they leave, whoever takes over must continue from where they stopped.

Increasing indemnities for referees was okay but it was just a tiny drop of water in an ocean. The problem with Nigerian referees was never greed in itself.

Even if the referees are paid one million naira per game, what would they tell the Almajiri in Kano that want Kano Pillars to win every home game and just fifty policemen provided?

Who will rescue referees from the “Otimkpus” in Owerri and Aba or the ex militants in Port Harcourt?

It’s a bridge too far for the Nigerian League; it really is.

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  1. Increasing indemnities will not solve the problem. In fact, how much indemnity will overcome the types of threats that you mentioned in the article? I believe instituting an evaluation system will do more good. This is the case in the USA where a referee's performance is recorded on video and then evaluated. The result of the blind evaluation is used in determining how many games will be assigned, suspensions, etc. It is also used for education and training.