It is indeed an irony of fate that the renowned football radio commentator happened to fall within the category of the little known as far as his personal life was concerned. Ernest Okonkwo was born in 1936 at Nando, Oyi Local Government Area of Anambra State, the amiable sports commentator attended the local primary school, before proceeding to the then famous Government College, Umuahia in Imo State for his secondary education.
Ernest made football commentary smoothing to all ears in his heydays.
He joined the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) as a programmme Assistant before being trained at the Australian Broadcasting commission between 1964 and 1965. He later became the head of the Outside broadcast Unit of the (FRCN).
To the latter generation of sports followers in Nigeria Ernest 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 radio. Most of our present day soccer fans who throng viewing centers on daily basis might not be able to appreciate the lexical prowess of our dear Ernest Okonkwo who was rightfully described as a wordsmith, who, he actually was.
The days of Ernest Okonkwo on the Air waves were the days when people would put their television sets on mute and prefer to listen to Okonkwo’s commentary on Radio, He was a creative mind who had the unique style of running commentaries giving appropriate qualifying adjectives to each person whether player, administrator or referee. He was indeed a heavyweight in the broadcast industry.
Ernest was factually the soul of every game and Nigerian league was always alive with his voice running like wild fire describing both the ball and the players on the field of play.
Someone rightly said in the form of a rhetoric that Ernest Okonkwo died with the league football commentary because ever since his death, the country has not produced any other that can surpass his style.
Some people argued and still argue that if Ernest Okonkwo were from a different clime, he would have been immortalized. To immortalize him of course is the sports community’s expectation from the Federal Government.
Despite the brilliance of Ishola Folorunsho, Sebastine Effurrum, Kelvin Ejiofor, Tolu Fatoyinbo, Yinka Craig, Henry Akinsoyimi, Ernest Okonkwo stood slightly apart and ahead, shinning just little brighter in that constellation of stars that turned running sports commentaries on Radio into an art form and made listening irresistible.
According to some unrepentant soccer fans of those years, Mr. Okonkwo was different. He gave players new names, reflecting certain outstanding or defining characteristics in their lives.
In the 1970s through 1980s despite the dominance of world class musicians across the globe, Ernest Okonkwo’s radio commentaries were considered more melodious (and this is not an over statement) to listen to, than the best of music.
He gave appropriate Nick-Names of sort to brilliant soccer maestros like Segun Odegbami (Mathematician), Adokie Amiesimaka (Chief Justice) Yisa Sofoluwe( Dean of Defense) Sylvamus Okpala (Quick silver) or even other expressions like Christain Chuckwu taking an “Intercontinental ballistic missile type of “Banana shot”; he gave him the appellation (Chairman)” for his commanding and leadership style on the field of play.
Emmanuel Okala (Tallest) for his imposing frame and physical stature. Alloysuis Atuegbu stocky, short but powerfully built was (Blockbuster).
Interestingly Amiesimaka served as Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in Rivers State after his retirement from football. Really prophetic.
There was (Idowu Otubusin) (Slow poison), Elahor (Elastic), Kelechi Emetole (Caterpillar), all became household nicknames in Nigerian football.
Let us consider this rhythmic description of the match between Rangers of Enugu and Raccah Rivers in 1979 his words. “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 Shefui Mohammed, sending a diagonal pass to Baba Otu Mohammed”.
Such was the power of description and coinage of expressions that former National team left winger Adokiye Amiesimaka appreciated in the doyen. He emphasized in a publication that the Media Tribune of the Abuja National Stadium should be named after Ernest Okonkwo.
As a budding Radio Presenter in Radio Nigeria Ibadan, I could not describe in vivid details what passed through me the day I met Ernest Okonkwo, When he breezed into our broadcasting House Complex at Oba Adebimpe Road Ibadan, Oyo State. In his heydays, I was expecting somebody with an imposing stature with all the paraphernalia, but the gentle man came with a simple school bag strapped between the two shoulders behind and asked me to take him to Adamasingba stadium. Simply dressed, soft spoken and unassuming. What a humble posture. Indeed some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have the greatness thrust upon them. Ernest Okonkwo really achieved the greatness, which at long last was finally thrust upon him. Okonkwo was like a colossus in his chosen career particularly in radio sports commentary from 1957 when he joined the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) till August 7, 1990 when he breathed his last, having served the Broadcasting Industry meritoriously for 33years.
The Great Ernest Okonkwo was married to Mrs. Joy Okonkwo, he had five children, two boys and three girls.