By Elder Paul Bassey
I got this message;
“Paulo please remember to pray for me on Monday 08 March, I will be 80. I will be attending a Thanksgiving Holy Mass. Unfortunately you will be in Warri.
This is quintessential Linus Mba.
Humility personified, a man married to the whistle, the best Nigerian referee alive.
80? Yes Eighty and your expression changes because he does not look it.
No, he does not.
However, a brief peep at the compressed biography of this father of two forces one to believe that he has seen it all.
In an interview granted The Nation Newspaper four years ago, he was referred to as a man with “naked enthusiasm and puritanical devotion.”
Mr. Linus Mba epitomizes the best in Nigerian refereeing through hard work, devotion and uncanny love for the profession.
Born on March 08 1941 in Enugu, Mr. Linus Mba was introduced to the whistle at St. Theresa’s College Nsuka after Reverend Father William Butler “rescued” him from neglect by his colleagues who ostracized him for not being useful either as an outfield player or a goalkeeper.
“…He called me to his office and handed me the Laws of the Game and that launched my interest in refereeing right from secondary school.”
The young Linus then joined the Nigeria Referees Association, Onitsha and continued his passion until he went in search of the golden fleece in London where he bagged B.Sc (Hon) Applied Economics and Diploma in Journalism at the Regent Polytechnic London, where he was also trained by the London Football Association (1969 – 1972) up to the semi professional cadre in 1976.
He returned to Nigeria in 1976 and till 1990 was assigned the best and the toughest of matches including two Challenge Cup finals – Shooting Stars Ibadan and Sharks of Port Harcourt in 1974 and Abiola Babes Abeokuta versus Ranchers Bees Kaduna in 1976.
By 1984, young Linus Mba was badged by FIFA and defended the badge till 1990 when he retired.
It will be difficult attempting to chronicle the life and times of Mr. Linus Mba in a tribute, but we cannot fail to mention that he was a member of the Executive Board of the NFA from 1992 – 1996, Chairman Referees Committee 1992 – 1996, and represented Nigeria in the 1994 FIFA Congress in Chicago, USA.
He was a CAF referees instructor since 1996 and Member CAF Referees Committee from 2002 – 2012.
Mr. Mba has served as FIFA Referees Instructor from 2005 till date, appointed a FIFA Technical Adviser on Refereeing from 2008 till date, only two of them in Africa, the other being Neji Jouini of Tunisia.
The Editor-in-Chief of the quarterly referees magazine, The Whistle, sees this as a pet project very close to his heart.
“…Since 2014, even during the period of the Covid-19 Pandemic lockdown, we got the magazine going, geared towards constantly updating referees and assistant referees on evolving changes in modern refereeing…”
Circulated in over thirty African Member Association’s Referees Committees as well as to FIFA and CAF, the latest edition got rave revues from Mr. Amaju Pinnick, President of the NFF, his first Vice Barrister Akinwumi, Chairman of the Referees Committee Dr. Sharif Inuwa Ahlan, Secretary General NFF Dr. Mohammed Sausi, Chairman NRA Alhaji Tade Azeez among others.
CAF Referees Manager Eddy Maillet, FIFA referees member Anyan Lim Kee Chong and the Chairman CAF Referees Committee, the Rwandan Celestin Ntugangira also penned commendation for the whistle magazine.
If you ask the father of two what he considers his greatest achievement, he will say “all achievements are great… but I cherish the progress we have made as a country. The quality of International referees, the training of Assessors to monitor referees instead of the traditional Match Commissioners, in brief the re-organization of the structure and machinery of technical development of refereeing in Nigeria.”
This reservoir of technical information and data on refereeing in Nigeria and by Nigerians at both national and international levels, prides himself as never receiving bribe in whatever form when he was active as a referee.
“No regrets. I walk tall. I never did. I may not have been popular for that but I thank God that my reputation is intact and am happier today for it…”
A Central Bank of Nigeria Research Officer, Journalist with Business Times, Public Relations Officer, later Export Manager Volkswagen Nigeria, this widely travelled icon remembers vividly his refereeing exploits in Africa, including the Africa Cup of Champions Semi Final tie between Zamalek of Egypt and FAR of Morocco in 1985.
What is the secret of longevity of this CAF/FIFA Assessor and Match Commissioner?
“Grace of God. Simple and straightforward life. Honesty and service to humanity. I keep my mind free of all stress and deceit…”
For yours truly a friendship spanning over 30 years, a celebration of professionalism, hard work and dedication.
Today a legend of the whistle clocks 80 and is still counting.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY MAZI!