Stephen Keshi finally laid to rest

Stephen Keshi

The remains of former Super Eagles skipper and coach, Stephen Keshi, were laid to rest at 2:20pm on Friday, in his hometown, Illah, Delta State.

Keshi died of suspected cardiac arrest on June 7 in Benin City, Edo State, aged 54.

The Big Boss’ demise comes barely six months after he lost his wife, Kate and three days before former boss, Shaibu Amodu, passed away.

His interment climaxes a two-day burial programme jointly organised by the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) and his family.

The rites began on Thursday with an hour prayer session at Saint Paul’s Catholic Church before lying-in-state at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, where Keshi played many matches for the New Nigeria Bank FC.

Then a novelty match between former internationals and an All-Star team followed suit at same venue, with the tie ending 1-1.

The corpse immediately headed for laying-in-state at the Indoor Hall of the Stephen Keshi Stadium, Asaba, named after the legend by former Delta State Governor, Emmanuel Uduaghan.

Prior to the burial on Friday, his remains were taken to the Ogbelani Palace for traditional rites as a palace chief, as another lying-in-state followed at his home in Ukpologwu quarters, Illah.

A Requiem Mass was conducted at the St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, Illah.

In his homily, Rev. Father Dennis Arinze, reminded the people that death was an inevitable end for all mortals.

Arinze was, however, quick to add that death was not the end for those who believed and lived in Christ.

The Catholic priest described as painful, the passing away of Keshi who, he said, had yet to recover from the sudden death of his beloved wife who passed on last December.

“Gathering here today for the funeral of Keshi is painful.

“When we consider his age, the circumstances surrounding his death and also the fact that he lost his wife few months ago, it is indeed pathetic and worrisome,” Arinze said.

He charged the people to be steadfast in their faith and believe in God, saying that death was not the end of life for true Christians but the beginning of another in eternity.

The priest said: “As Christians, if we die today, we die for God, if we also live, we live for God.

“So my brethren, a strong faith in God should be our source of consolation in death because there is life after death’’.

Arinze, who eulogised the late Keshi for his time and achievements, further charged the people to live a life of service, saying the late ex-footballer served his nation whole heartedly until his death.

“As a compatriot, father, brother, uncle, Keshi has made his contribution to his nation and the game of football.

“He lived a life of service that is worthy of emulation,” Arinze said.

The Deputy Governor of Delta, Kingsley Otuaro, urged Keshi’s family to take solace in the fact that the ex-footballer lived a life full of accomplishments.

He disclosed that plans were underway by the Delta Government to immortalise Keshi as a mark of honour for his selfless service and contributions to the development of football in Nigeria.

“The Government of Delta is already working out modalities to immortalise our dear “Skippo’’ because he brought so much excellence into football and we are very proud of him.

“As a person, I have been an ardent admirer of Keshi right from his days in New Nigerian Bank (NNB) of Benin City.

“Really, it is unfortunate we have missed him at a time like this.

“As Nigerians, we cannot in a hurry forget the contributions he has made to our nation. He came, saw and conquered. Adieu, the Big Boss,’’ Otuaro said.

Paying tribute also, former Super Eagles Captain, Augustine Eguavoen, noted with pain the untimely passage of his former teammate whom, he described as a born leader.

“He has indeed worked tirelessly to develop football in Nigeria.

“It is difficult to accept that Keshi is no longer with us. He will continue to be one of us and will remain our boss.

“Today, he is lying down dead, it could have been any of us,’’ he said.

The ex-footballer said Keshi’s teammates in the national team had taken solace in the fact that the “Big Boss’’ as he was fondly called, was a celebrated hero up to his death.

“Although painful as it may be, we are consoled because Keshi achieved so much in his career. We cannot question God, so, we give glory to Him for everything.

“Our hearts are heavy. Keshi was a very brave man who stood for whatever he believed in,’’ Eguavoen said.

The burial was attended by a galaxy of former ex-internationals, majority of who were Keshi’s former teammates who played between 1990 and 1994.

Among them were Peter Rufai, Mutiu Adepoju, Henry Nwosu, Friday Ekpo, Uche Okechukwu, Victor Ikpeba, Alloy Agu, Edema Fuludu and Taribo West.

Keshi represented Nigeria 64 times in 14 years and captained Nigeria to winning the Africa Cup of Nations title in 1994.

He repeated same feat as coach of the Super Eagles in 2013 – thus becoming only the second African aside Egypt’s Mahmoud El-Gohary to achieve such.