Keshi wanted great comfort for his children, says Okoku
• Recalls their playing days in Iponri, Mushin Olosha, others
Former Flying Eagles and Super Eagles midfielder, US-based Paul Okoku, was one of the closest friends to the late Stephen Keshi. Okoku, who was in the Flying Eagles team, the first Nigerian team to participate in any FIFA World Cup in 1983, joined Keshi a year later in the Super Eagles team to the African Cup of Nations in Cote d’Ivoire, where Nigeria placed second behind the Indomitable Lions of Cameroun.
Before then, they were teammates playing street football at such greater tomorrow teams as Olaleye Boys Club, Iponri; Seven Planners, Morocco, Seven Pillars, Mushin Olosha, Seven Scorpions, Masha, as well as the Youth Sports Federation of Nigeria (YSFON).
When Okoku relocated to the United States, he maintained his relationship with ‘The Big Boss’ and members of his family, but the sudden demise of Keshi last week in Benin City has put an end to all that. “Stephen “Bobby Moore” Keshi, was my childhood playmate,” Okoku said yesterday in a message to The Guardian from his base in the United States. “He was my youth and faithful companion, a brother and my captain. We ate from the same plate at each other’s houses. We were friends since our preteen age, and followed the same football career path. He was personable, shy, humorous, charismatic, and disciplined as an individual and as a captain. He was not a womanizer. He never skipped camp to go partying.
In fact, Keshi detested that wholeheartedly. Hence, he led by example,” he stated.According to Okoku, the late Keshi wanted his children to receive the best education and become comfortable in life.
Two years ago (2014), Okoku, Godwin Odiye and the late Stephen Keshi presented computers, laptops, a generator, ceiling fans and a printer to Saint Paul’s Primary School, Apapa Rd, Ebute-Metta, Mainland, Lagos, during a Greater Tomorrow event.
“Keshi had that unbiased character and unassuming leadership. He also had father-benevolent approach and direct action to humanity. He was a marvelous man and a gentleman, but widely misunderstood by many people who never even got close, but judged him from a distance.
“He took time to meet with the Abuja’s orphans and less privileged children, took pictures with them during the launch of Greater Tomorrow Children’s Foundation. He graced Greater Tomorrow Children’s Foundation to celebrate Children’s Day and World’s Hunger Day as his own way of giving back to the community. He received the highest Mainland humanitarian award for his giving back to the society that supported him. That was Stephen, an ambassador for goodwill,” Okoku stated.
Okoku recalled their youthful days activities, saying: “We attended St. Paul’s Catholic Church, at Denton/Oyingbo, together. We particularly preferred the 6a.m. mass, because it gave us enough time to get back home and rush to Morocco for Seven Planners Youth Club’s tournaments.
“It was during one of this youth club activities that the founder of the club, Mr. Gomez, named us after the 1970s World Cup stars. Stephen was named after the England captain, Bobby Moore, while I was named after the Dutch great, Johnny Rep, Simeon Alada was “John Billy Bremna,” a Scottish great, Patrick Macauley was “Piedro Anastasia,” Italian great, Emmanuel Akpan, was Fabio Capello, Italian great, etc. Keshi and I thought that the name, Raymond King, our goalkeeper at Seven Planners then, and at St. Finbarr’s College, was given to him by Mr. Gomez.
“We also played together for Greater Tomorrow under the Nigeria Football Association (NFA), as the curtain raiser to entertain the crowd before big clubs and national teams played. We were sponsored by NFA to attend the coaching clinic organized by Pele himself at the Liberty Stadium. This was in 1976, when we, as a team, traveled from Lagos to Ibadan to meet with the visiting Pele of Brazil. He captained the team then as well.
“We also served as ball boys with Henry Nwosu. Stephen was my captain at St. Finbarr’s College, Akoka, Lagos, where we stayed at the boys’ quarters in the school’s compound for two years consecutively, courtesy of the principal, Mr. Kpotie. He took his education seriously then as he did at the primary school level.”
Okoku, who revealed that Keshi would abandon vital games during soccer seasons for his classes, disclosed “he was also my captain in the 1980s when we played for the then Green Eagles team B as the feeder to the team A.
“It was from the team B that he got a call up to the Green Eagles team A, coming in as a substitute during the 1982 World Cup qualifier against Algeria at the National Stadium, Lagos. Since that very moment, and in his accomplished life, he went on to play and captain Nigeria for the next 14 years. I can remember very clearly his excitement and thanksgiving to God when he was named the new Super Eagles coach in November of 2011.
“I called to congratulate him when he was in Nigeria, and we were on the phone for over two hours. Sadly, that excitement later turned sour, which brought him stress, sadness, despair, depression, distress to his personal and professional life and it proved deadly in the end. He expected to have been treated with reverence, which every human being deserves. How come the things that make us happy make us so sad”? (referring to Frankie Beverly’s quote).
“I can say all of these attributes and qualities that Keshi possessed because I witnessed them growing up with him as preteens, through his adolescent living to his adulthood. These are facts. Thank you for your friendship, your companion, your sacrifices and dedication to less privileged children, for humanity and Greater Tomorrow Children’s Foundation,” Okoku added.