By Amaechi Agbo
Like every other noble profession, the act of being a referee, the football arbiter, that has the final say in any match, comes with its joy and worry. Cheer and fear: things that invariably should not be.
In the glorious days of football, referees are adored, respected, honoured and even worshiped by players, football administrators and most importantly, the football fans.
I recall the first match I played in my league back then years ago. The first time I came close to talk to the referee I was afraid. Fans dare not go close to the referee because he is a “god.”
Unfortunately, it appears that the days of referees being treated with dignity and honour have elapsed. It appears that our football culture have been bastardised so much so that children and adults no longer respect the referee. So much so that sports administrators and league organisers as well as fans not longer accord them their deserved position in our society.
Since the commencement of Nigeria Professional Football League in 1972, never in the history of the league have our referees had it this bad as they did last season and currently the one-week old 2018/19 season.
On 13 January, the 2018/19 NPFL kicked off after seven months of crisis-indunced break.
The starting of the league came without it’s challenges particularly with an abridged format of which stakeholders in the sector had voiced their concerns.
Then the ominous sign first came in during Plateau United and FC Ifeanyiubah Matchday 1 in which the match officials including the centre referee, Sam Agba were assualted.
While Nigerian football family were condemning the barbaric act, news filtered in from Katsina that coach of the Katsina United, Abdullahi Biffo was abducted.
Then on Matchday 3 played Sunday 20, 2019, the center referee in Remo Stars Vs Bendel Insurance match, Bethel Nwanesi was brutalised.
The glaring fact in the matches that recorded attacks is that the attack came after the two home teams – Plateau and Remo Stars recorded home draws.
Nigeria referees have been unfairly treated for too long. Some have been beaten, maligned, insulted, abused and harassed and of course I believe the association will put good heads together for a safer working environment for referees. They need to be specially protected, respected but not beaten. Not being assaulted.
Nigeria referees should be encouraged and protected by the LMC. Special security strangers should be provided for Nigerian referees. LMC should stop being reactive and be proactive. They should learn to take action to avert a danger and not wait till referees are attacked before they can take actions.
Attack of Nigeria referee or any other referee anywhere, is highly condemnable. The should not be made victims of football hooliganism any more in Nigeria football.