Abstract: The issue of officiating and hooliganism in Nigerian football dates back several years. For example, in 2007, three fans died in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, during a match involving a newly promoted home team, Akwa United, and Enyimba International of Aba. The fans allowed hell to let loose after Enyimba scored a goal, and in the melee that ensued, three supporters lost their lives. However, studies have shown that apart from religion, the most unifying thing in the world is sport, and in that sport, football comes top as the most followed and most passionate game. The issues of ethnicity, religion and tribe, as well all other divisive discussions are rested and temporarily thrown into oblivion during football matches. But regrettably, the bond that comes from football has become a threat to so many, particularly in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL), where the beauty of the game is regularly being killed on the altar of gangsterism at match venues. This term paper discusses officiating and hooliganism in Nigeria football league: challenges and way forward.
Football officiating and hooliganism periodically generates widespread political and public anxiety in Nigeria. In spite of the efforts made and resources invested over the past decades, football hooliganism is still perceived by politicians, policymakers, media and other actors as a disturbing social problem. Issues such as how to understand or explain hooligan behaviour continue to challenge social scientists, while at the same time instant answers and solutions are demanded from wider, non-academic audiences. Football hooliganism has long been viewed as an exclusively ‘English disease’, not only by journalists or the general public but also by academics.
As recently as 1994, psychologist John Kerr (1994) claimed that manifestations of football hooliganism in other societies seem ‘merely to imitate what has gone on in England over the past thirty years’ and are ‘a good deal less frequent and much less widespread.’ The common stereotype of football hooliganism as an exclusively ‘English disease’ no longer prevails. It has been replaced by a belief that, while in Britain football-related violence may be on the decline, hooliganism on the Continent is perhaps more serious and less effectively controlled. When people pick careers and get the chance to see it through, they are usually prepared for the vulnerabilities associated with them.
CONCEPT OF FOOTBALL OFFICIATING
The supervision of sports competitions in accordance with established rules. The quality of sports officiating depends on the official’s knowledge of the rules of the sport, on his ability to apply the rules while observing the requirements of sportsmanship, including unbiased judgment and accuracy, and on his experience as an official. Sports officiating should have educational value for athletes and spectators alike.
THE CONCEPT OF FOOTBALL HOOLIGANISM
There is no precise definition of ‘football hooliganism’. It lacks legal definition, precise demarcation of membership and is used to cover a variety of actions which take place in more or less directly football-related contexts. 2 To account for some of the phenomenon’s main features, a distinction should be drawn between spontaneous, relatively isolated incidents of spectator violence and the behaviour of socially organized or institutionalized fan (hooligan) groups which engage in competitive violence, principally with other hooligan groups. 3 This distinction is historically observable through a shift from a pattern in which attacks on match officials and opposing players predominated over attacks on rival fans, to a pattern in which inter-fan group fighting and fighting between fans and the police became the predominant form of spectator disorderliness. This shift has taken place in various European countries, but at different times.
Football hooliganism is a conflict that is often involving of gangs, or football firms, hooligan firms can even be referred to as an “army,” “boys,” a “crew,” or “casuals.”
These conflicts often occur either before, during, or after football matches. They typically occur away from the stadiums to avoid being arrested or further complications. Locations would be selected prior to the interactions even occurred.
Some of the behavior involved in football hooliganism includes taunting, spitting, throwing of objects, unarmed fighting, fighting with weapons like rocks, knives, machetes, firearms, bats, and bottles, and disorderly crowd behavior.
Some of these actions can even include fences, fixtures, and walls to collapse, due to the incredible force of pushing, fighting, and attempting to flee.
Scholars from a range of academic disciplines have studied the relationship between sports and violence (Coakley, 1978; Atyeo, 1979; Goldstein, 1983; Smith, 1983; Guttmann, 1986; Elias and Dunning, 1986; Wann et al., 2001; Peiser and Minten, 2003; Kerr, 2005). In the social scientific debate, labels such as ‘sports violence’ and ‘football-related violence’ are often used as umbrella terms to refer to various types of violence in a sports context. These types are heterogeneous and require more precise conceptualization. With regard to the term ‘football-related violence’, an analytical distinction can be made between the violent conduct of players (on the pitch) and violence caused by spectators (off the pitch). The two types of football-related violence may require different explanations, even though they are intertwined at times (e.g. spectator violence triggered by violence on the pitch).
There is no precise definition of ‘football hooliganism’. It lacks legal definition, precise demarcation of membership and is used to cover a variety of actions which take place in more or less directly football-related contexts (Dunning, 2000 & Williams, 2001).
HOOLIGANISM IN NIGERIAN FOOTBALL: A REVIEW
The issue of violence or hooliganism in Nigerian football dates back several years. For example, in 2007, three fans died in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, during a match involving a newly promoted home team, Akwa United, and Enyimba International of Aba. The fans allowed hell to let loose after Enyimba scored a goal, and in the melee that ensued, three supporters lost their lives.
The then league boss, Oyuiki Obaseki, was furious and told the BBC that, “It’s essential for us to take drastic steps before our football is plunged into total shambles. “Any club found wanting in the act of violence now automatically earns relegation to the lower league, and that goes for teams in the lower leagues as well.”
In 2012, players and officials of Shooting Stars were attacked by the fans of Gombe United during a league match in Gombe, despite that Gombe won 2-1. Striker, Raheem Owolabi, was said to have been revived after he fainted, even as Funmi Ogunjimi, 3SC’s team doctor, also fainted following loss of blood.
In 2013, Shooting Stars fans descended on Kwara United players after the guests drew 1-1 draw. It was reported that the home fans accused the referee, Cristansus Okoro from Imo State, of denying them a penalty.
Just last season, Kano Pillars fans descended on Akwa United players after they lost 1-0 to their visitors. Similarly, Enyimba players tasted the bitter pills of hooliganism last year when Katsina United fans beat them up for daring to win a 2-1.
Still in 2017, a fan slapped the then Rangers player, Etor Daniel, who was signed from Enyimba, during a home match. Rangers drew 1-1 with Niger Tornadoes and the fan, widely known as ‘Baba Agu’, stepped onto the pitch after the game to slap Etor. ‘Baba Agu’ said that he assaulted Etor because he (Etor) kept drawing back Rangers attack. “He is a bad signing, a player who is below par,” blasted the fan, who, it was later gathered, was known to terrorise officials at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium.
While hooliganism at sports is a global phenomenon, the rate at which violence mars league matches in Nigeria has assumed an alarming dimension. The reason, according to Idris Adesina, a Nigeria Professional Football League referee from Lagos State, was because of poor securities at match venues. Idris , who against the backdrop of massive police presence at the Agege stadium during the CAF Champions League match between Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries (MFM) and AS Real Bamako of Mali penultimate Wednesday, questioned why similar consideration in terms of security were not extended to NPFL matches in order to safeguard the lives of players and officials.
“It’s very bad what we see in the local league. Look at how policemen are everywhere (at the CAF Champions League match) but during our league matches and before the matches start, you will see a lot of them (policemen) but before the kickoff, you may see only about 10 policemen or even less,” he said.
And true to his observation, the match involving MFM and AS Real Bamako had the full complement of police personnel, with one or two policemen manning every 20 metres on the field. It would be difficult, if not impossible, for any trouble maker to have his way in that match.
Even the road leading to the dressing room was ‘littered’ with stern-looking police officers. The development prompted Idris to look at the security details at league matches with disdain, and called for a rethink from the league organizers. ‘Baba Agu’ could not have had the effrontery to slap Etor if there were huge presence of policemen during the match in Enugu.
Daily Independent investigation reveals that, as little as 10 policemen, with most of them not possessing weapons, are left to manage a football match venue with a minimum of five thousand spectators.
A referee from Kano State, who spoke to DAILY INDEPENDENT on the condition of anonymity, revealed that on a number of occasions, he has had to grapple with home fans’ threats due to the absence of police personnel.
“It has happened to me severally, where fans of the home teams threatening you saying the home team must win or you pay with your life. It is one of the problems we live with. Sometimes, the few policemen will be helpless because the fans are many,” said the referee.
Also Yinka Onaolapo, Enyimba player, rued the situation and called on the League Management Company (LMC), to ensure that they come down hard on violent fans to serve as deterrent to others. “As a footballer, I’ve experienced violence at match venues but this is where the LMC comes in. They should make sure that the affected club produces the fans that attack away teams and after a heavy discipline, others will learn from that,” he said. He said that he has witnessed a face a situation where the referee will tell the away team to be prepared for the worst as the home fans were threatening him to favour them. officiating and hooliganism in Nigeria football league: challenges and way forward
“There were at times the referee will tell the players, while marching to the dressing room, that his life is under threat from the home team fans and that they should expect anything. In that situation, what do you expect the referee to do? His life is more important. Officiating and hooliganism in Nigeria football league: challenges and way forward.
“All these things have to do with few policemen at stadiums. If we have enough security at stadiums, all these will not happen,” the former Nasarawa United midfielder said. Officiating and hooliganism in Nigeria football league: challenges and way forward.