The NFF and the referees question

One of the landmark innovations or inclusions to Nigerian football brought about by new president of the Nigeria Football Federation, Amaju Pinnick is to take Nigerian referees to the United Kingdom for refresher courses/ capacity building.

The NFF president, Pinnick has been praised in most quarters for this “humongous” plan but is that really what the Nigerian referees need? I mean, is this the most important thing to be done?

Is it a case of majoring on the minors?

Do the referees need to be trained?

Everybody needs training and the referees have had enough of it, though they could do with some more.

But the question I have asked since the very day, Pinnick announced that gesture to save Nigerian referees was- Is that the solution to the referring situation in the country?

If the referees go to UK for that course will anything change?

I’m aware that the performance of Nigerian referees whenever they go for CAF Champions League and Confederation Cup games is top notch more often than not, so why do these same referees seem not to know the rules when they officiate in the Nigerian League? Has anyone asked that?

If our referees are good on the continent but poor within the country, then has anyone tried to find out what happens in the League that make them act contrary to whatever training they have previously received?

If the referees are re-trained in the UK wouldn’t they just perform well in Champions League games and still do poorly in the Nigerian League?

Different kinds of referees

I have said it time without number, on this blog, on my radio show and in my weekly beer parlour talks in Port Harcourt that there are three kinds of referees in Nigeria and we must analyse these three very well and the conditions under which they operate to understand the solution to their situation 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 them to help you win the game in question.

One official of a Nigerian league club based in the Southern part of the country once told of a time a referee told his players during a game that they will surely lose because the club officials 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.

Referees like these are simply criminal and no refresher course or capacity building program in the UK will change them.

These kind should be fished out and jailed because they bring the league to disrepute on weekly basis.

The good referee

There is the good referee in Nigerian football. He really wants to be good. He does not need a refresher course to teach him the laws of the game because he has gone through the mandatory years as a Referee In Training (RIT) and has done his time in the lower leagues, rising up to the top division.

He has also attended countless FIFA and CAF referee courses and passes his Cooper Test every year.

But before that big game, he was offered N500, 000.00 (about
$3,000) by officials of the home team and his brief was just to give a penalty to them before the end of the game if things got rough.

Most Nigerian referees I know will take the money. No prizes for guessing why 90% of penalties in the Nigerian League go to the home team, and 80% of that number are given within the final five minutes of games.

A two week refresher course/ capacity building program can change this kind of referee to become a really good referee, rally it can

The really good referee

There is the really good referee in Nigerian football who went through the mandatory years as RIT and started from the lower division and is now in the top league.

He has attended several FIFA and CAF referee seminars and passes his Cooper Test every year and he really want to rise more up the ladder.

He is picked for that big game and when officials of the home clubs approach him he turns down their overtures.

At the end of the game, it’s an away win or it ends in a draw when the home side really needed three points and all hell breaks loose at the stadium.

We have seen this situation countless times in the Nigerian league in Kano, Port Harcourt, Ibadan, Aba, Omoku, Bauchi, just name it. How can this really good referee remain good? How can this two week course help him if he faces the same situation next season?

What our referees really need

Our referees may want to go to the UK for refresher courses and the NFF may want to send them but that is not what they need.

A “Need” being something that is necessary but lacking goes beyond refresher courses. It is deeper than that.

Security at stadia

The Nigeria Football Federation president, Amaju Pinnick should know that not all referees who make wrong calls do it because they have been compromised with money.

Not all who make wrong calls also do it because they do not know the rules/ laws of the game.

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

Rangers’ assistant coach, Imama Amapakabor once told 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 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 which they think is from housekeeping at the hotel.

“As soon as they open the door they would 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.

Now clearly, good referees who are well trained will not thrive under the environment described above.

If Howard Webb has a gun to his head in a Nigerian League venue, he will surely create a penalty for the home side, no matter the kind of training he has received.

How good/ well trained referees suffer

A lot of times, when a manager offers money to an upright referee and he turns it down, the same manager goes to tell the fans (Street urchins on the payroll of the clubs) 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.

A course abroad is good, but that is the least of the problems of Nigerian referees.

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” syndrome.

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 how knowledgeable the referees are, does it?

Even if the referees are sent to courses at the FIFA headquarters conducted by Sepp Blatter himself, what would they tell the Almajiri in Kano that want Kano Pillars to win every home game with just less than one hundred policemen provided?

What kind of training will rescue referees from the “Otimkpus” in Owerri and Aba or the ex-militants in Port Harcourt and Yenagoa?

A training is good for anybody and in whatever profession you find yourselves in, but that is the least of the problems of the Nigerian referee.

The Amaju Pinnick led Nigeria Football Federation must clean up Nigerian football. They must improve security at the stadia; they must fish out the greedy referees and they must track down their own officials who force referees to make wrong calls.

These will do a lot for the Nigerian referees more than two weeks in posh UK hotels.

My two Kobo

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