By Paul Bassey
Coach Christian Chukwu, disgusted with what he considered appaling refereeing performance against his team, was quoted as saying that one day, a referee’s corpse will be picked on the field of play.
Last week not only was one corpse picked, but two, in the most bizarre of circumstances.
When I first heard the news, that two referees were feared dead in Abuja, I called Onochie for more facts and details only to discover that he was even hearing the news for the first time.
I asked that he should set his Abuja correspondent after the story and it took him less than ten minutes to confirm the incident and another ten to supply me with the names of the deceased!
Then came details of the death. The hows, whys and wheres.
So far, nothing concrete has been confirmed but going by the pieces available this is one incident that calls for a full scale investigation by the Ministry of Sports and National Sports Commission.
That the two referees were not supposed to be in the programme because they had failed an earlier attempt. That there were no medical personnel at the venue of the incident and so on.
Let say and quickly too, that despite FIFA’S attempt to professionalise football refereeing, it becomes difficult in a continent, country where leagues are not well and sufficiently run to serve as a means of livelihood.
If you look at the list of referees on the premiership league in Nigeria you will come across a number which, should all of them, have matches, then the highest number a referee can officiate for a season will be three ( If he is favoured by the powers that be) so how can a referee survive on the meager 60 thousand naira that he is paid a match, three matches a year?
I did mention that else where there are other competitions. In England as an example there is the Carling Cup, the FA cup, Championship and lesser leagues and so on.
Nothing like that here, where the only competition that you ever see or hear being played is the Premier league. So fashioned, referees in Nigeria are told to consider the issue as a vocation, a hobby rather than a career, for now.
Because it is a vocation, because you are not expected to make any gains therefrom, referees on the list are advised to have “credible” means of livelihood.
Unfortunately this position has been abused again and again especially with the Lulu administration deciding to hijack the appointment of referees from the Nigeria Premier League.
What was very fashionable in the last three seasons was a situation where match commissioners will ask that referees be axed for questionable and dubious officiating only to be ignored by the NFF who go on to reappoint such referees, despite proof to the contrary.
In Nigeria there are certain referees considered club referees and those who do the appointments try and muscularly too to maintain and prove the rumours right.
In Nigeria referees as much as request the matches they want to officiate and they are obliged at a fee.
(If I paint a hopelessly corrupt picture let me apologise to some of those referees I have met, professionals, prides to their calling.)
I was told that that is exactly the situation that played itself out last week, when after some referees had failed the endurance tests, their names were smuggled in for a rerun when they should have been told to go and wait for a season.
Given such a rare and corrupt opportunity, you can imagine how THEY HAD TO DO EVERYTHING POSSIBLE not to let the opportunity pass them by.
In physical exercises of that nature, instructors take time out to tell you again and again that YOU MUST LISTEN TO YOUR HEART. In a situation where your heart as much as whimpers, you are advised TO STOP.
But they could not, should not, scared of failing a second time, they went on and on and dropped dead on their feet.
This is just a personal view which must be investigated.
Because this is a rare occurrence which we must not allow to repeat itself, two deaths too many, the Sports Minister should set up a commission of enquiry as a matter of urgency to unravel the causes remote and immediate of the death of these two gentlemen of the whistle, off the field of play.
The Guinea Challenge
Also in Algeria for my CAF Champions League match between Setif and T.P. Mazembe, was Le Docteur Gueye Aboubacar. Doctor Aboubacar, a Guinean had come to conduct dope tests.
With some free time between us, I popped the question. “ Your Nations Cup victory over Ethiopia, is it because you were good or Ethiopia was bad? “ you could hear the full throated laughter 50 metres away.
He said that was a good question and that since he was not in Ethiopia he was not in a position to accord me a credible answer.
“……Back home this is also a puzzle which Nigeria will help us solve. We believe that the real test will come when your team comes to town” He said. However he has an advice for the Super Eagles. “Come prepared because you are going to encounter a young team that is determined, fired and hungry for success”
At the head of this rebuilding process is the French man Michel Dussuyer who led the team to the finals of the 2004 Nations Cup in Tunisia. Michel it will be recalled topped Africa qualifiers group one and was drawn in Group A with host Tunisia, Rwanda and RD Congo.
They emerged second from the group beating Congo and drawing with Tunisia and Rwanda only to succumb 1-2 to Mali in the second round. After Dussuyer left Guinea experimented with other coaches but came out with naught, prompting the recall of Dussuyer who has so far started on a good footing.
What is his secret? Doctor Aboubacar said he does not know, “…. it will be better to ask him, but that one is quick to notice that he has dropped a lot of the old names that made the national team their property even without kicking a ball.”
He mentioned “star” players like Sory Conte, Pascal Feidouno, Fode Mansara and Titi Camara who have been shown the exit door.
“In their places, the coach has blooded young, versatile, quick and exciting players who are ready to defend and keep the shirts that have been handed over to them” the doctor said.
In passing it will be instructive to remember that out of the twenty two players that Nigeria took to Tunisia, Vincent Enyeama, Osaze Odenwigie and Yakubu Aiyegbeni are three of the seven still hanging in there.
That, in brief is the challenge that awaits the Eagles in Conakry. A confident come back coach and some young players who have been told that a result against Nigeria will be a veritable test of their ability, against an interim coach and a team in transition.
Good luck Nigeria.
See you next week.