By Ade Ojeikere
Are you a Nigerian referee with the habit of travelling without extra cash or means of withdrawing money to tackle emergencies? Then you should read this. Referees assigned to handle a game in Enugu were held hostage by the owners of one of the hotels. The hotel’s management alleged that they were being owed colossal sums of money from doing the business of housing match referees and officials in the last two years. They threatened to lock-in the referees. Worried by their unforeseen predicament, the referees contacted a top club official in Enugu, who went there to settle the accommodation for the number of days they would spend for the game.
Did I hear you ask if the home team rescued the referees? Very intelligent question. Certainly not. This home team is on record locked out referees who handled a week one game from the hotel where they lodged. They committed this shameful act simply because they lost the game. Such a team can’t rescue anyone. This hotel in Enugu revealed that they had been owed debts in millions and would have nothing to do with the organisers’ promises going by previous experiences.
In fact, the home side, Ifeanyi Ubah FC had to send emissaries to their owner for them to honour the game against Jigawa. Ifeanyi Ubah’s owner was bitter that his club was banished to Enugu and fined N3.5 million by organisers who hadn’t given the clubs a kobo in the last three years. The owner’s angst was hinged on the fact that the organisers who have shown disdain towards the clubs, could also have the temerity to ask them to foot the bills of referees and match officials, wondering where the body thought club owners get their cash from. Indeed, the coronavirus pandemic worsened matters with the absence of fans at the stadium. Did I hear you ask if fans truly watch the games or pay to watch them? If you ask me, who would I ask?
While negotiations were ongoing to get the club owner Ifeanyi Ubah to rescind his decision of having nothing to do with the organisers, the visitors, Jigawa FC of Dutse had been in town for four days until when the game was played on Tuesday morning. Jigawa raised the alarm with the organisers, threatening to seek all avenues for redress if they didn’t provide guarantees to pay for the extra days spent in honouring the game. Sources revealed that Jigawa got the message they wanted to hear from the league organisers. It remains to be seen if the organisers would honour their promises.
While the horse-trading to get the game played was playing out itself, the referees didn’t know the magnitude of the precarious setting they had found themselves in until they tried to leave the hotel for the game’s pre-match formalities. The hotel management stopped them. They could only leave the premises when a top Enugu State FA chief came with the cash to pay for the referees’ freedom.
Having handled the morning game, the referees headed back home the same day instead of staying in the hotel to rest their limbs. Who does that in a properly structured organisation? Will you blame the match officials? This serves as a warning to referees to ask the organisers critical questions bothering on their safety and stay in cities where they are expected to handle games. The referees should also make alternative arrangements for their accommodation. Hitherto, the rules were for the match officials to report at the state FA secretariat where they have a game when they get there. It was then the duty of the host State’s FA chiefs to take their guests to the hotel and ensure their movement before, during, and after games, including their security whilst in the state.
With the huge debts as a result of lack of sponsorship packages from the corporate world, the organisers in their wisdom thought they had a partner with the clubs. Typical of most Nigerian setups, the clubs have abused the processes culminating in the series of pain caused the match officials and other anomalies that have dogged the league since it hurriedly began last year. Need I remind you, dear readers of the centre referee who had to stop the game between Sunshine and Nasarawa United FC in Akure penultimate Sunday on grounds that his life and that of his fellow officials were unsafe? He, however, returned the next morning to continue the game, having been guaranteed and he must have seen enough security personnel before he walked onto the pitch to restart the game.
”The League Management Company (LMC) ruled that Sunshine Stars are to pay N2million for the disruption of the match and for the harassment of the match officials. The Akure club is also to pay N1m (N1,000,000) from which compensation is to be paid to the match officials; and another N500,000 for misconduct capable of bringing the game to disrepute.
”Sunshine Stars have also been ordered to play its next two home matches of Matchday 17 and 19 in Lagos and which shall be reviewed upon provision of a satisfactory stadium security plan.” Fair ruling.
We haven’t forgotten the shameful incident where the game between Ifeanyi Ubah FC and visiting Kano Pillars was taken to Port Harcourt by the organisers without prior notice to the Rivers State FA, according to the body’s boss, Christopher Green. Stories from the match hinted that one of the teams only brought out N20,000 for all the match logistics. Perhaps, only one team was informed of the new venue earlier than the other. Fix the jigsaw, please. Rivers FA as the host took charge and delivered the game without hitches. Why always Ifeanyi Ubah FC, many discerning minds may ask? Do they know how to fight for their rights? Their management’s methods may just be an infringement on the law having been pushed to the wall. Who won’t fight back?
Former Super Eagles goalkeeper Dele Aiyenugba told the media penultimate weeks how fans in Kaduna stormed the Ahmadu Bello Stadium in Kaduna switched off the referee’s dressing room’ lights and rained blows and slaps on the centre referee at the interval. Aiyenugba and his colleagues were not shocked when the referee changed his style of officiating and awarded a penalty kick to Kano Pillars in their temporary home against Kwara United. Would you blame the referee? Who wants to be killed? No prize for guessing that Kwara United lost, although Aiyenugba’s comments don’t necessarily stand for the true account.
For matches where there were restrictions on the fans, how come urchins gained entrance into the stadium to such an extent that they had the guts to storm the dressing room to humiliate the referee, according to Aiyenugba’s account which may not be the whole truth to the incident. But if there was adequate television coverage with both teams filming it through their own cameras, we would have had visuals that captured the ugly scenario and the thugs made to face the wrath of the law.
The clubs were told to ensure they have at least N400 million in their respective accounts before the commencement of this season. Yet, Heartland FC of Owerri players and officials are complaining about being owed wages running into years and the owners of the club paying deaf ears to these people’s plight. What these owners of clubs forget is that these players, coaches, and backroom staff earn a living for what they do with Heartland, for instance. Not paying them their wages monthly and other entitlements as at when due, not to talk about owing them running into years ruin their lives, especially with the prevalent economic recession and the imminent threat from the Coronavirus pandemic. These people have families to take care of. Have the state governors of these debtor clubs pondered how such people can educate their kids or how they meet with their families’ responsibilities? Do these governors expect these workers to steal for those who don’t have relations to loan them monies to at least feed their kids? Today, nobody can say how much our clubs are worth. Nobody dares ask how much players earn since many cannot remember when they were last paid.
Solutions to key problems affecting the league are embedded in the body’s constitution. For instance, it is stated clearly in the rules book that no club should be registered except such a club has cleared all its debts. So, how come clubs are still owing the players and officials’ debts running in millions or should I say billions? The truth is that those who are running the league don’t have the courage to sanction the clubs who have rescued them from problems such as paying for match officials.
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