WHEN I finished my NYSC in the Ministry of Justice in the then just created Ogun State (we were the first batch of Corpers formally posted to the state in July 1977) I assumed duty in the Bendel State Ministry of Justice – Benin City as Pupil State Counsel. That was July 1978. Having being involved all my life in sports (athletics and football) played briefly for Asabatex FC reserves as a 19 years old pupil teacher at St. Patrick College Asaba in 1973. After gaining admission same year into ABU Zaria I played soccer for the school team that won Bronze and Gold in 1974 and 76 NUGA respectively and for Ogun State Housing Corporation that played in the preliminary stages of formation of the what is now called Nigeria Premier League NPL in 1977 -78. With the above under my belt, you can imagine how hungry I was for Soccer when I arrived the ancient but soccer crazy city of Benin in 1978 to assume duty as state counsel. Every weekend I migrated from one soccer pitch to the other waiting to be picked to have a run-in as I was barely known enough to have a full game, I found solace in 1979 when some top footballers from both New Nigerian Bank Football Club (NNB) and Bendel Insurance Football Club were grounded and sent to white collar jobs in the offices!!!. With this deluge of stars, our usual Sunday practice sessions became more fierce as it now included Saturday mornings at Ekenwan Campus of the University of Benin and on Sundays played All Stars VS The Rest of the World (which later team included all the “Benin” players who played in the National League but were free and returned to base on Sunday (most league matches were on Saturdays). Among the initial All Stars were Owu, Solomon Amike, Egbekeme, Ajasa (Black Cat) Joe Okoh, Anniversary, the Ghanains – Ayite, Zigilala, and later Africa 5 Victor Oduah, Sam Kedi etc. It was impossible to miss such matches both for fans and players alike on sunday mornings at 9,00am prompt. In the rest of the world were, Goalkeepers Ekong (NNB) Agwo Nnaji (Bendel Ins.), Stephen Keshi, Tarla Okorowanta, Henry Nwosu, Ozogula, Oriaro, Igbinabaro, Amos Edosoghe, Benson Edema, Humphrey Edobor and the like (NNB), Monday Eguavoen (elder brother of Augustine Eguavoen), Ogboe, Boateng, (Bendel Ins.) Ben Iroha of Flash Flamingoes. In spite of the array of stars in the “Rest of the World” team they were more on the losing side. Most games were low scores as All Stars always had to defend against their more robust faster/younger opponents. Some Coaches like Tetteh joined both in playing and watching as well. It was there I first met my friend Stephen Keshi. Initially we were not close as this young man and his pals Okoronwanta and one or two others always delighted in running rings round me to ridicule my robust and rather rough style of play. Fate played a bigger part when I joined New Nigeria Bank Ltd as Company Secretary in 1984. About two weeks after I assumed duty, Capitan (as he was respectfully referred to by his Team Mates and even colleagues outside NNBFC) walked into my office in their football attires! I was surprised at this visit without notice as I played with (against) then only a day or two back. Always a leader, Capitan stood up and said they were there to request me to join the Management Board of the Bank’s Football Club. I almost leapt for joy at the recognition but controlled my emotions. I thanked them and told
them to place the matter before the Football Board and Bank Management Team. To my further surprise, I got a letter appointing me to the Football Management Board within a few days. The Assistant General Manager Administration and Personnel was in- charge. Then it was Mr. S.S. Gomina, (now a Bishop of the Anglican Communion) a calm and religious man who did not know much about football. But the Board then had some non-Bank staff who were soccer crazy like Mike Sokoh (he died while shouting Gooooal when Kano Nwankwo scored the winning goal in 1996 Atlanta Olympic Soccer Final Match against Brazil). Mr. Ikay Afe (The Admin & Personnel Manager) was the Engine Room. Coming back to Keshi, I called him a few days later and we chatted about his dream for the Club. I was amazed as this 20 or 21 year old showed so much understanding and maturity that I immediately knew the sky would be the limit if properly guided. Some of his
dreams included winning the National League, Captaining the National Team to Africa Cup and World Cup Glory and if possible playing in Europe. I told him they were possible if only the following were done; (1) He had to be more disciplined generally and reduce his weight via better feeding habit and more training. (2) He had to reduce easy lifestyle which was the fad with most top sports persons – football no exception. (3) He had to show more professionalism in all aspects including general behaviour and dressing on and off the pitch. I showed him a football magazine where a manager in England fined a player for coming to the club premises for training without adorning either his club Jacket or the Club tie. He imbibed all these and assisted in instilling discipline in the Team. Players who were given yellow or red cards during matches had the offences reviewed by a panel of one or two players and
· He always put in extra training to remain in tip-top condition due to general weight problem. · He had no scandal as some of his earlier colleagues who plied their trade in Europe in spite of the fact he was even the first or second to blaze the trail in all the clubs he played in. · He was stable – married his wife when he was just about 20-years old. · He was a Team player and never reneged on his colleagues even at the risk of his own career.
· He was liked by those in authority for his openness and boldness. · Some of his fellow coaches who could not be so bold due to their Timidity (most of them plied their trade locally, before becoming coaches) wondered at his guts and how he calmly handled crisis. · He was honest and direct which sometimes placed him in line of fire from his Boss. He was like his age long pal (Clemence Westerhof) the best man to have coached the National Team. · He was the Pressman’s delight as his name always made news. While coaching the National Team we once met on an International flight and I asked for his Autograph at the Lounge. He caused quite a stir when he instead started introducing me as one of his mentors. I was almost embarrassed as I had left football administration to the much calmer and serene atmosphere in golf administration for over a quarter of a century! Finally I coaxed him to oblige me for the sake of my son Emeke whom he used to take to Ogbe Stadium on match days way back in the 1980s and also jogged with him in the Benin golf course whenever both were on holidays in the
1990s. Trust him – he autographed two of his cards. Stephen’s generosity and discipline came to the fore again in 1985 when he along with Henry Nwosu and Tarila Okoronwanta and two others were suspended by the Group Captain Ikhazobor led NFA for breaking camp to play in a crucial FA cup tie. The suspension was to last 6-months!! (Military style discipline for breaking camp to work for NNB your Boss) when all entreaties fell on deaf ears, a gentleman who as operating as an Agent in those days introduced them to clubs in Cote D’Ivoire. Keshi signed for Stade Abidjan FC, Okoronwanta and Nwosu for ASEC Mimosa FC. The Chairman of Stade FC (Monsieur Kondon Mondon) a lawyer was also chairman of the Ivorian Bar. We became close friends when I visited him to seek Keshi’s release to play for NNB during a WAFU Cup match during the suspension. Keshi was instrumental to the release, (I as a lawyer had noted that the letter from NFA only suspended them from NFA organized matches). Keshi pleaded with Monsieur Mondon to let him serve his fatherland. This action influence ASEC FC to
release Henry Nwosu when the latter made his request. Needless to say we won the matches and retained the WAFU cup second time. When I visited Abidjan for his release he gave me his room in the hotel free of charge to stay in, took me out to dinner and a night out in town. When I awoke in the morning about 6.00am Keshi and his training gear were gone! At about 7.00am he came back sweating profusely that he had gone to the beach to sweat out the heavy Dinner and Beer we had the previous night. He was that conscious of his job. He was also already speaking smattering French in the few weeks he had stayed in Abidjan. He was speaking French, Dutch, Spanish and English by the time he stopped playing not to talk about Ibo, Yoruba, Hausa and his native Aniocha. That is the Stephen Keshi I know and will always miss. Fare thee well Mon Ami! Adieu Capitan!! Adieu Big Boss!!! Chief Barrister Edwin Osuhor (KSM) Wrote in from Abuja
some board members. If the offence was willful, the player was fined a few Naira and the money used in buying refreshment at half time during training sessions! Needless to say Keshi achieved all his dreams – won the League in 1984, won WAFU Cup twice in 1984 and 1985 (NNB were in finals for the 3rd consecutive times in 1986 when Nigeria withdrew due to politics). Captained Nigeria to win the Nations Cup in 1994, Captained Nigeria to the 1994 World Cup (even as a non-playing Captain – to show his overall influence and discipline). Coached the Super Eagles to the 2013 Nations Cup victory, only the second person to achieve this feat. First Nigerian to take two other Nations – Mali and Togo to the Nations Cup and World Cup respectively. Stephen as a human being had his faults, likes and dislikes. · He was always disciplined, followed rules whether football or life rules. · He was hardly ever sent off in a match. · I never saw him retaliate or use fowl language. · He respected his colleagues and superiors alike