The Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL), the country’s top tier, will kick off on 13 January 2018. Plateau United won the title for the first time in September and will be looking to defend it against contenders such as Kano Pillars, Enyimba of Aba and Enugu Rangers. But despite recent attempts at re-branding and improvements in standards, the league is still undermined by corruption.
Away teams have started winning matches in recent times, unlike in the past, in which a draw was usually the best visitors could hope for. Nigerian fans have long suspected that referees were compromised by the home team – referred to locally as “tactical”. The widespread view was that times were changing, with TV coverage helping minimise, but apparently not eliminate, cases of dodging officiating.
However, a sports commissioner in a state that produced a recent league champion has told Naijiant.com that it was still the norm for the home team to pay match officials to guarantee a win. As sports commissioner, he signed off the payments, with the going rate for a ref at 400,000 naira ($1,100) per match.
The commissioner described how negotiations were conducted with the ref asking how many goals the home team wanted to score and willing to award penalties to help achieve that goal. Several NPFL clubs are owned by state governments, with the sports commissioner usually in charge of funding and providing oversight.
The commissioner described how his team sealed a league championship after he agreed the fee for the ref, who subsequently awarded them a penalty in a crucial home game just before the last round of matches.
The NPFL framework and rules from the League Management Company (LMC) states that: “No person should be appointed as a Match Official in any match in the League if his involvement in a particular match may in the judgment of LMC be seen as capable of compromising the integrity of the game or influencing the result or outcome of any match in the League.” The evidence from the sports commissioner suggests policing compliance to this rule is either lax or non-existent.
Many Nigerian fans have claimed that the suspicion that games are compromised in the NPFL contributes towards driving them to obsession with the English Premier League.