- Buhari, Jonathan, Saraki, others mourn
The soccer world was wednesday jolted by the shocking news of the death of Stephen Okechukwu Keshi, former captain and chief coach of Nigeria’s national team, the Super Eagles. He was 54.
“Nigeria today lost a great sportsman, football player, coach and citizen who gave this country his all,” were the mournful words of President Muhammadu Buhari, who took few minutes off his medical vacation in London to pay tribute to the late football icon.
President Buhari was immediately joined in the tribute trail by other prominent Nigerians, including former President Goodluck Jonathan, the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, former President of the Senate, David Mark, and Governor Okowa of Delta State.
Keshi, who lost his wife, Kate, last December after a protracted cancer-related illness, was said to have suffered a heart attack in Benin, Edo State and was confirmed dead at the hospital early wednesday morning.
One of his brothers, Emmanuel Ado, said Keshi died of cardiac arrest.
“With thanksgiving to God, the Ogbuenyi Fredrick Keshi family of Illah in Oshimili North Local Government Area of Delta State, announces the death of Mr. Stephen Okechukwu Chinedu Keshi,” Ado said in a statement.
He said his brother had been unhappy since his wife died last year and planned to end mourning her wednesday and return to his foreign base same day when he suddenly suffered heart attack and died.
“He has found rest,” Ado said in utter submission to the mortality of his brother.
Keshi, popularly called the Big Boss, is the only Nigerian coach to have won the Africa Cup of Nations. He also became the second person in history to win the competition as a player and as a coach, after Mahmoud El-Gohary of Egypt, when he led the Super Eagles to win the tournament in 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Keshi rose to national prominence when he debuted for the Super Eagles in 1981 at the age of 20. The late central defender withdrew from the national team in 1994. He had 64 caps and scored nine goals.
As coach, he qualified a little known and largely inexperienced Togolese national team for the 2006 World Cup in Germany but was sacked and replaced with German Otto Pfister, just before the tournament.
He, however, achieved his dream to manage a team at the World Cup when he took the Super Eagles’ side to the tournament in 2014.
He is the fifth member of the glorious 1994 Super Eagles team to die, after Uche Okafor, Thompson Oliha, Rashidi Yekini and Wilfred Agbonavbare.
He is survived by four children and his aged mother.
Former President Jonathan and former Vice President Abubakar Atiku led in the tributes to the man who gave his all to the nation as the longest serving national team captain for 11 years.
In his tribute, the former president under whom ex- Super Eagles skipper and manager won the 2013 Nations Cup for Nigeria, described the late football star as an inspirational figure, great patriot and worthy ambassador for Nigeria.
He stated that the football icon was a dedicated and inspirational sportsman who led his nation to win the prestigious continental football trophy at great moments, both as captain and coach.
“Keshi was driven by a high sense of patriotism and dedication which motivated him to always ply his craft from the front, leading his nation to win the prestigious continental football trophy at pivotal moments, both as captain and coach,” Jonathan said in a statement by his media aide, Okechukwu Eze.
Atiku described keshi’s death as an untimely loss of a golden sports gem and a pacesetter. “It saddens my heart to learn of the stunning news of the death of the golden boy of Nigeria football. His departure is more touching when one recalls that Keshi also lost his loving wife of 33 years, Kate, to cancer late last year thus rendering their young children hapless orphans,” he said.
Saraki in a statement by his Special Adviser, Media and Publicity, Mr. Yusuph Olaniyonu, said Keshi’s sudden passage was painful and unfortunate at this time.
Saraki recalled the phenomenal contributions of Keshi to the development of football in Nigeria, saying his doggedness and exemplary contributions helped the nation to clinch international trophies both as a player and a coach.
“Keshi was an excellent star. His soccer artistry and leadership skills remain unparalleled. His days, while donning the national colours and his stint as a National Coach of the Super Eagles could rightly be regarded as “Nigeria’s golden moments” in both national, continental and world soccer,” the president of the Senate said.
Former Senate President Mark also mourned Keshi, saying he received the news of his death with shock and disbelief.
Keshi was one of the greatest and most successful footballers Nigeria ever produced, Mark said, adding: “Till date, no one has beaten his record. As a captain of the Super Eagles in 1994, he won the Africa nations cup in Tunisia. As the Chief Coach of the Super Eagles in 2013, he led Nigeria to win the Nations’ cup in South Africa.”
The Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, called on stakeholders in the Nigerian football industry to use the period of mourning to embark on sober and deep reflections on the regressive trend in the nation’s football fortunes.
Ekweremadu prayed God to grant Keshi’s immediate family and the entire nation the equanimity to bear the irreparable loss.
Governor Okowa in his tribute described Keshi’s demise as a great loss not only to Delta State but to Nigeria, Africa and the world at large.
He spoke through his Chief Press Secretary (CPS), Mr Charles Aniagwu, stating that the former national coach’s contributions to the development of football in Nigeria and Africa are legendary, commendable and worthy of emulation.
“On behalf of the government and people of Delta State, I commiserate with the family of the late Stephen Okechukwu Keshi, and the entire football loving fans in Nigeria over the demise of the late Super Eagles former Captain and Coach,” Okowa said.
Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State described Keshi’s death as a great loss to the nation and to Edo State where he was resident.
In a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Peter Okhiria, the governor said Keshi was a thoroughbred professional, complete gentleman and a good citizen who impacted positively on his immediate environment where he lived a quiet life.
Oshiomhole said: “On behalf of the Government and People of Edo State, I join millions of Nigerians and other sports lovers worldwide to condole with my brother, the Governor of Delta State, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, on the sudden death of this illustrious son of the state.”
The Minister for Youth and Sports Development, Solomon Dalung, said he was shocked and sad over the sudden passage of the former football star. “It is with a heavy heart but with gratitude to the Almighty God, that I, on behalf of the Federal Government of Nigeria sympathise with the family of Coach Stephen Okechukwu Keshi (MON) and the entire Nigerian football family over the untimely death of our amiable, dedicated and outstanding hero,” he said.