A tribute to Uche Okafor

by Sayo Owolabi

I was preparing to send my bit for this week to the editor when my co-presenter came into the office. He said a friend just informed him that former Super Eagles defender, Uche Okafor was found dead in his home in Dallas in the United States.

He was apparently found hung in his room, raising the possibility of suicide rather than a murder.

I initially waved the information aside as another rumour like the bomb scare at Motorways, Ikeja, but as seconds turned to minutes and minutes turned to hours the news seemed to be true. Sports websites, Supersport.com and MTNfootball.com broke the news of the demise of the central defender who began his professional career at the defunct ACB of Lagos before moving to KRC Mechelen.

A former Super Eagles team mate of Uche Okafor, Ben Iroha and a top official of the Imo State Sports Council, Harry Awurumbe expressed shock at the untimely demise of Okafor who was apparently doing well for himself in the United States.

Personally however, this death is particularly painful as his colleagues in the USA 94 World Cup squad were recognised and rewarded with various appointments in the last quarter of last year – Samson Siasia became Super Eagles coach, Mike Emenalo replaced Ray Wilkins as Assistant manager at Chelsea, and Finidi George was appointed in a technical capacity at his former club, Real Betis, to name a few.

I do not want to believe that Uche Okafor committed suicide as he, unlike many ‘ex–internationals’, was still earning a decent living, especially from his deal as a football pundit on African football for ESPN, but then we await the Coroner’s Inquest (or whatever it is called in America) into the matter.

As I write this piece shortly after the news has broken, I’m yet to see or hear of any reactions from either APFON or NANF (or should I say Harrison Jalla), two bodies that claim to protect the interest of Nigerian footballers. I will spare APFON because they have never really been vocal, but as for Jalla I will spare nothing in telling him that so far he has been a total disaster in Nigerian football so far, which reminds me: Did he really do anything after the death of Ocean Boys player, Emmanuel Ogoli? All he is concerned with is lining his pocket and that of his cronies. I’ll leave it here and watch what he’ll do on this matter in the next few hours and days.

Anyway this is certainly not about Jalla, it’s about a much more recognised and respected Nigerian footballer, Uche Okafor. RIP my brother, we are already missing you.

Facts about Uche Okafor

He was born on August 8, 1967 in Owerri.

He began his professional career at the defunct ACB of Lagos before moving to KRC Mechelen in the Belgian second division. He also played in Israel, Germany and Portugal before spending the last few years of his career in the United States with Kansas City Wizards where he retired in 2000.

He was nicknamed “Chief”.

He made his international debut at the 1988 African Nations Cup in the semi final match against Algeria in the semi final. Co – incidentally he took the deciding penalty kick in the 9 :8 penalty shootout victory with the game deadlocked after 120 minutes.

He won 34 caps and scored a goal featuring notably in the glamorous Class of 94 Squad that won the Nations Cup in Tunisia and also played at the World Cup for the first time.

He made a brief appearance at the France ’98 World Cup.

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