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Sports: Many pains of Nigerian referees

Sports: Many pains of Nigerian referees

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Due to problems with  hooliganism and poor welfare, Idris Adesina  writes that Nigerian referees have found it difficult earning respect from fans and attract international attention

When Callistus Chukwujekwu became a referee at 19, he never knew what the future held in store for him until events began unfolding in years to come.

He got into football refereeing in 1980 after his secondary education in the South-East. The school’s policy requires that every student, who leaves the school, would have to serve in the school or church for a year.

Chukwujekwu retired in 2006 from active refereeing after officiating in the domestic league and international matches. He is currently a CAF Referee Instructor but says it is not easy being a referee in Nigeria because it has more pains than gains.

He said, “Refereeing in other parts of the world has evolved over the years but the same cannot be said of Nigeria. Only a little development has been witnessed while the pains and challenges remain as much as they have been.”

History of refereeing in Nigeria

Refereeing in Nigeria could be traced to the advent of the sport in the country but it is difficult to give a particular date and year to it.

According to FIFA/CAF instructor, Linus Mba, Nigeria has over 3000 referees out of which more than 100 are FIFA/CAF referees.

The Nigeria Football Federation Referee Committee member is not happy with the challenges facing referees in the country.

However, he paid tribute to the pioneers of refereeing in the country.

“The game started in the country during the colonial days and during the early 40s we had brilliant referees represented by the late Rev. Fr. S J Slattery and the late Sunny Badru as the real pioneers of refereeing in Nigeria,” Mba told our correspondent in an interview.

Over the years names such as Mba, James Odeniran, Alex Mana, Tade Azeez, Chukwujekwu, Peter Edibi, Faith Irabor, Jemila Buhari, Bola Abidoye and Ahmed Maude have distinguished themselves in domestic and international refereeing.


Nigeria Referees Association President, Tade Azeez, says his love for   football attracted him to refereeing. He loved Stationery Stores of Lagos and was always sad each time the club lost a game.

Later his his boss, Muyiwa Shobande, who was a referee at the time, introduced him to refereeing.

He said, “The rivalry between Stores and NEPA then was so intense that each time Stores got beaten, be it home or away, I always felt very sad.

“On a particular occasion, it was my very good friend, Fatai Amao, who scored the winning goal against Stores and as usual I was sad for days. This went on until my boss, Mr Shobande, who was a referee then, told me to become a referee to ease the pain since I had a good knowledge of the game.

“I bought the idea and since then I didn’t look back because it helped me to stop worrying when any team loses a match. Refereeing is like a project to me in a sport that meant so much to me. That was why I stayed back after retiring from it to bring up younger referees who will do the country proud.”

Chukwujekwu said, “I was brought up to love the truth for what it is and refereeing gives me the opportunity to exact same. Whoever you are, the rules are above you on the pitch of play. You either abide by them or get sent off.

“So I love the feeling of fairness and justice I do administer when I am on the field of play.”

A Professor in the Department of Human Kinetics and Health Education, University of Ibadan and a FIFA/CAF Referees Instructor, Babatunde Asagba, said passion keeps referees in the job because the challenges are such that could make one quit especially at the initial stages.

He said, “Being a referee is a thing of choice. One has to love the sport for what it is and not for what it can bring. In a country like Nigeria where referees face many difficult times, being a referee has to come out of passion and love for it.”


Many referees have been beaten and left with varying degrees of injuries in the domestic league.

Despite the prospects they have, the referees in the country are faced with many pains and challenges which hamper their effective adjudication of matches.

Mba said, “The challenges referees face have always been engineered by passion, ignorance and commercialisation.

“Football has the largest following than any other sports – readily accessible and as such attract spectators with varying levels of understanding of the game and how it should be played.

“The issue of security for matches is now attracting specialised attention and this has improved the environment under which referees operate. A safe environment has always been the best for football refereeing as this creates opportunities for fair play and best entertainment for spectators.

“Today commercialisation has its own impact. The stakes are high and desperation to win has become intense; talking less of the subtle pressures now being imposed on referees by clandestine spectator lotteries.”

Chukwujekwu said, “I was also beaten many times in the league. When the fans know that you cannot be bought by their clubs, they resort to violence.”

Nigerian referees are among the lowest-paid in the world. According to International Federation of Football History and Statistics, the South African Premier League pays the highest indemnities of referees in Africa.

The League Management Company in 2013 announced N100, 000 for Nigerian league referees   but it is alleged that the referees actually earn between N50, 000 and N60, 000.

Poor welfare scheme   has affected the standards of some the domestic league and the referees.

On December 22, a referee, Basit Giwa, died while undergoing a fitness test with his colleagues at Ibadan. Giwa was reported to have completed his 12 laps of the High Intensity Test when he lost consciousness and died while being taken to the hospital.

Azeez said, “Fitness is a very important aspect of refereeing. This issue has caused a lot of referees to be dropped for international engagements because they present certificates not at par with their state of health. When CAF conducts their own tests, they fail. This is why the NRA conducts regular fitness tests for the referees in the country.

“Refereeing face a lot of challenges in Nigeria and the bulk of it borders on welfare. Although there is no excuse for any referee to go against the rules of the game by being compromised, we are working assiduously with the various league bodies to improve the welfare of the referees.”

 Becoming a referee in Nigeria

To become a referee in Nigeria, one of the conditions states that one must have a job, according to the NRA rules.

“In countries like South Africa, refereeing has become a profession whereby most individuals   abandon their other jobs to concentrate mainly on it because the conditions there are favourable. A referee, who has got to the level of officiating in the Premier League, has something coming in for him every month either he officiates or not, so they can actually plan with the income,” Chukwujekwu said.

“It has not achieved that level here in Nigeria and the only thing that can keep a person in refereeing is the passion and the love of the game. If one has no alternative source of income, his challenges.”

Mba said, “I would like to emphasise that for now in Nigeria it has to be accepted as hobby.”

 Referees, players, fans and clubs

In 2013, the Chairman of the Nigeria National League,Emeka Inyama, claimed referees were the major problem facing the development of the domestic league.

“The referees are not helping the league at all and we have been speaking with their Organising Committee and we will punish severely any referee trying to drag the name of the league through the mud,” Inyama said.

Chukwujekwu says the relationship between a referee and league clubs, fans and players is a matter of personal integrity.

He said, “In my many years of service as a referee in Nigeria, I faced a lot of problems with clubs and their players. But with time, when they got used to my style, they don’t offer me such things again and many clubs preferred that I officiate in matches concerning them because they knew I couldn’t be bought.

“What is happening now has been there for long and the cause is the fact that different people came into refereeing for different reasons. When you take your stand as a referee, you will be respected for who you are and what you stand for, despite the challenges you may face at the initial level.”

Mba said, “There is no group of persons in Nigeria that is free of this accusation and it is generally difficult to prove. With a population of three thousand referees, it is unrealistic to assume all referees are angels.

“From the area of football refereeing there are checks and balances. Very good referee assessors can easily determine referees that are compromised following the guidelines and the referees are aware of the consequences of unethical behaviour on the field of play.”

Prospects, successes and failures

Nigerian referees have achieved some level of success on the continent but have yet to make headway at the world stage.

In 2015, many Nigerian referees and assistant referees officiated at various international competitions. Benjamin Odey was at the centre in the match between AS Police of Benin and Accra Hearts of Oak in the CAF Confederation Cup. Ferdinand Udoh officiated in the match between South Africa and Cameroon at the CAF U-17 Africa Cup of Nations in Niger Republic. He was also in the centre of the CAF Champions League match between Stade Malien of Mali and Manga Sports of Gabon. Edibi was the only Nigerian referee at the Africa Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea.

Hadiza Musa was at the centre of the Olympic qualifying match between Ivory Coast and Zimbabwe in July while Uloma Nwogu was the referee for the 2016 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup qualifier between Burkina Faso and Ethiopia in October.

Opeyemi Amao, Isah Usman, Abdullaah Shuaibu and Henry Ogunyamodi were also on continental duties.

Jelili Ogunmuyiwa officiated in the 2015 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in Portugal.

Chukwujekwu officiated at the 2001 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Trinidad and Tobago, where he officiated in two matches.

Chukwujekwu said, “For the world to recognise you as a referee, you need to be recommended quite early but that is not the case in Nigeria. Before Edibi in 2013, I was the last Nigerian referee to officiate at the finals of any FIFA organised competition, which was in 2001.

“That is a very bad record for a country of Nigeria’s size and prowess in the sport. Our attitude and approach to things like that is really affecting our chances of operating at that level.”

Adebimpe Quadri from Lagos, 24, is currently youngest FIFA referee in Nigeria. He got his badge in December 2015 for the football year 2016.

“Ferdinand Udoh is one of the brightest prospects we have at present,” Asagba said.

“The media should help publicise the good acts of these referees more to enable them to gain international prominence rather than their bad sides alone. These things stand for or against us at that level. If we keep it at this pace, he should be at the next World cup in 2018.”


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