The Legendary Ernest Okonkwo. Golden Voice over Nigeria’s Radio Airwaves.


Could anyone remember hilarious clichés like these?

“He beats Christian Chukwu!, He beats Christian Madu!, He beats Christian Nwokocha! . . He beats three Christians in a row!, who is this man?” “He must be a Moslem! Oh! it is Shefiu Mohammed sending a diagonal pass to Baba Otu Mohammed!”

On another account he quipped: “The lanky ebony black goal-hungry Ranger is ranging alone in the goal area of the Water Corporation Football Club of Ibadan. Can the one-man riot squad make it four for Rangers? A hat trick, that is one, two, three goals are already in his kitty”. “Ifeanyi Chukwu means ‘Nothing is insurmountable to God’. Four goals are also not beyond the ability of Ifeanyi Chukwu Onyedika”. “It is a goal! Goal number four for the indomitable Rangers International Football Club of Enugu, all scored by Ifeanyi Chukwu Onyedika”. His apt description, “After ninety minutes of play and extra time, the match has ended one goal apiece, but a winner must emerge”.

Another: “Five players have on each side been selected to take the penalty kick. The players are praying to their God to give them this day, but it is not who prays more but who plays better.”
“ Okey Isima, with a short pass to Sylvanus Okpala, they both play in Portugal. They can communicate in Igbo, they can communicate in English, they can communicate in Portuguese and they just communicated with the ball.”

“ Etim Esin, he shilly-shallies, he dilly-dallies, and he tries to beat one man, but only succeeds in beating himself.” “The Super Eagles are gathered in the centre of the circle, they seem to be saying, “Oh! God give us this day!.””

Those are the fond memories of the quintessential Ernest Okonkwo whose voice lighted up every football game then.

Names and coinages were his trademark; Emmanuel ‘Man Mountain’ Okala, Aloysius ‘Blockbuster’ Atuegbu, Christian ‘Chairman’ Chukwu, ‘Mathematical’ Segun Odegbami, Kelechi ‘Caterpillar’ Emetole, ‘Midfield Maestro’ Mudashiru Lawal, ‘Justice’ Adokiye Amasiemeka, Uwem ‘Harmattan’ Ekarika, or Sylvanus ‘Quicksilver’ Okpala, ‘Commander’- Louis Igwilo, Sylvester ‘Bahama’ Oparanozie, Benedict ‘Surugede’ Ugwu, Idowu ‘Slow Poison’ Otubusen, ‘Shortish’ John Benson, ‘Diminutive’- Amaechi Otti, Nnamdi_‘Policeman’_ Anyafo, Davidson ‘Okada Air’ Owumi, ‘Penalty Specialist’- Christian Madu, ‘Masters of Long Throw’- Moses Otolorin, and ‘The Man with Bullet Shot’- Emmanuel Osigwe.

Those were days when people would put their television set on mute and prefer to listen to Okonkwo’s commentary on radio. He was a creative mind who had a unique style of commentating, giving appropriate qualifying adjectives to each of every persona, be they player, administrator or referee. He was indeed a heavyweight in the broadcast industry when he ran commentaries on the radio for Radio Nigeria in his days.

He was the soul of every game and Nigerian league was alive with his voice running like wild fire describing both the ball and the players on the field of play. Someone once thoughtfully asked whether Ernest Okonkwo died with the league football commentary because ever since his death the country has not produced any other that can surpass his style.

So many argued and still argue that if Ernest Okonkwo is to be from a different clime, he would have been immortalized. To immortalize him of course is the sports community’s expectation from the federal government.

Undoubtedly, he popularized the term “Intercontinental ballistic missile.” He was witty, intelligent, and never was there a dull moment when he is on the commentaries during a football match.

How can anyone that knows something about football in Nigeria forget the one and only evergreen Ernest Okonkwo with his very vivid and spirited commentaries? He was a genius, a class act and Mr. Total football.

When you remember memorable matches like Rangers versus IICC Shooting Stars, African Cup Winners Cup Semifinal of 1976. Rangers versus Mehalla of Egypt where came the phrase, “Mehalla saw wahala” Green Eagles versus Tunisia in 1978, where Godwin Odiye scored an own goal and Nigeria failed in their bid for the ‘78 world cup in Argentina, Green Eagles versus Morocco in 1988 semifinal nation’s cup penalty shoot-out, what readily comes to mind is the memory of Ernest Okonkwo.

Okonkwo looked like a colossus in his chosen career, particularly in radio sports commentary from 1957 when he joined the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) till August 7, 1990 when he breathed his last, having given illustrious 33 years to broadcasting.

He started his journey in the media at the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) Enugu in 1957 as programme assistant. But was later trained at Australian Broadcasting Commission between 1964 and 1965. He later became Head of outside Broadcasts at the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN).

He was from Nando in Anambra-East Local Government Area, Anambra State. As a sport commentator, Okonkwo made his debut at the 1976 African Nations Cup in Addis-Ababa and later went on to cover many other international sport competitions, including the All-Africa Games, Olympic Games and the Commonwealth Games. On the home front, Okonkwo was there running commentaries on the local sport competitions, particularly football matches, in addition to analyzing matches involving the national football teams.

Remarkably, *Okonkwo distinguished himself with his witty and flowery language and deep sense of analysis. Like Moses Kpakor described, “The specialty of this man which surprised me was how he knew all the actions that would end in goal! He would readily tell you this action would lead to a goal and it would be so.”

He brought verve into radio commentary and interestingly many were entertained, enlightened and informed by his art. In essence, during his days many fans and footballers alike would record his commentaries as every outing was a masterpiece.

According to Yisa Sofoluwe, “He was a master on the job who is greatly missed by all of us. I used to ask that his commentaries be recorded for me and always listened to them after matches.”

Ernest Okonkwo who could be rightly described as a man with the special gift of the garb might have gone, but obviously his legacies in Nigerian football remains, especially memories of his exceptional works.

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