By Emma Jemegah, Joe Apu, Bunmi Ogunyale, Ikenna Okafor, Solape Lawal-Solarin and Tunde Shamsudeen

NIGERIANS have reacted to the sudden death of former Super Eagles captain and coach, Stephen Okechukwu Keshi, in the early hours of yesterday in Benin, Edo State.

The outpouring of grief is an attestation that the foremost defender was loved by all Nigerians and even foreigners, some of who came across him at one time or the other. Some of them were in tears when they were asked to comment on his death.

Ifeanyi Okowa, governor of Delta State

The governor described Keshi’s demise as tragic and a monumental loss to football in Nigeria, Africa and the entire world.

In a condolence message signed by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Charles Ehiedu Aniagwu, the governor extolled the leadership qualities and sterling contributions of the former Super Eagles Captain and Coach to the growth and development of football in Nigeria and Africa.

He said the sterling contributions of Keshi to the development of football in Nigeria and Africa is legendary, com­mendable and worthy of emulation as a great patriot and achiever having led Nigeria to win the African Nations Cup twice as a player and coach.

Okowa said: “On behalf of the government and people of Delta State, I commiserate with the family of the late Stephen Okechukwu Keshi, and the entire football loving fans in Nigeria over the demise of the late Super Eagles former Captain and Coach.

“The remarkable achievements recorded by the Nigeria Super Eagles in 1994 and 2013 were unarguably due to his indefatigable role as the Captain and Coach of the Super Eagles in those glori­ous years culminating in the winning of the African Nations Cup.

“Delta State and indeed Nigerians has lost a great man whose contributions to the football world can best be described as legendary.”

Gov Oshiomhole of Edo State

The Governor, in a statement signed by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Peter Okhiria, described the late Stephen Keshi, fondly called the ‘Big Boss,’ as a thoroughbred professional, complete gentleman, a good citizen who impacted positively on his immediate environment where he lived a quiet life.

Oshiomhole said: “On behalf of the government and people of Edo State, I join millions of Nigerians and other sports lovers worldwide to condole with my brother, the Governor of Delta State, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, on the sudden death of this illustrious son of the state. He was a thoroughbred professional, a complete gentleman and a good citizen of Edo State, where he lived quietly and peace­ably with his neighbours before he gave in to the cold hands of death. His death is most painful not only to football lovers but to those whose lives he impacted positively.

“While we mourn Keshi, we celebrate his many contributions in bringing joy to millions of homes across the nation and the world with his football skills which were honed during his days as a player with the defunct New Nigerian Bank (NNB) Football Club of Benin. His name will undoubtedly be written in gold as a great Nigerian Ambassador who brought glory to the country and left an indelible mark in the sands of time.

“I pray that the Almighty God will grant his soul eternal rest and his family the fortitude to bear this great loss.”

Franklin Howard, one his closest friends

Only God understands what happen to Keshi. He was to travel to USA today (yesterday). This is the biggest blow around me; we were very close. I just can’t imagine what happened. People have been calling me all over the world to confirm if it was true.

Dominic Iorfa, Ex-international

I’m shocked beyond words. We dis­cussed him in Bauchi last week and the prospect of him landing a job in South Africa. This is a great loss. Keshi was one of our inspirations in the national team. This is a big loss to the country.

George Omokaro, alias 10-10, ex-international

This is terrible, but let’s give glory to God. Everybody will go one day, but I’m  happy with the legacy he left behind. However, it’s a great loss to the country. I send my sympathy to the family.

Former Green Eagles goalkeeper, Mike Ekpenyong

The death of Keshi is a national catastrophe. I’m highly shocked to hear of his death. This is coming after the death of his wife six months ago and I think something is wrong somewhere. He was a grassroots friend; we played together in the national team. My heart feels for his children.

Ifeanyi Onyedika, former Green Eagles defender

The death of Keshi is not only shocking but also painful. I remember he buried his wife not long ago and was on the verge of landing a job in South Africa. His death is terrify­ing and very sad.

Moses Kpakor, former Super Eagles

I’m so shocked by Keshi’s death. His leadership on the pitch as team captain for club and nation was uniquely inspiring. Even in death, he still represents a picture of the golden years of our local league and football. May his soul rest in peace, Amen.

Chairman, Kogi United, Abdul Sule

It’s unfortunate that we’ve lost a great person in Stephen Keshi; we’ve lost a hero. His death is unfortunate, but there’s nothing we can do; that’s what God wants. I pray God to forgive his sins and bless the family he left behind. May Allah be with them.

Ishaya Jatau

I’m still in shock to hear about Keshi’s death. I’ve lost a friend, a brother, because when I was playing, he was my mentor, and he always put me through. And when I was coaching again, he always encouraged me, put me through and I think I’ve lost a father figure in football.

Former NFF scribe, Dr. Tijani Yusuf

I was the first to employ him when I was NFF scribe. When I called him, he said he would gladly want to serve the country and in a matter of days he arrived the country and started work as Amodu Shuaibu’s assistant. He was a great guy. He was patriotic and hardworking. We have lost a legend. I m in pains and I can’t hold back tears.

Former board member of NFF and veteran journalist, Fan Ndubuoke

Like him or hate him, Keshi was a legend. His death is a big loss for Nigerian and African football. I just can’t believe he is no more.

Chairman technical committee of NFF, Chris Green

I’m speechless. I need time to put myself together. This is tragic.

Mike Idoko, vice chairman Lobi Stars

Nigeria has lost a soccer icon. With what is happening now, we must all seek the face of God. Keshi’s death is painful. I pray God grant him eternal rest.

Chief Adegboye Onigbinde, the man who made Keshi captain of Nigeria in 1983

This is too much of a shock. May his soul rest in peace.

Alhaji Sani Ahmed Toro, former NFF secretary gen­eral

This is a big loss to Nigeria football. Please accept my condolences.

NFF General Secretary, Dr. Mohammed Sanusi

There are no praise words too big to describe Stephen Keshi. I still cannot bring myself to speak about him in the past tense.

Chief Emeka Inyama, chairman, Abia Warriors FC

His death is shocking; it’s a big loss to Nigeria football and Nigeria as a whole. It’s a terrible development and we commiserate with Nigerians and his family.

Former Niger Tornadoes FC chairman, Suleiman David

The death of Keshi came at a time his wealth of experi­ence and advice to the rebuilding of the national team was most needed. This is a great loss to Nigeria and football in general. I want to, on behalf my self and entire family, express my heart felt condolence to the family and the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) for this great loss of a legend.

Chief Donatus Ejidike, Pillar of Sports

Keshi was one of the most charismatic skippers who had firm grip of the national team as captain and put in his best as tactician handling the Super Eagles. He will be remembered for laurels he won for Nigeria, his patriotism, his commitment, his integrity and unal­loyed loyalty to his fatherland. We have lost a gem, a charismatic skipper even as the vacuum vacated by Keshi will be difficult to fill.

Former NFF president, Alhaji Sani Lulu

He is a legend of African football, and his death at this time is not what we expected, but who are we to query God? He is the omnipotent, and omnipresent. He gives and he takes when he deems fit. We should all take solace with the maximum impact that Stephen Keshi made while he lived. I mourn Stephen Keshi, and pray that God grant his soul an eternal rest.

Former NFF secretary general, Chief Taiwo Ogunjobi

This news is disheartening and a national disaster. It’s a sad moment and big loss for Nigeria football. Keshi gave his entire life to Nigeria football, he was my captain to 1984 Nations Cup and he was my cap­tain when we played together against Morocco. It’s a big loss to football family, and he deserved a national burial by the Federal Government.

Former NFF Executive Committee member, Elder Dickson Adejube

I am shocked upon hearing the sad news of the passing on of Stephen Keshi. I sympathise with the football family and coaches association and I will implore the Federal Government to name the Abuja National Stadium after Keshi and I am praying God to give the family the fortitude to bear the loss.

Former Green Eagles captain and coach, Chris­tian Chukwu

He is a legend of Nigerian football because he achieved a lot both as a player and as a coach. I want the country to give him a befitting burial and at the same time immortalise him so that it will serve as a source of encouragement to the younger generation of Nigerian players to realise that when they serve their fatherland very well, they will not be forgotten when they die. My heart goes out to his children who have automatically become orphans without planning for it, having lost their mother not too long ago. I pray that God will grant them the fortitude to bear the irrepa­rable lost. And at the same time I also pray that God will grant his soul eternal repose.

Chief Mike Okereke Umeh, former vice presi­dent NFF

The news of his death is a rude shock to me, in par­ticular, because I have personal relationship with him, having worked with him as a player and as a coach. Keshi is a legend. As player, he was successful and as a coach, he was also successful. It’s most unfortunate. His death has devastated me I must confess to you.

Friday Ekpo, ex-international

A great one is gone. As colleagues in the national team, he was one of the best I had a wonderful time with. I am really touched by the sad news of Keshi’s death. So sad that he lost his wife in December last year and now he is gone. He was a likeable player and very jovial on and off the football pitch.

Anthony Adeyinka Adeboye, SSA to Lagos State governor on sports.

I was shell-shocked when I got the sad news of Keshi’s death. We were so close for more than 25 years. It’s really hard for me to believe that Big Boss is gone. I really feel sad that he lost his wife in 2015, his former assistant, Valerie, also lost his wife less than a week ago and now Keshi died yesterday. May God grant his soul a perfect rest.

Emmanuel Amuneke, Flying Eagles’ coach

So sad that we lost Keshi at this time. Some of us watched him play and later joined him in the national team. He always encouraged us as young players then. He was a great lost for Nigeria and Nigerian football. We would indeed miss the Big Boss.

Tunde Disu, former national team coach

The entire football world will miss Stephen Keshi. I am really unhappy over this, but what can one do? Death is inevitable. He was a great player and also a great coach. He achieved a lot in the game; I pray God to grant the family the fortitude to bear this huge loss.

Ike Shorunmu, former Super Eagles goalkeep­er’s trainer

I’m short of words because the Big Boss was a friend, a mentor and a leader to all Nigerian foot­ballers. I have headache as we speak because I cannot believe that the person I spoke to on phone on Tues­day is now dead. I told him to move on with his life. It’s a sad moment for Nigerian football and me.

Etim Esim, ex-Super Eagles midfielder

I still can’t believe Keshi is gone. This is sad moment for Nigerian football. He was a leader and played a great role in transforming the lives of Nige­rian players. He was a leader on and off the pitch. We will never forget him.

Paul Okoku, ex-Green Eagles midfielder

It’s hard to believe that Stephen Keshi is no more. We have been friends since primary school days at St. Pauls, Ebute Metta, Lagos. I must say that he is more than a friend; he is a brother. We played from school days to the national team level and we are always together in the US. This is shocking and unbelievable.

Edwin Okon, former Super Falcons coach

It was shocking news to me because I was quite close to him and when I heard the news this morn­ing, I was demoralised. Before we started training this morning, I called the players to observe a minute silence for the great coach. It’s a very big loss to Nige­rian coaches as well.