The halcyon atmosphere was sombre and funereal and even the weather was tempered and glum, but there was also an air of collective pride and the eternal identification and recognition, associated with the heroic, ethereal, transcendental presence of a generational legend, as top government officials, traditional chiefs, admirers, sympathizers, as well as, sportsmen and women, gathered at the premises of the Asaba city stadium, in the heart of the Delta state capital, on Thursday July 28, 2016, to pay a final tribute to the late great, Nigerian Super Eagles captain and Coach, Stephen Okechukwu Keshi.
The solemn and dignified ceremony, which took place at the indoor sports hall of the Asaba stadium, which had already been named after the late Steven Keshi, commenced, had commenced when the remains of the late Super Eagles Skipper and Coach, popularly called the ‘big boss’ admirers, arrived at the stadium, after it had been received from Edo state at the border town of Alifekede, by top government officials, led by the Delta State Commissioner for Information, Hon. Patrick Ukah, from where it was escorted by cyclists and a motorcade of dignitaries led by the Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC pilot vehicle, to Asaba, for a befitting lying in state ceremony to honnour the Illah, Delta state born football hero, in his home state.
Edo state had earlier in the day, paid a very special and colourful tribute to the late Stephen Keshi, with a Requiem mass held in his honnour at St. Paul’s Catholic Church, 30 Airport Road, Benin City and a Novelty match by the All Stars football team including Keshi’s sons, for late Super Eagles Chief Coach at Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, Benin City.
Stephen Keshi had spent most of his life in Benin city, married his late wife, Kate, birthed and raised his kids including, Stephen Keshi Jnr, Stephanie and Jennifer and enjoyed a burgeoning and illustrious football career with the Nigerian Rubber Board football Club and later the all conquering New Nigerian Bank football club, all in Benin city, before travelling abroad to capture an even more celebrated and superlative football heritage, which not only distinguished him as one of the finest footballers of his generation from Africa, but indeed set the pioneering legacy as the African footballer, who opened the route to Europe for influx and massive presence of African footballers in the major and other leagues across Europe.
The sober and dismal ambiance at the Asaba city stadium became even more mournful and sullen, when the casket bearing the remains of Keshi arrived and after a brief medley dirge of flute and trombone musical instrumentation by the undertakers band, the pall bearers ushered the casket into the indoor sports hall of the Asaba stadium, where the lying-in-state ceremony commenced with the national anthem and an opening prayer by Ogbueshi Egbuniwe, who accompanied a royal delegation of Asaba titled Chiefs to the event.
And then the tributes, led by Delta State governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, ably represented by his Deputy, Barr. (Dcn). Kingsley Otuaro, started pouring in.
Governor Ifeanyi Okowa in his tribute, to African Football legend, Stephen Okechukwu Keshi, CON, described him as second to none in his contributions to development of football in Nigeria and revealed that it was a heavy heart and deep sense of loss that they received the news of his passing, adding that Stephen Keshi came, saw and conquered. He soared like an Eagle..
While commiserating with Nigerian over the loss of their football icon and illustrious son of Delta State, Nigeria and indeed African, Stephen Okechukwu Keshi, fondly called “The Big Boss”, during his playing and coaching days, Governor Okowa, through his Deputy Kingsley Otuaro, said that the football legend would be dearly missed by all, even as he noted that Stephen acquired national fame playing for the African Continental Bank (ACB) Football Club of Lagos and later, his sensational outing for New Nigeria Bank Football Club, Benin City, which he led victories in the National League, Challenge Cup and the West African Football Union (WAFU) Cup, before moving to Europe.
“With dexterity in the use of his legs, self-effacement on and off the football field, he became a household name in the then Bendel State, Nigeria and even globally”. Okowa said.
The Delta Governor further noted that Keshi was a seasoned national player, whose leadership qualities led to his becoming the captain of the national team, the Super Eagles in 1981 and though penalized for reporting late to camp and banned for several months with some other players, he was not deterred, but moved to Cote d’Ivoire in 1985 where he not only commenced what became a hugely successful professional career in football, but opened the floodgate for Nigerians and African footballers seeking greener pastures in Europe.
Okowa disclosed that “The Big Boss” often stood up for his rights and that of his team mates, especially when it concerns their welfare and captained the Super Eagles team that qualified Nigeria for its first ever World Cup finals in the United States of America, as well as the team that won the Nations Cup in 1994; Nigeria’s first victory at the Nations Cup outside its shores.
Speaking further, Governor Okowa said that as coach, Stephen Keshi later won the Cup of Nations for Nigeria in 2013 in South Africa, where he dared to showcase home based players. With that feat, he became the second African, alongside Egypt’s Mahmoud El Gohary, to have won the Cup of Nations as a player and a coach. “He was the first African coach to qualify two nations – Togo and Nigeria – for the World Cup in 2006 and 2014, respectively”, the Delta Governor remembered.
Emphasizing that Stephen Keshi stood out as one of the greatest football heroes of all times to have come out of Nigeria and Africa, Okowa said, “As the coach of the national team of Togo, he was honoured by the country with ODOMO, one of the highest honours that can be bestowed on a civilian. The Nigeria Government also honoured him with the Commander of the Order of the Niger – CON. In 2013, he was named the African Coach of the Year.
“The Confederation of African Football (CAF) in 2009, equally honoured him as an African Legend, for his contributions to African football and back home here in Delta State, the stadium in the State Capital, Asaba, was also named after him after the Nation’s Cup victory in South Africa”. Governor Okowa revealed.
According to him, the sports loving people of Delta State can never forget Stephen Okechukwu Keshi. “We miss you. The lovers of football will miss u. Nigeria and Africa will miss u. The football world will miss you. Farewell the ‘Big Boss’. Adieu”. Okowa concluded solemnly as he poured encomiums on the late Nigerian football legend.
MRAKPOR FLAYS NATIONAL ATTITUDE TO HEROES WELFARE
In her own tribute, the member representing Aniocha/Oshimili Federal constituency, which is also Stephen Keshi’s Constituency) at the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. (Evangelist) Onyemaechi Mrakpor (Ada Anioma), stirred the hearts and emotions of the gathering and received a loud ovation, with a moving tribute lamenting the national neglect of best and brightest talents.
Hon. Mrakpor, who had expressed her displeasure at the un-impressive manner the Nigerian nation had treated the demise and burial arrangements of a national hero like Keshi, as well as the abandoned state of the Asaba Stadium, which had been named after Stephen Keshi, equally flayed the national authorities for their non-challant attitude towards the welfare and logistic support for sportspersons and athletes, who were preparing to represent the country at the Olympic Games in Rio, Brazil, even as she revealed that the Governor Okowa must be given credit for arranging to accord the late Keshi a befitting funeral, worthy of a hero, adding that the change mantra which was been preached by the Federal government was yet to be felt in the Sports constituency.
She said: “Looking around the young men and women who had admired Keshi in his time, I just wondered what will be going through their minds seeing what is happening at his burial. I want to beg the nation Nigeria, of which I’m part, that we should endeavour not to kill the spirit of excellence.
“For whatever it is, you have a space of multiple [manifestations] for the spirit of excellence in this country; spirit of excellence in technology, spirit of excellence in sports, spirit of excellence in everything we find ourselves to do. What is the future of the Nigerian youth? Good Night Stephen Keshi”- she mourned.
IGBUYA EXTOLS KESHI’S VIRTUES
In his own short, but moving tribute, the Speaker of the Delta State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Monday Igbuya, described the late Stephen Keshi as a legend whose contributions to Nigerian football would remain for eternity, even as he added that Keshi not only made Delta State proud with his football accomplishments, but equally put the state on the map of Global football with his achievements as a coach, whose excellence traversed the African continent and was recognized internationally.
Igbuya said the death of Keshi had created a huge vacuum in Nigerian football.
Speaking during the lying-in-state at Stephen Keshi Stadium in Asaba, Igbuya described Mr. Keshi as a patriotic Nigerian and a great Deltan.
He said the late Keshi’s notable contributions to the development and progress of football within and outside the country would not be forgotten.
“His death is a monumental national loss. It is very sad. It is very painful. He was a great footballer and coach. He made Delta State proud. He did the nation and the youth proud by standing out in the crowd not only as a skillful player but a coach imbued with maturity. We will definitely miss him” Igbuya said.
He called on family members, friends and associates of the Big Boss to take solace in the fact that the late footballer and coach played the parts assigned to him thoroughly.
The Right Honourable Speaker prayed God to grant Keshi an eternal rest in peace and a worthy place in Paradise.
“Please accept the condolences of the Delta State House of Assembly” he added.
NIGERIA HAS LOST A VERY GREAT MAN, REST IN PEACE STEPHEN OKECHUKWU KESHI – Osanebi
The Deputy Speaker, Delta State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Osanebi Ossai Friday in his tribute, expressed deep regret for the loss of the Nigeria Super Eagles former player and coach who died recently.
Speaking to the press briefly, after the lying in state ceremony at the Indoor sports-hall of the Stephen Okechukwu Keshi stadium, the Delta Deputy Speaker said: “It is a great pity that we lost this vibrant man, Mr. Stephen Keshi who has been known to be a dogged man from the time he was playing with Nigeria Super Eagles National Football team,till the time he became the Eagle’s Coach,he never believed that giving up is the best which is also a good example for Nigerians to emulate positively.
“God really knows the best, for He alone knows when were created and when we will leave the earth. I want to use this medium to plead with Keshi’s family for them to take heart for the loss of this great tree in their family and I also pray that the almighty God in heaven will give them the heart to bear their loss and remain strong since the future is greater than the past.
May the soul of Stephen Okechukwu Keshi rest in perfect peace. Amen”, Osanebi said in a sober tone.
The opening remarks had earlier been given by the Executive Chairman of the Delta State Sports Coomision, Chief Tony Okowa, who traced the illustrious career of the late Stephen Keshi from his early days and through his distinguished sojourn as a professional footballer and an outstanding and highly successful coach, recalling how Keshi’s love and passion for football even at an early age, had drawn the ire of his parents and how his strong personality and sense of justice and fairness had often pitched him against the authorities both as player and coach.
The Delta Sports Commission Chairman, said that Keshi had not only influenced the high level of committed and quality players that donned the colours of the Super Eagles team he captained, coached and played for, as well as the other African teams he coached, but indeed the fortunes of Nigerian and African football, so much so that he became known as the ‘Big Boss’ and was the captain supremo of the national team and one of the outstanding African coaches, at a time which can arguably be referred to as the Golden era of Nigerian and African football.
I WONDER IF NIGERIA IS WORTH DYING FOR – Eguavoen
Former Super Eagles coach Austin Eguavoen has wondered if the country is worth dying for after top federal government officials stayed away from the final burial rites of former Nigeria skipper and Coach Stephen Keshi.
Keshi made history when he became only the second man to win the AFCON both as player and coach three years ago.
“I am not shocked by the way the government has treated this event,” said a disappointed Eguavoen.
“For instance, most of us have yet to get the houses the government promised us when we won the Nations Cup in 1994.
“You are only energized when you have been looked after.
“One keeps wondering if Nigeria is worth fighting for or even dying for,” said mournfully.
In his vote of thanks at the ceremony, the son of the late Stephen Keshi thanked all those who had found time to attend and expressed special gratitude to the Delta state government, as well as the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, whose President, Amaju Melvin Pinnick was present at the ceremony, for all the assistance they had extended to the family.
Keshi Jnr, flanked by his siblings Jennifer and Ifeanyinwa and in-law Emma Enyihor, said; “I cannot thank everyone enough for all your support and assistance to the family. It has been a difficult 6 weeks for us but we have been able to harmonize our plans with that of the Government and the NFF and see it through to this moment with the love, support and assistance of all of you. We have only heard good and great words about our father since his death and I am grateful that he was appreciated as a national figure.
“Our father was a loving family man and we will miss him greatly. Our joy is that he left a worthy legacy for Nigeria football and for his family.”
Highpoint of the lying in state ceremony was the filing past of the casket of the late Stephen Keshi, by the dignitaries present, renowned sports journalists and administrators, enthusiasts and sympathizers and especially the Super Eagles team members of 1994, led by a tearful Austin Eguavoen (Cerezo), who was Asst. Captain to Keshi in the 1994 team and included Peter Rufai (Dodo Mayana), Uche Okechukwu (Gentle Giant), Mutiu Adepoju (Head Master), Friday Ekpo, Frankiln Howard, Alloy Agu, Edema Fuludu and former Super Eagles Spokesperson, Robinson Okosuns (Robin Jay), amongst others.
The all together beautifully organized lying in state ceremony, supervised by the indefatigable Delta State Commissioner for Information, Patrick Ukah and anchored by Ogbueshi Anazia and the mercurial Silver Oforgu (Silver Shadow), who was one of the golden voices that ran Radio commentaries in those evergreen days and regaled the audience with a throwback commentary excerpt remembered from the playing days of the late, great Stephen Okechukwu Keshi.
A Service of songs/vigil mass was held later in the day for late Super Eagles Chief Coach, Stephen Keshi, at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church,in his home town, Illah, Delta State.