Heartland assault on referee: How weak can the league management be?

Attacked referee being attended to
Attacked referee being attended to

Football can be described as a war, but it lasts 90 minutes. After the referee blows the final whistle, all the warriors must sheathe their swords, embrace and exchange jerseys, if possible. That is the perfect scenario, one that the League Management Company [LMC] should do all in its power to promote.

But no, that is not the case in the Nigeria Professional Football League.

The referee for the Heartland versus Plateau United game on Monday, Yusuf Garba, almost got killed because the defending NPFL champions, Plateau, had the audacity to equalise in the last minute of the encounter. And his crime, as enunciated by Heartland’s Media Officer, Henry Echefu Naze, was that Garba was seen by the home crowd to be biased.

We will return to Naze’s statement later but as it is, the LMC is culpable and is encouraging such heinous incidents by their inaction. Heartland, unfortunately, are repeat offenders. On July 23, 2016, their supporters encroached the field of play to assault FC Ifeanyi Uba players and the match officials, an incident that saw the Owerri-side fined N2.5 million.

It is very ludicrous that in 2018, a fan of the game can machete a referee to the point of almost cutting off the arbiter’s head speaks of a league where the rules have gone to the dogs. In the LMC’s Framework and Rules for the league, security before, during and after games is clearly defined and stated. Where were the security operatives that are supposed to protect the match officials and the away team?

The rules spell out protection of officials and players

Article 8.19 of the LMC’s Framework and Rules states: The Match Officials shall be given adequate security before, during, and after a match “result notwithstanding”.

This is not the first time that home fans will take laws into their hands and manhandle referees for doing their jobs.

If Michael Oliver, the referee who gave Real Madrid a penalty in the last second against Juventus had done that in the NPFL, we will talk about an obituary at the present time.

According to Brila.net, the assault on Garba and his team was not included in the report sent to the LMC by the Match Commissioner.

Dumnodi Okonta, a keen local league enthusiast advised the LMC on Twitter, “Dear @LMCNPFL, Please deduct 6 points from @HeartlandFC_ng & banished [sic] them to Ilaro for their shameful and barbaric acts in Owerri.”

Gabriel Okwuosah also wrote on Twitter, “Is it only Heartland? What about Abia Warriors?? I was life [sic] in Umuahia against Kastina United. The FIFA referees that handled that game were manhandled and beaten.”

Assaults in the NPFL are commonplace

Monday’s assault is not the first in the 2018 NPFL season.

It has occurred in Katsina, Umuahia, Kano, Lafia, and now Owerri but still, the LMC has failed to wield the big stick.

The LMC Framework and Rules reads further: “Assaulted match officials may go to court to seek redress arising from the assault. “The LMC may place a ban of at least one (1) year on a venue where Match Officials are for assaulted.”

Going back to the official statement sent out by the Media Officer for Heartland, Naze just adds salt to the injury and speaks of the perverse nature that has built up over the seasons in the NPFL.

Naze wrote: “All these [supposedly partisan] activities of Mr. Garba seriously marred the game and proved he had interest in the match which I think was what must have informed the decision of the fans to angrily rush towards him immediately after the game but for the quick intervention of the men of the Nigerian Police it would have been another story of an unending tales.”

In a sane society, Naze would have been sacked in the afternoon of the morning he released the above statement.

Was that statement meant to justify ‘Jungle Justice’? If the fans were supposed to be the arbiters of the game, why engage the services of a ‘trained’ referee?

Now Heartland may have forgotten in their moment of madness that this is the first round. What would be their fate when they travel to Jos in the second round having perpetrated this dastardly act?

He ended his distasteful release by saying, “The LMC, the NFF, and all football stakeholders should do the needful and faster too to save this country’s league from disrepute.”

Now, we must ask – which disrepute is greater than assaulting a referee?

In a statement released by the Plateau United Media Officer, Albert Dakup, he stated that the action of some of the Heartland FC supporters did not come as a surprise in view of the earlier threat made by them before the game even kicked off.

Even though this must be taken with a pinch of salt, it points at a premeditated act. The LMC knows about referees been threatened before matches and even at halftime because of porous dressing rooms in the various approved stadiums across the country.

Dakup also revealed that the Plateau United coach, Kennedy Boboye was attacked at the stadium, and on his way out of Owerri and needed reviving at a local hospital. If this is true, then it is plain ridiculous!

What kind of league are we running when apparently it is hoodlums that are in charge?

The LMC is sitting on a keg of gunpowder, having a glass of wine. When it goes off, the wine would be totally ruined and irredeemable.


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