Ever Heard of Ernest Okonkwo, the Football Commentator who Conjured Words like a Magician?

by Duchess Magazine

In the latter half of the 20th century, Ernest Okonkwo, a Nigerian, became well-known as a football commentator. He was renowned for his skill with words and was one of the top pundits from Africa. A few of the commentaries he made:

“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 defenders and sends the ball to ‘Mathematical’ Segun Odegbami.”

“Odegbami dilly-dallies, shilly-shallies, 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 ‘Quick Silver’ Sylvanus Okpala who shoots an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile from outside the penalty box. It is a goal, it is a goal, Nigeria has scored.”

“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’s Shefiu Mohammed sending a diagonal pass to Baba Otu Mohammed.”

“Okey Isima, with a short pass to Sylvanus Okpala. They both play in Portugal. The can communicate in Igbo, they can communicate in English, they can communicate in Portuguese, and they just communicated with the ball.”

Chief Segun Odegbami once wrote about the late sports commentator, “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.”

“Nigeria has scored Nigeria” (after Godwin Odiye’s own goal against Tunisia in 1977).

He also enjoyed giving nicknames to Nigerian players. Among them were:

Segun Odegbami- Mathematical

Sylvanus Okpala- Quick Silver

Yisa Sofoluwe- Dean of Defense

Adokiye Amiesimaka- Chief Justice

Aloysius Atuegbu- Blockbuster

He gave the Enugu Rangers player Dominic Nwobodo the nickname “Alhaji” after the player suffered a head injury during a game and returned to the field looking like a Muslim wearing a turban due to the bandage on his head.

For his towing 6ft 5in imposing frame, Emmanuel Okala was known as “Tallest.” Due to his commanding and inspiring play on the field, Christian Chukwu was dubbed “Chairman.” Blockbuster was Alloysius Atuegbu, a stocky, short, but powerfully built man.

Slow Poison (Idowu Otubusen), Elastic (Elahor), Caterpillar (Kelechi Emetole), and so forth were some of the names.

Ernest Okonkwo was born in 1936 in Nando in the Anambra-East Local Government Area of modern-day Anambra State. He first attended the local primary school there before continuing on to the renowned Government College Umuahia in modern-day Imo State for his secondary education.

On March 8, 1957, Okonkwo began working as a program assistant for the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, which was then known as the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN). Between 1964 and 1965, he received training at the Australian Broadcasting Commission. He then rose through the ranks to become the first sports manager and the head of Outside Broadcast.

Okonkwo started his trip 33 years ago in 1957 when he joined the former Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation. His passing on August 7, 1990, marked the conclusion of his adventure (NBC).

He left behind his wife, Mrs. Joy Okonkwo, and five children, including the sports attorney Amaka Okonkwo-Oboh.

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