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Referees and Refereeing

The history of refereeing in Nigeria football dates back to the first time the ball was kicked in the land. It is recorded that football was introduced into Nigeria by British colonialists at about 1914 – the year of the amalgamation of the northern and southern protectorates. The man behind the introduction was Baron Mulford, a Briton who organized weekly matches between European and Nigerian youths in Lagos. Those matches were officiated by referees, no matter the state of refereeing at that time.

However, Nigerian referees began to make name long after the national teams had been in reckoning at international level. In 1978, some 10 years after the national team had famously battled Pele’s Brazil to a 3-3 draw at the Olympics and five years after it won the All –Africa Games gold, a Nigerian referee attended a major event: Mr. Festus Bolaji Okubule was a referee at the World Military Schools’ Competition in Kuwait. It was also the year after Christ the King College, Onitsha won the World Secondary Schools Football Championship.

Okubule was also at the FIFA World Youth Championship (fore –runner of the FIFA U-20 World Cup) in Mexico in 1983 – the first FIFA competition that a Nigerian team would attend, with the Flying Eagles crashing out at group stage despite beating former USSR and drawing with the Netherlands. The man also officiated the final match of the 1984 African Cup Winners’ Cup, before capping it with firm performances at the 1986 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt.

Mr. Linus Mba also did his bit on the continent, taking charge of important Club games, while Callistus Chukwudi Chukwujekwu was at the 2002 Africa Cup of Nations in Mali.

Emmanuel Dada Obafemi is another former international referee of note, and Olufunmi Olaniyan officiated at the 2000 African Nations Cup co –hosted by Nigeria and Ghana. Olaniyan was also at the African Youth Championship hosted by Nigeria in 1995, the 6th All –Africa Games in Zimbabwe the same year, the African Youth Championship in Morocco in 1997 and the Uefa/Caf Meridian Cup tournament in South Africa in 1999.

Okubule has worked as instructor on refereeing for CAF and FIFA, since retiring from active service. On his part, Linus Mba has also worked assiduously for continental body, CAF and world body FIFA. In recognition of his invaluable services to world football, he was elevated to the position of FIFA Advisor. He is also a Consultant with the NFF on refereeing matters.