RE: ERNEST OKONKWO, THE ANCHORMAN THAT COULD
Reading the piece on the above subject written by Iwedi Ojinma and published in the Nigerian Village Square on Thursday, October 25, 2007 and all the comments that followed brought me back the memory lane. It brought back the good old days of unparalled sports journalism made possible by the great commentator, Ernest Okonkwo. Whenever he mounted the sports commentary for the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, people listening to his commentary could visualize the game as if it was being played right at their parlor.
As someone pointed out, whenever the Eagles were playing, TV volumes were turned off so that Ernest Okonkwo's commentary in Radio Nigeria would be matched with the visual on TV.
To listen to his comment while closing your eyes was much better than even watching the NTA. His golden voice was unmistakable. His descriptions were as perfect as his adjectives describing particular move were awesome. I could remember in the late â€˜80s when Iwuanyanwu Nationale of Owerri (former Spartans) played against the African Sports of Ivory Coast right at Owerri Township stadium. Nigeria's Rashidi Yekini was playing for the visitors, African Sports. Yekini was a torn in the flesh of Iwuanyanwu Nationale's defense. No one could mark him! He was taller, bigger and faster than the defenders guarding him. He knew the terrain and the Iwuanyanwu players quite well. He almost single-handedly destroyed the Owerri â€˜war-lords' that anytime he got a through pass it was always deadly. So whenever that happened, Ernest Okonkwo would say, "the devil is out of chain,the devil is unchained". So anytime we heard the expression, we knew that Yekini was poised to cause more havoc. African Sports won the match and went ahead to knock Iwuanyanwu out of the Champions Cup.
Also in the Under-17 World Cup tagged Scotland '89 when Nigeria met Canada in the group stage, our team white-washed the Canadian lads by four goals to nothing. After the first two goals were scored, the subsequent goals were described by the expression: "the ball is there". Whenever we heard that expression, we knew that Nigeria had scored yet again.
Another memorable moment was in "Saudi â€˜89" when Nigeria's Flying Eagles had an outstanding outing. In their last group match against Czechoslovakia, they needed a tie to qualify for the quarter finals. Nigeria conceded the first goal but Christopher Nwosu equalized for Nigeria. Minutes later, a Nigerian player was given a matching order, and Okonkwo exclaimed "a red card for Tunde Charityâ€¦.Oh my God". We lowered our heads as we could feel the pain and the impending danger to Nigeria's progress in the tournament, thanks to the great one. Luckily, Nigeria held on with ten men and the match ended in a draw.
But in the quarter final match of the same tournament when Nigeria played against the Soviet Union, the match was popularly referred to as the "Damman Miracle". Again, Ernest Okonkwo was at his very best. "The Russians are now moving from the right flankâ€¦.." Anytime we heard it, we would throw away our faces. The Russians first scored four unanswered goals and their last goal came barely fifteen minutes left in the match. My friends that were listening to the commentary with me left in anger, but as a die-hard football fan, I stayed glued to my radio just to hear the last word from the great one. Surprisingly, our boys took over the match and started scoring. When they scored the first goal, I heaved a sigh of relief. Few minutes later, they scored the second one to which I muttered in Igbo: "ka o di nu ka nwoke na nwanyi edi na"-at least, let it look like a man and a woman are laying down together. Then the third goal came and Ernest Okonkwo was roaring. My friends started trooping back to listen to the remaining minutes of the match. When Nduka Ugbade scored the fourth goal, "this is wonderfulâ€¦.this is wonderfulâ€¦.this is wonderful, unbelievable" rented the airwaves.
The match entered extra time with no more scores. Then came the penalty shoot out to decide who would proceed to meet team U.S.A. in the semi-final. Nigeria scored four in a row and the Russians scored three missing one, and Nigeria has the last one that could finally decide the match. A Nigerian player, Samuel Elijah, was poised to take it. It was Ernest Okonkwo the historian! In a few seconds he gave the story of what happened in the Bible between Prophet Elijah and the prophets of Baal. When he finished his history class about Prophet Elijah, he said "â€¦.and now we have Elijah of Nigeria. Give us this day. The whole country is on your shoulder, you cannot afford to fail your country. And he moves 1 2 3 4 it's a goooooooooool. This is a miracleâ€¦.God of soccer is a Nigerian" All of us were jumping up with joy! That was how the nickname, "Miracle of Damman" came about.
Talking about nicknames, almost all the players have their own nicknames, thanks to Ernest Okonkwo. Apart from "mathematical" for Segun Odegbami, "Chief Justice" for Adokie Amasiemeka and "Chairman" for Christian Chukwu, others had their own nicknames. Stephen Keshi was "The Big Boss", Etim Essien was named "Etim Maradonna Essien", Yisa Shofoluwe was "Field Marshall", Felix Owolabi was "Owo Blow" Sylvanus Okpalla was "Quicksilver" Wilfred Agbonivbare was "Agboni-basket", Friday Elaho was "Elastic Elaho" Bright Omokaro was "10-10", Peter Rufai was "Dodo Mayana", Daniel Amokachie was "The Bull", Kinsley Onye was "Onye Mature", Lawrence Ukaegbu was "Mr. Miss it" Rashidi Yekini was named "Gangling Yekini", Uche Okechukwu was "Gentle Giant" and Mutiu Adepoju was "Headmaster". There were others so numerous to mention or whose nicknames I could not match with their names like " Iron Gate". Few of the names like "Agboni-Basket", "Mr Miss it" etc were as a result of poor performance while others were as a result of outstanding skills shown on the field of play.
Sometimes he would sing a song that relates to a players name like when he sang for Iwuanyanwu's player, Obiaka Obinna. He sang Mike Ejeagha's song "Obi aka Obi nwa m, awa nze nze Obiaka Obi nwa m, awa nze nzeâ€¦."
One would wonder what names he would have preserved for the likes of Austin Okocha, George Finidi, Emmanuel Amunike, Bendict Iroha, Julius Aghahowa, Victor Ikpeba, Kanu Nwankwo, Obafemi Martins, John Utaka, Obinna Nsofor, Taribo West, Celestine Babayaro, Mickel Obi, Yakubu Aiyegbeni, etc
Also, one would wonder what he would be saying when the Super Eagles won the Nations Cup in Tunisia in 1994, or when the Dream Team won the 1996 Soccer Gold in the Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia, USA or when the Eaglets won the World Cup for the second time in Japan 1993 or when they repeated the feat for the third time this year in far away Korea.
It was a great loss since his death in 1990. Nigeria has never seen any commentator like him and would not see anyone coming after him. Emeka Odikpo and Richard Asiegbu were good and can hold their own but there can only be one Ernest Okonkwo. May his gentle soul continue to rest in the Lord.