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I challenge clubs to help expose corrupt referees – Maude

So far, centre referees have all passed. Seven of them in all. Five for football, one for FUTSAL and one for beach soccer. At the…

So far, centre referees have all passed. Seven of them in all. Five for football, one for FUTSAL and one for beach soccer. At the moment, we are on the assistant referees and like I told you, we hope to bring out the best for the local league and international engagements.

You said you have not recorded any casualty yet. Is it an indication that your referees are physically fit?

Surely, all my referees are physically fit. You can see that they have done twelve rounds instead of ten. The minimum requirement is ten but they went twelve times. Let me assure you that they can do even twenty if need arises. They are well conditioned and with the international seminar they are doing, they will certainly be among the best in the world. Their knowledge about the laws of the game has improved tremendously and this will show in their interpretation of the laws during officiating. We are aiming at a hitch free season.

Nigerian Referees were not part of the just concluded FIFA Confederation Cup in South Africa. Is this an indication that Nigerian football referees are not good enough to officiate at that level?

It is indeed very unfortunate that no Nigerian referee is going to be part of the 2010 World Cup that would be hosted on African soil. In as much as it is very painful, it does not mean we would not plan for the future. We have to put a lot of things in place so that come 2014, our referees would be at the World Cup. We are putting down the structures now and I believe when the time comes, Nigerian referees will be there and they would make Africa proud. We are catching them young. If you look at the caliber of my referees between last year and this year, you will find a remarkable difference. We now have younger referees who can compete favourably with their contemporaries elsewhere.

But in all sincerity will you say your referees are among the best in the world? None of them was at the recently concluded FIFA Confederation Cup in South Africa.

 How many Africa referees were there? They were not more than three. Our FIFA referee Engineer Imiere is the second best on the continent. Selection of referees for competitions is not done haphazardly. We have the elites, the upcoming and those who are just starting. It is a gradual process and we shall surely get there. The most important thing is good planning. What are you doing to get there? You will recall that the whole Nigeria was not at the 2006 World Cup in Germany but this time around, everybody is fighting hard to ensure that Nigeria qualify for South Africa 2010. It is the same with us. We are planning on how to be there in 2014. Referees for 2010 were selected in 2008 and I came on board in 2007 but that was too late for me to do any magic. I am not saying my predecessor did not do much but I believe with more planning, we would get there.

Are Nigerian referees getting a better deal in the hands of the Nigeria Football Federation and the Nigeria Premier League board?

I must commend the Nigerian Premier League Board on the payment of referees’ indemnities. Before this year, my referees were getting between thirty to forty thousand but right now, they are paid as much as eighty thousand. I am not saying this is enough but it is an improvement. If you look at the cost of living presently, which includes transportation, you will discover that the money is not adequate. If for instance, a referee from Port-Harcourt is to go and officiate a match at Maiduguri, he must come and sleep in Abuja before proceeding to his venue.  You also have to look at the risk they take on the roads and many other hazards. I want to bring these to the attention of the NPL to see if they can improve on the referees’ indemnities. But the most important thing is how we get sponsorship to better the lot of our referees. Once we get sponsors everything will be settled. As an affiliate of the Nigeria Football Federation, we are discussing with the federation on the need for us to get sponsors. If we get sponsors, our members will be better motivated. We would detach ourselves from the clubs.

Corruption in Nigeria is not peculiar to Nigerian referees but that is what most clubs hold against your men. Your men are said to be very corrupt. How are you handling this problem?

This is a very difficult issue to handle. They are always accusing referees of collecting bribe. However, in bribery case, it is only the person who collects that is said to be irresponsible. To the best of my understanding, both the giver and receiver are guilty. Once you give out bribe, you are also corrupt. So we are calling on the clubs not to entice my men with bribe. If they have been doing it, they should stop. I want people with proof to expose corrupt referees and we would sanction them.  Bribery and corruption is a global phenomenon but in Nigeria we blow it out of proportion. Instead of making so much noise about it, we should be thinking of how to exterminate corruption.

You talked about getting sponsorship for Nigerian referees but have you considered the issue of adequate security for your members for the coming season?

Whether we like it or not, there are still some stadia in the country that are high risk zones. In such stadiums, it is very hard to ensure fair officiating because referees lives are perpetually in danger. And in such places, no matter the security you provide, it does not make much difference. So even if we are going to use only nine stadia that have adequate security for referees and are camera friendly, we should not hesitate to do so. Security is usually the responsibility of the state F.As but they too are sometimes found wanting in the discharge of their responsibility because they have to give support to their clubs which are sponsored by the state government that owns the football Associations. We are thinking of discussing with the Inspector-General of Police so that we would be having mobile Policemen instead of the regular police.

At the end of your tenure, what would you like to be remembered for?

I want to be remembered for producing younger referees. And If possible, when I leave, people should appreciate what I did while in office as president of NRA. I don’t want to talk too much about my achievements. I feel other people will judge me better.