Ernest-Okonkwo

Although Ernest Okonkwo held sway as a sports commentator with the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, he was more famous as a football commentator. Okonkwo was one of Africa’s best football commentators, if not the best. He added fun, zeal, desire, and professionalism to his job. Check out this commentary:

Iron gate Emmanuel Okala throws the ball to Chairman Christian Chukwu. Chukwu taps the ball to the Dean of Defence Yisa Sofoluwe; Sofoluwe sends a telegraphic pass to Midfield Maestro Mudashiru Lawal. Muda Lawal dribbles two opponents and sends the ball to Mathematical Segun Odegbami.

Odegbami dilly-dallies, shilly-shallies, and locates Elastic Humphrey Edobor. The storm is gathering near the opponent’s goal area, and it would soon rain a goal. Edobor turns quickly to the right and returns the ball to Odegbami. Odegbami kicks the ball towards Quicksilver Sylvanus Okpala who shoots an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile from outside the penalty box. It is a goal! It is a goal! Nigeria has scored!

Well, there are many more below. Just read on.

Ernest Okonkwo

Today, August 7, 2019, makes it 29 years since the golden voice of sports commentary, especially football, on the radio in Nigeria, Ernest Okonkwo breathed his last. The voice can only be heard by those privileged to have made recordings while the legendary Okonkwo was alive.

Image of Ernest Okonkwo
Erudite Sports commentator, Ernest Okonkwo/Sports Village Square.

The commentary above is a brief reconstruction of the late Ernest Okonkwo’s characteristic descriptions of events in a football match between the then Green Eagles of Nigeria and a foreign national team. Okonkwo was one of the best radio commentators of his age.

To the latter generation of sports followers in Nigeria, Okonkwo’s name may not ring a bell. But to the older ones, the broadcast journalist represented the best in the running of sports commentaries on the radio.

The Wordsmith

He was a master of descriptive language. Like Chief Segun Odegbami once remarked about the late sports commentator, Okonkwo was “always conjuring words easily, effortlessly and aptly like a magician with his bag of tricks”.

Odegbami wrote, “I recall how people used to turn down the volume of their television sets in those days and turned up the volume of their radio sets to watch a match at home. I recall also how some spectators would carry small transistor radio sets to match venues and listen to radio commentaries of the same match right inside the venue!

“That was how powerful radio commentaries were rendered by great commentators, each with their unique style and strength in delivery.

“Despite the brilliance of Ishola Folorunsho, Sebastine Effurum, Kevin Ejiofor, Tolu Fatoyinbo, Yinka Craig, Dele, and a few others, Ernest Okonkwo stood slightly apart and ahead, shining just that little bit brighter in that constellation of stars that turned ‘commentating’ into an art form and made listening irresistible.

“Mr. Okonkwo was different. He gave players new names, reflecting certain outstanding or defining characteristics in their lives.

“As he ran the commentaries, he would conjure descriptive words delivered in impeccable English and a masterful usage of football lingo. The magic is that wherever he described a particular player and gave him a nickname, it stuck, thereafter, forever.”

A Giver of Names

In the 1970s through 1980s, despite the preponderance of world-class musicians across the globe, Ernest Okonkwo’s radio commentaries are considered more melodious to listen to than the best of music.

An influential sports commentator, Ernest Okonkwo was a word­smith. His captivating football commen­taries were made of simple, but fluent English.

He was an expert at coining words and new expressions. Football commentary listeners on Radio Nigeria will remember his nicknaming of footballers like Segun Odegbami as ‘Mathematical’, Adokiye Amiesimaka as ‘Chief Justice’, Yisa Sofoluwe as ‘Dean of Defence’, Sylvanus Okpala as ‘Quick Silver’ or other expres­sions like “Christian Chukwu taking an ‘Intercontinental Ballistic Missile’ type of ‘banana shot’.

Ernest Okonkwo
Ernest Okonkwo reads about the death of Father Tiko, July 2, 1986/Naija Super Fans.

That was how he nicknamed Dominic Nwobodo of Enugu Rangers, ‘Alhaji’, after the player sustained a head injury during a match, wrapped his head with a bandage that made him look like a Muslim wearing a turban when he returned to the pitch.

Emmanuel Okala was ‘Tallest’ for his towing 6ft 5in imposing frame. Christian Chukwu was ‘Chairman’ for his commanding and leadership style on the field of play. Alloysius Atuegbu, stocky, short but powerfully built, was ‘Blockbuster’.

Interestingly, Amiesimaka served as Attorney-General and Commissioner of Justice in Rivers State after his retirement from football. Was that prophetic?

There were ‘Slow Poison’ (Idowu Otubusen), ‘Elastic’ (Elahor), ‘Caterpillar’ (Kelechi Emetole), and so on. All became household nicknames in Nigerian football.

‘Nigeria has scored Nigeria’

On November 12, 1977, in a 1978 World Cup qualifying match against Tunisia at the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos, Nigeria needed just a draw to feature in Argentina the next year.

Alas! In the 61st minute, with the score at 0-0, defender Godwin Odiye headed the ball past goalkeeper Emmanuel Okala into his own net. With a pin-drop silence in the background, you could hear the commentator, Ernest Okonkwo screaming, “Nigeria has scored Nigeria”.

Image of India vs Nigeria
Read the full story here.

It was the best one could get out of the situation that at least Nigeria scored. To Okonkwo, it was the only way of consoling the brooding spectators.

The ‘Golden Voice’ of Sports Commentary

In another rhythmic description of a match between Rangers of Enugu and Raccah Rovers of Kano in 1979, he says:

“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 Muslim. Oh! It is Shefiu Mohammed sending a diagonal pass to Baba Otu Mohammed.”

Recalling his commentary in a World Cup qualifying match between Nigeria and Tunisia in 1985, he says again:

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.

Also, around 1987, when Iwuanyanwu Nationale of Owerri (former Spartans) played against the African Sports of Côte d’Ivoire right at the Owerri Township stadium, Nigeria’s Rashidi Yekini was playing for the Ivorian club.

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 ‘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 the chain, the devil is unchained”

Career and Legacy

Such was the power of his description and coinage of expressions that former national team left-winger, Adokiye Amiesimaka was quot­ed in a publication as calling for the naming of the media tribune of the Abuja National Stadium after Ernest Okonkwo.

Image of Samuel Okwaraji
Samuel Okwaraji slumps (and later died) during a FIFA World Cup qualifying match against Angola in the 77th minute, August 12, 1989/Sports Village Square.

Born in Nando in Anambra-East Local Government Area, present-day Anambra State in 1936, Ernest Okonkwo attended the local primary school there before he proceeded to the famous Government College Umuahia, present-day Imo State for his secondary studies.

Okonkwo joined what is today the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN), then known as the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation as a Programme Assistant on March 8, 1957, before being trained at the Australian Broadcasting Commission between 1964 and 1965. He later became the first manager of sports and head of Outside Broadcast (OB) with sheer dint of hard work.

Ernest Okonkwo Death

Okonkwo’s death on August 7, 1990, marked the end of a journey he began 33 years ago in 1957 when he joined the then Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC).

He was survived by his wife, Mrs. Joy Okonkwo, and five children, one of whom is Amaka Okonkwo-Oboh who is a sports lawyer.

Unfortunately, little is known about his personal life but we will not relent to research more on the life of the man who made football commentary soothing to the ears in his heydays.

Which other commentary lines about Ernest Okonkwo do you know about? You can share them in the comment box below.

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Sources

Anele, D. (2014, June 22). Notes on the beautiful game. Vanguard. Retrieved from https://www.vanguardngr.com/2014/06/notes-beautiful-game/

completesports.com (2017, November 11). Odegbami: The Man Who Named Me ‘Mathematical’ – Ernest Okonkwo. Complete Sports. Retrieved from https://www.completesports.com/odegbami-man-named-mathematical-ernest-okonkwo/

Solaja, K. (2018, August 7). Remembering Ernest Okonkwo, the Golden Voice of Sports Commentary. Sports Village Square. Retrieved from https://www.sportsvillagesquare.com/2018/08/07/remembering-ernest-okonkwo-the-golden-voice-of-sports-commentaries/

3 COMMENTS

  1. Football’s moving encyclopedias of fond memories. Hardly anything that happened in the field of play which the legendary commentator wouldn’t recall the year, the competition and the particular match where it happened… even the players that got involved!

    Perhaps more famous for his unmatched golden, graceful voice and unprecedented word artistry.
    Sir Okonkwo had that lofty, lovely endearing voice… in the tonal structure of a Majek Fashek, to explain the further.

    They call him the Blind man’s TV. That was when football had dignity. When football had its fever. Every Saturday evening across the nation you could pick up commentaries from distant states and stations, sometimes across the country, coming and going with the waves, sitting at the feet of our big uncles around the powerful transistor radio.

    Sir Ernest Okonkwo’s iconic commentary in Saudi 89, particularly at the legendary Daman miracle encounter is forever held in profound nostalgia! Remember his frenzied almost two minutes breatheless shout of a goal when we equalized 4 – 4 Remember his words on marble when we won on penalties… “The Russians have been RUSHED out of the competition”

    During my Enugu days in the 90s I recall running into an ex international, Chimezie Nwanaga , who actually came to buy drugs for his family in our pharmacy. I beamed with smiles when the elderly folks stood to welcome him in, as they spotted his car. When football had dignity!

    My smiles were borne out of recalling the nickname Sir Ernest Okonkwo had for him : Chimezie Nwanganga! (shakara efizy) a way of depicting the ball confidence of the skillful machine in the field of play.

    We have had a handful of fine commentators bred at the legendary RADIO NIGERIA… the likes of Richard Asiegbu, Tolufa Soyinbo, Emeka Odikpo… all the same tonic class. Yet all these and more sports journalists and pundits consider Sir Ernest Okonkwo the irreplaceable legend.

    As I write, I could still hear his voice “Nigeria is to meet Portugal again!”.. as the Flying Eagles eventually beat the USA 2-1 with their stubborn kessy Keller in goal at Saudi ’89.

    I could still hear his voice admonishing the entire Nigerian nation at the end of the opening match of Algeria 90 Africa cup of Nations, after the Super Eagles lost 1 – 5 to Algeria, with the deadly duo of Lakdar Beloumi and the Rabah Major rough handling Nigeria.

    Sir Okonkwo spoke and spoke kind words of consolation and hope to the 180 million Nigerians listening at home that night (even those who had access to TV yet shut down the TV volume and switched to the deafening, pulsating, electrifying radio coverage and commentaries.

    Worthy of note was that Sir Okonkwo in his golden, soothing voice kept recalling how several nations in the distant history of football lost their opening matches but still went all the way to the finals to even win it.

    It almost turned out to be so for Nigeria! We went on and on, game after game until we reached the final again with the hosts Algeria, which we sadly lost by a lone goal.

    OH Nigeria! Herbert Anijekwu, Ayo Ogunlana, Mike Obiku, Mike Obi, Andrew Uwe, et all.

    We lost it. But we sure cannot afford to lose the nostalgic comforting thrills of the legendary Ernest Okonkwo.

    If wishes were horses, a national stadium or its likes should be named after him. He that lives on in our memories should as well live on in our antiquities.

    Sir Ernest Okonkwo of the blessed memories : May your gentle soul rest in God’s perfect peace. Adieu Senior comrade!

  2. FOR THOSE OF US WHO WERE PRIVILEGE TO KNOW ERNEST OKONKWO, IT WOULD BE VERY DIFFICULT TO FORGET HIM. ONE OF THE MEMORABLE COMMENTARY WHICH I WILL ALWAYS REMEMBER HIM FOR, WAS, . THE MATCH BETWEEN IICC AND ZAMALEK OF EGYPT. IN THAT MATCH, DURING HIS COMMENTARY, ERNEST OKOKWO SAID, THE BALL NOW IS WITH EMMANUEL KWASHIE, HE BEATS A MAN, HE BEATS ANOTHER MAN, FROM QUASHIE TO QUASHIE. AND SO ON AND SO FORTH. YOU CAN’T HELP LIKING EARNEST OKONKWO, FOR HIS FUNNY FUNNY AND INTERESTING COMMENTARIES. MAY HIS SOUL REST IN PERFECT PEACE, AMEN.

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