It was crying time yesterday at Illah, Oshimili North Local Council of Delta State at the final interment of the late former head coach of the Super Eagles, Stephen Okechukwu Keshi as family members, friends, admirers, fans and associates of the late football icon sobbed and wept uncontrollably.
The cream and gold coloured casket bearing the remains of the famous footballer, who died suddenly in Benin, Edo State on June 7, was lowered into the grave at exactly 1.55pm.
Curiously, there were no delegates from the Federal Government and the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF), but officials of the Delta State Government were fully represented at the solemn ceremonies for the coach who won the African Nations Cup in South Africa in 2013. The burial ceremony began with a funeral mass at Saint John the Evangelist Catholic Church.
The state government team was led by the Deputy Governor Kingsley Otuaro, who represented Governor Ifeanyi Okowa.
Other members of the state cabinet including the Commissioner for Information and members of the state House of Assembly were present.
Also present was the senator representing Delta South, James Manager, as well as the member representing Aniocha/Oshimili constituency at the House of Representatives, Mrs. Amaechi Mrakpor.
Keshi’s team-mates particularly the glorious Super Eagles of 1994, led by Austin Eguavoen, made an overwhelming presence both at the church service and the graveside. It was an emotional moment for most of them who could not hold back tears when the ‘Big Boss,’ as Keshi was fondly called, was being committed into the waiting arms of Mother Earth.
Apart from Eguavoen, other team-mates of the late captain present were Peter Rufai, Uche Okechukwu, Alloy Agu, Mutiu Adepoju, Ben Iroha, Edema Fuludu, Victor Ikpeba, Henry Nwosu, Austin Popo, Friday Ekpo, Frank Howard, Greg and Taribo West, among others. Kanu Nwankwo made a late appearance.
Speaking on behalf of Okowa, Otuaro said he personally admired the late Keshi as a young man growing in Benin City, adding that Keshi and his generation of footballers came at a time to blaze the trail and usher the nation into a new realm of football.
Otuaro said Keshi’s exploits in the soccer world brought glory to the nation, noting that the state government was already working out modalities to immortalise him while also prevailing on the Federal Government to do the needful in memory of the fallen hero.
Meanwhile, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III in a letter of condolence to the bereaved Keshi family described the passing on of the football icon as a great loss to the nation and the entire humanity.
Conveying his heartfelt condolences over “this monumental loss,” the monarch prayed “God in His infinite mercy” to grant the family the fortitude to bear “this irreparable loss.”
In his homily, Parish Priest of the church, Rev. Fr. Dennis Arinze described death as private affair and that funeral is a public occasion while the grief of the loss of a loved one is being bore by the family.
The cleric recalled that the news of Keshi’s death filtered into the community like a whirlwind in the morning if June 8, adding that since then, the community has been in rude shock taking into consideration the circumstance surrounding his sudden demise, just few months after the death of his wife.
“Stephen Okechukwu Keshi will continue to live in our hearts. He was a trailblazer who brought professionalism, dignity and discipline to football. As a Catholic, he was a real family man. We have a lot to learn from his transition irrespective of our chosen careers.
“The death of Keshi is an opportunity for us to reflect on our lives and the country. Nigeria is the most populous nation in Africa blessed with abundant human, natural and water resources and arable land for agriculture. But we have nothing to show for God’s favour,” he said.
Amidst tears Eguavoen eulogized: “Our hearts are heavy, words are not enough to describe him.