Nigerian Referees
Nigerian Referees
No doubt, in recent seasons, the NPFL has had rave reviews. The LMC has brought innovations that have put the league in good light. Innovations like the Friday Night Football, cheerleaders etc. have brought more panache to the league and improved crowd attendance. It is no longer out of place to see families hanging out at league venues. 

But a major threat to the progress being made in the league is bad officiating. The NPFL/LaLiga partnership means we have set our sight on putting in place a league in the mould of Laliga. But to actualise this dream, officiating MUST improve. 

After match day 27, the league has recorded just nine away victories, a far cry from what prevailed last season and the penultimate one. In fact, a drastic reduction in the away victories has been witnessed from 2014/15, 2015/16 to the current season. The key reason many adduce to this drop in away victories is poor officiating. 

Why it has become very important to address the issue of teams being able to win away from home is the fact that in the past two seasons, the team with the highest away victories had won the title. In the 2014/15 season, Enyimba triumphed after winning five times on away soil. Last term, Rangers won three away matches. Incidentally, this season, Plateau United, the team at the top of the log, has won more away matches than other teams (2). So the fortunes of the teams revolve around their exploits on away soil. So the atmosphere MUST be made conducive to harvest those away points. For the away teams to get favourable results, officiating has to be fair. 

A stakeholder had attributed this drop in away victories to the level of competitiveness of the league. He believes the games are now closely fought as the clubs have closed down the gaps among themselves. This is neither here nor there. 

Salient questions; Is there corruption in the league? Do teams bribe match officials? Do match officials get orders ‘from above’ to influence outcome of matches? Looking for answers to these questions is akin to seeing the inscription ‘bail is free’ in a Police station. Don’t be deluded by that inscription. Do your best possible not to ‘need bail’ because the very moment you need to be bailed, you will know whether it is actually free.

You keep hearing ‘the referees are not bribed’ but weekly, somebody is crying foul. Depending on whether you are home this week or away next week, you, somehow at some point, find yourself at the receiving end. The beneficiary this week could be the victim next week. So is it actually spirits who are giving and receiving these things? 

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Fact: for every taker, there is a giver. If you don’t give, there is nothing to take. So to this week’s away club chairman who complained that his host influenced the match officials, did he hear the post match rantings of his guest club chairman last week? Who influenced that particular match? Perhaps, it was Clement Nwankpa Jr.

At the beginning of the season, the clubs agreed not to bribe referees. But what do we have now? If nobody is financially inducing these referees, we won’t have this widespread allegations. Why are we having an increase in penalties for home teams? FC Ifeanyi Ubah has had 12; Lobi, 9 etc. Yet most of these teams rarely get penalties on away matches. 

Well, it could also be argued that the away teams rarely get penalties because they attack less. But, then, that’s also because most of them believe whatever happens, they will lose. So, as soon as they turn out for that away match, they ‘park the bus’ so as to reduce the damage. 

As the league enters the homestretch, there is need for all stakeholders to be on the same page. LMC, club chairmen, Referees Appointments Committee (RAC) and Nigeria Referees Association (NRA) should join hands to check this cankerworm. 

LMC has set out with genuine intentions to package a league that ranks among the best in the world. The league organisers will need the cooperation of the clubs, who are the direct beneficiaries of LMC’s groundbreaking efforts. If the clubs don’t influence the referees, LMC won’t have the problem of poor officiating to contend with. 

If the RAC and NRA saddled with appointment and supervisory roles over the match officials tag along with LMC, some referees won’t be emboldened in these shameful acts. Fact: Between the RAC, NRA and club chairmen, every referee that throws a match away, draws confidence from somewhere. If all the parties say ‘No!’, we wouldn’t be faced with this problem. 

A referee once confessed to me that they (the Nigerian referees) can compare to the best in the world if not swayed by external influences. In his argument, for them to give their best, the ‘ogas on top’ should reduce the ‘instructions’ and ‘counter-instrections’ dished out to them prior to matches. 

But, can LMC come up with ingenious ways to check this menace that is threatening all its good works? They can no longer fall back and watch others undermine its efforts. They are the ones who go out in search of sponsorship for the league. The state of the product they are marketing should be of paramount importance. 

I’m just trying to proffer an elixir. Can we have a sudden swap of match officials on the eve of matches? That way, club officials won’t have access to these referees before matches because they wouldn’t, in the first place, know who would be handling the matches. That’s just one suggestion. There could be other devices that will ensure we have some sanity during this homestretch. 

I understand LMC’s quest not to be seen as influencing the league winners hence they merely organise and create an enabling environment while allowing relevant independent arms to choose and supervise the match officials. But the league organisers need to put their feet on the ground and ensure their trailblazing efforts are not eroded. They should POSSES the league lest it slips from their fingers.

By Clement Nwankpa Jr

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