Palpable grief and disbelief Wednesday etched on the faces of the family members of former Super Eagles Captain and Coach, Stephen Okechukwu Keshi, who reportedly died of heart attack on Tuesday evening.
At his Benin home where he died at the age of 54, his mother and other family members await an autopsy to know the cause of the football legend’s death.
Family sources said Keshi came into Nigeria from his United States base to see the grave of his wife of 35 years, Nkem Kate, who died in December after a long battle with cancer.
A member of the family, Ricky Aburimen, said Keshi complained of pains in his leg and was being rushed to Faith Mediplex Hospital, which is about 15 minutes drive from his Giwa Amu GRA Benin residence when he gave up the ghost. He was ‘brought in dead’ around 11:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
Aburimen said the family would conduct an autopsy to determine the actual cause of death. He cautioned against speculations about the cause of Keshi’s death and debunked some media reports that the late coach died of heart attack.
“He had complained of pains in his leg for some days and they kept massaging it for him. When he complained of it yesterday, they massaged it again.
“About one and half hours after the massage, he was in serious distress and was gasping for breath. That was how we rushed him to the hospital (Faith Mediplex), a distance of about 20 minutes. But by the time we arrived at the hospital, the doctor certified him dead on arrival. That was sometime between 11:30 and 11:45 pm,” Aburime said.
“It was the nurse that first came out. She checked and said there was no pulse in him. Doctors later came to do all the stuff they did, but nothing came out of it,” he said.
When asked what could have been the likely cause of Keshi’s death, Aburime said no one should speculate the cause of his death until an autopsy was conducted by qualified doctors after which the report would be made public at a press conference befitting of Keshi’s status.
“After the confirmation, as he was not a patient of the hospital, they could not write any report or present any death certificate. They said we must bring the police and the police came to inspect the body. I am about to take the corpse to Stella Obasanjo pending the autopsy, which the family wants to do. Dr. Wilson Akhiwu will conduct the autopsy.
“There is no official statement as to the cause of death. There will be no embalming. It was sudden and we don’t want anybody to speculate. That massage on his leg had taken one hour before the distress. There was no sign of ill health and Keshi had not complained recently.”
Family sources further said that he was billed to travel to the United States to visit his children.
Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari from London where he’s currently on medical vacation, paid tribute to the ‘Big Boss,’ as Keshi was fondly called by football enthusiasts.
Reacting to Keshi’s demise on his twitter handle, the president said: “Nigeria today lost a great sportsman, football player, coach and citizen. Nigerian football will not be the same without Stephen Keshi . He gave this country his all. May his soul rest in peace” he said.
He commiserated “with the family of the late Stephen Keshi, and the entire country on the shock passing away of the former Togo and Mali National teams’ coach and the only Nigerian to have won the African Cup of Nations both as a player and a coach.”
Other leaders across the country among them the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, former Vice President and All Progressives Congress chieftain, Abubakar Atiku as well as former Senate President David Mark have all paid glowing tribute to the late Keshi.
Saraki, who lamented that Keshi had lost his wife late last year said: “This must be a heavy burden for the family to bear. His death at 54 is both a rude shock and highly unfortunate.
“Nonetheless, we must take solace in the fact that he did his utmost for the development of sports in Nigeria, Africa and the world, during his sojourn on earth.
“As a player and coach, he was instrumental to superlative victories for the national team.”In a statement by his Special Adviser, Media and Publicity, Yusuph Olaniyonu, Saraki said the sad occurrence was both painful and unfortunate coming at a time the nation is in dire need of wisdom and rich experience of sports professionals like the late international star to stabilise its soccer architecture.
Atiku said Keshi’s sudden demise is an untimely loss of a sports gem and pacesetter.
In a condolence message issued by his media office in Abuja, Atiku said “It saddens my heart to learn of the stunning news of the death of the golden boy of Nigeria football. His departure is more touching when one recalls that Keshi also lost his loving wife of 33 years, Kate, to cancer late last year thus rendering their young children hapless orphans.
“While praying for the repose of the soul of this fallen hero, I would also beseech God Almighty to grant fortitude and grace to the mother, four children, family members and friends that the deceased compatriot left behind”, Atiku said.
Mark described Keshi’s death as “a monumental loss to Nigeria and indeed Africa.” Mark in a statement by his Media Assistant, Paul Mumeh said he received “received with shock and disbelief the news of the death of our indefatigable Coach Stephen Keshi. It’s devastating. It’s a sad story.”
According to Mark, “Keshi was one of the greatest and most successful footballers Nigeria has ever produced. Till date, no one has beaten his record.
“As a captain of the Super Eagles in 1994, he won the Africa Nations’ Cup in Tunisia. As the Chief Coach of the Super Eagles in 2013, he led Nigeria to win the Nations’ Cup in South Africa.
“He was forthright and outspoken. He was steadfast. He never compromised his position especially on professionalism no matter whose ox was gored. Keshi was to African football what Mohammed Ali was to boxing.
“Only a very few men in the world has such an intimidating credential. We cannot question the will of the Almighty Creator , but this is one death too many.”