The 2015/2016 Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) which kicked off on a promising note came to an inglorious end after some sad incidents that threatened to affects is credibility.
Despite efforts of the League Management Company (LMC) to reposition the top-flight, some undesirable elements are bent on retarding the progress of the league through their selfish interests.
The LMC, under the leadership of Shehu Dikko has drawn applause from major stakeholders, due to its ability to attract sponsorship from the corporate world which, hitherto, shied away from the league.
It is worthy to note that the management of the LMC has been able to ensure sanity in the NPFL, as hooliganism, which is associated with the league in the past is now gone.
People who have shunned the stadia as a result poor officiating and bad pitches have now returned, as the match venues are now secure to host high-profile matches, while those which could not have been ‘rested’.
A perfect case is the sanction placed on Giwa Football Club of Jos, which was expelled from the NPFL after failing to honour three home matches, following its banishment to Ilorin as a result of crowd trouble at the Rwang Pam Stadium, Jos.
The LMC, which has been applauded for prompt payment of indemnities to match officials, capped a memorable season with the signing of a partnership with the Spanish La Liga, one that saw an NPFL select eleven take on some top La Liga sides in an international friendly in July.
In spite of all these successes, in the first half of the season, there is a lot of room for improvement in the area of officiating, as most teams in the second-round were desperate to win at home at all cost. This ugly syndrome was made possible by the active collaboration of some ‘powers that be’ in the Referees’ Appointment Committee, who picked referees who failed the Cooper Test to officiate high-profile matches to favour home teams.
Only last Wednesday, the centre referee that officiated the first semi-final of this year’s Federation Cup was seriously beaten for disallowing a genuine goal scored by Crown FC of Ogbomosho against FC IfeanyiUbah, as angry fans invaded the Ahmadu Bello Stadium, Kaduna, to protest his handling of the match.
This same referee was the one in charge when FC IfeanyiUba against Warri Wolves in the quarter-final of the Federation Cup, where he disallowed two genuine goals scored by the Sea-siders.
One wonders why this same referee was allowed to officiate another high-profile game involving IfeanyiUbah if it was not a calculated attempt to favour them and ensure that they get to play continental football next season.
Something needs to be done, urgently, to restore sanity to the system if we are to get a true champion that will fly the country’s flag in the continent, as most teams who represented us in the past failed because they were not true champions of the league.
There is a need to hire consultants to appoint referees to officiate the last league matches, in order to ensure that undue advantage is not given to desperate teams who are either eyeing a continental ticket or trying to avoid relegation.
As a matter of fact, matches involving teams from the same region should not have referees from that zone officiating them, in order to avoid bias and give room to match-fixing.
The situation in the Nigeria National League (NNL) is even worse; so much so that desperate teams eyeing promotion to the top-flight influence the appointment of referees for the match involving their closest challengers, so as to ensure that they lose at all cost.
The same scenario played out last weekend when a respected FIFA-graded referee, who is also a senior military officer was appointed to handle a game involving two promotion contenders in the NNL, with aim of ensuring that he favoured an ‘anointed’ team.
The NNPFL has ended, but the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), being the custodian of soccer in the country, needs to keep an eye on the activities of its Referees’ Appointment Committee, in order to ensure that only competent and qualified referees are allowed to officiate the last matches.
The Minister for Youth & Sports Development, Solomon Dalung, should beam the ministry’s searchlight on the league, in order to expose the endemic corruption pervading the system, as encapsulated in the ‘change’ mantra of the president Muhammedu Buhari-led government.
It is high time the Economic & Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Offences Commission (ICPC) take a critical look at the activities of some football administrators, with a view to restoring sanity to the system.
Akindong sent in this piece from Jos, Plateau State.