Two Deaths Too Many | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Two Deaths Too Many

Posted: Jun 10, 2016 at 2:00 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

The death, penultimate Friday, of Muhammad Ali, three-times undisputed world heavyweight boxing champion, took the world by storm. It was not unexpected; yet, when it came, it left the world flustered. The magnitude of the loss was what shook the world; for the self-acclaimed “greatest of all times” had been down with Parkinson’s disease for close to half of his 74 years on earth. When he was rushed to hospital last week Thursday on account of respiratory problems complicated by his Parkinson’s condition, with his doctors virtually throwing up their hands in the air, the world, while still hoping for the best, no doubt expected the worst. And the worst was not late in coming.

But the death of Stephen Okechukwu Keshi, ex-skipper of the Super Eagles and ex-national team coach, last Wednesday, came as a rude shock to a bewildered nation. For one, Keshi only recently lost his adorable wife, Kate, and was yet to get out of the mourning mood. For another, he was not known to be ill and nothing, therefore, prepared anyone for the sad news that filtered from his Benin, Edo state-base last Wednesday. The last we had heard of the ebullient ex-international footballer and controversial coach was that he was surfing the South African league for a coaching job. So, what we expected was news that he had landed one and for the lucky club to be named. Alas! This was not to be. Keshi’s death was so sudden; his illness no less. According to reports, he was not sick for a long spell; neither was he hospitalised. Keshi’s death is thus a replica of the sudden and shocking exit of another national and international soccer icon, Rashidi Yekini.

But like Yekini, Keshi also made his mark before his exit. He has, indeed, left indelible marks on the sands of time. His records will be hard to equal, least of all surpassed. At his New Nigeria Bank football club, Benin, where he cut his teeth to his stint as an international footballer first in Cote d’Ivoire and later in Belgium, Keshi was the quintessential footballer whose quality was beyond reproach; his leadership acumen was also beyond doubt. A natural leader, it was no surprise that he captained the Super Eagles for many years and was the rallying point on and off the pitch for his team mates. Of course, he drew the ire of the authorities for his audacity but that did not stop him from attaining the lofty heights he was destined for. He has the singular honour of being only one of two Africans to have won the prestigious African Cup of Nations as a player and coach. He qualified Togo for the World Cup and later repeated the same feat for his fatherland, Nigeria, taking the country to the qualifying rounds of a World Cup competition. It will be an understatement to say that he will be sorely missed. Although controversies trailed many of his footballing actions while he lived, in death he is sure to assume a larger-than-life image. It only remains to say that this man deserves to be accorded the final respects due a national hero; for truly and indeed, he was one.

Muhammad Ali, who “floats like a butterfly and stinks like a bee” was a man of many parts. First and foremost, he was a boxer; beyond that, however, he was an entertainer; a poet, civil rights activist, rebel, philanthropist, diplomat, motivator and role model. Born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr, our greatest treasure of Ali was his activism; especially his resolute, principled, and firm stand against racial discrimination. His exposition of the duplicity and complicity of White America is second to none. He had said,” Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam, while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No, I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of White slave masters of the darker people the world over.”

He was punished quite alright but he earned the awe of the White establishment and the adoration of his own Black people. Posterity would, thenceforth, never treat him lightly. This, to our mind, is Ali’s greatest legacy. Eternal rest grant him O Lord! And to our own “Big Boss” Stephen Keshi, sweet repose