• Eguavoen, Ikpeba, Rufai other ex-Eagles Pay Last Respect at Illah
By Omon-Julius Onabu
It was an emotion-laden atmosphere at Illah, Oshimili North Local Government Area of Delta State, on Friday as the remains of former head coach of the Nigeria’s Super Eagles, Stephen Okechukwu Keshi, were laid to rest.
Keshi was buried in a tomb within the compound of his personal house in Ukpologwu Quarters in Illah, the football icon’s hometown, after a requiem mass at the Saint John the Evangelist Catholic Church, in Illah town.
Although Federal Government’s presence was again conspicuously absent, like during the ceremony of lying-in-state and tributes at the Stephen Keshi Stadium, Asaba on Thursday, the strong presence of numerous former members of the Super Eagles, particularly the victorious 1994 Super Eagles squad, appeared fairly compensatory.
Moreover, the elements seemed to be pleased with the eventful life of dedication to national service as a footballer and football tactician as the weather was clement throughout the duration of the funeral rites.
On hand to support the children and family members of the late Keshi in their moment of grief were the deceased teammates including Austin Eguavoen, goalkeeper Peter Rufai, Uche Okechukwu, Alloy Agu, Mutiu Adepoju and Ben Iroha.
Others included Victor Ikpeba, Edema Fuludu, Friday Ekpo, Henry Nwosu, Austin Popo, Taribo West and Franklin Howard who played with Keshi in the then New Nigerian Bank Football Club.
Delivering a philosophical homily with a strong message for Nigerians, particularly the leaders and youths, the Parish Priest of Saint John the Evangelist, Rev Father Dennis Arinze, pointed out that death was an inevitable end which awaited every human being irrespective of their social, economic or political status.
Arinze lamented the situation in Nigeria where practically everything had gone awry from security to infrastructure, education and health, saying the problems bedeviling Nigeria was obviously man-made and so Nigerians could not blame God for the country’s catalogue of woes.
With reference to the scriptural readings from the a book of Wisdom, Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans and the Gospel of Saint John, he advised the people to live with the daily consciousness of death as an inevitable end awaiting all of us.
“Let us live as those who anticipate death”, Arinze said, warning leaders in particular to “shun praise-singers but being conscious of the fact that God will judge your actions.”
He urged Nigerian leaders to stop the elaborate advertisement of their real and imagined achievements by mounting huge expensive billboards or going to local and international media organisations to gloat about their supposed service to their people.
While lamenting that the Nigerian system was encouraging laziness and indolence especially among the youth who were supposedly future leaders the clergyman challenged Nigerian leaders to render selfless and purposeful service to the fatherland.
Fr Arinze said, “Publicising what you have done in the media to the world is unnecessary; we (the people) have eyes to see what you have done. If you really tar the roads, those who ply the roads will tell the world what you have done. Build our schools and equip them adequately, the parents and children who go to the schools will tell the whole world about it.
“However, as a leader, if my son and daughter cannot school in Nigeria, then I am a failure. If I cannot be treated in Nigeria because of the poor health cup facilities in the country, then I am a failure.”
He nevertheless warned that hope for the future would become bleaker if the youths were not encouraged along the path of hard work, selfless service and commitment to excellence in whatever capacity they find themselves.
Arinze noted that the late Keshi was a Catholic and a good family-man who gave his best for his best for the country by pursuing excellence as a footballer and a national football coach without having to be Nigerian president, governor or minister.
It was an emotional moment when Eguavoen, who spoke on behalf all Keshi’s former teammates and Super Eagles player in the church, took the microphone and led the congregation to render praise and thanksgiving songs in English and local languages for the life of the erstwhile national football them captain.
Eguavoen described Keshi’s death as “a bitter pill we all must unavoidably swallow, noting that Keshi was a strong-willed man who pursued what he believed in unless there was a superior conviction to do otherwise.
Eguavoen, who is also an ex-international player and football coach, asserted that Keshi, alias Big Boss, was a man many misunderstood.
He disclosed that Coach Clemens Westerhof as a coach had introduced a system into the national team “which made it to operate like a government with Keshi as our president.
So, simply because somebody could not get at Keshi because they would meet a stumbling block in the players, people claimed there was a cabal in the Super Eagles, Eguavoen stressed, saying it was a wrong claim.
Delta State Governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, who was represented by his deputy, Mr. Kingsley Otuaro, also thanked God for the life and legacies of the late footballer and assured that modalities were already in place immortalize Stephen Keshi who brought so much glory to Delta State and Nigeria.
He said, “We thank God for a life well lived. I want to assure you that Delta State Government is already working out modalities to immortalise Steve Keshi. He brought excellence into the game of football; he also brought glory to Delta State and this country. We will link up with the Federal Government to ensure that that Keshi gets the best honour, even after his burial.”
Professor Ikechukwu Ezemonye, while rendering the funeral oration, titled, “The Final Whistle”, on behalf of the entire Illah community, recalled the prolonged shock and grief that enveloped Keshi’s family and the whole town when news of the sudden demise of the football icon filtered in early in June 8, 2016.
He however noted that the sheer attendance at the requiem mass and late Keshi’s string of achievements as a footballer, coach, family man and senior chief of Illah kingdom and, above all, his belief in God Almighty was both consoling and inspiring.
“As the Reverend Father noted, the eventful life of our illustrious son, Stephen Okechukwu Keshi, shows that the length of time lived matters less than the worth of life lived”, Ezemonye said, adding, “Everyone dies but not everyone lives.”
The late Keshi as a player captained the Super Eagles to glory at the African Cup of Nations in Tunisia in 1994 and later won the trophy in South Africa as head coach of the senior national team in 2013, a record that he held with Egyptian legend, Gohary.
Keshi died on June 7, 2016 in Benin-City, Edo State, at the age of 54, a few months after losing his wife to the cold hands of death, a loss many believe Keshi never recovered from till his demise.
Other dignitaries at the event include the speaker, Delta State House of Assembly, Hon Monday Igbuya, members of the Delta State Executive Council, including the information commissioner, amr Patrick Ukah and Mr. Tony Okowa, chairman of the state sports council, Mr. Tony Okowa, state and national lawmakers including Senator James Manager and a sister of the deceased, May Keshi and sports analyst, Mr. Mitchell Obi.