By Onochie Anibeze
Moments after Uche Okafor made inquiries on certain issues of Nigerian football and possibilities of his awaited engagement by the Nigeria Football Federation, the ex Super Eagles star was found hanging in his house at Little Elm in the neighborhood of Plano in Dallas, Texas.
Going by the report of his death, this reporter would probably be the last or one of the last contacts he made before he died last Thursday.
Uche had called to find out the latest development on various committees of the Nigeria Football Federation. NFF President Aminu Maigairi had promised to appoint him into one of the committees.
He had hopes of serving in the Technical Committee but when his name was not announced Maigari, in line with his policy to engage knowledgeable ex stars into administration, promised to include him in Youth Development Committee and possibly Marketing Committee.
Maigari also confirmed to this reporter that he would appoint Uche into one of the the committees if not two.
Uche had worked for Nuel Okorougo when the sports marketing buff worked for Nigeria. He also did a little bit of youth coaching in the United States but had never wanted to be a full time coach.
He was awaiting the NFF appointment when he spoke with this reporter last Thursday, just before he died .
He also spoke about his discussion with Samson Siasia the previous day. He said that the new Eagles manager who visited USA and was on his way back to Nigeria had asked him why he wasn’t interested in taking up appointment in Nigeria. Uche said that he told Siasia that he was wrong and that he actually would like to serve in any capacity other than coaching.
“I just want to be on the ground at home, Onochie,” Uche said, adding “Siasia even suggested that I could talk to chairman of Technical Committee, Chris Green and the President, Maigari. There are things that I could do – team manager’s job, welfare officer or even the spokesman if it’s true that Peter side Idah is no longer interested in the job.
But I heard that he could still want the job. I don’t know what’s causing the delay in the announcement of committees. I just want to be on ground and the committee work could facilitate that.”
It was one of the many times in the recent past that he had called this reporter to inquire about goings-on in the football federation especially with regard to appointments and future of Nigerian football.
“I have a lot to offer. I just hope we can change things and go the modern way,” he said during the NFF elections.
This reporter told him to be ready to serve in the Youth Development Committee and said that “if they do youth development the right way, there will be many activities and you will have a lot to do for our football.”
Uche told me that ideas and programmes would make the difference and not just announcing the committees and we agreed that his likes would make the difference.
He was always talking about the future of Nigerian football and what he could do to help.
Uche had always been a soft-spoken person and he was not different last Thursday. His voice was low and the discussion was not totally conclusive as he noticed that I was munching something.
“It appears you are eating,” he said. When I affirmed he said “Let me leave you to finish eating. I will call again.”
The call never came but the news of his death.
His teammate, Ben Iroha, whose family also leaves in Dallas, confirmed his death before this reporter also reached his wife Friday. Iroha said that one Nde Onjiaka had called Uche severally on the faithful day and when he did not answer he called the wife, Ify. Ify then wondered why her husband was not picking his calls and called herself.
When he did not also pick she became worried and rushed home from work to find the husband hanging.
When this reporter reached Ify on phone Friday, she cried and shouted loudly.
“Onochie, Uche has left us oooo. Uche has left us ooo.” There was a strong plea for her to try to be strong although that was going to be difficult at that moment. She later calmed down a little bit and said the following: “I left for work early as usual. He kissed me and said bye bye as usual. Later he went to drop Tochukwu (their daughter) at school.
That’s what he usually does. It was later in the day that somebody called to tell me that he was not taking his calls and when I called it was the same. I then ran home and on getting home I was calling Daddy, daddy. Nobody answered. I passed the living room and went to our bed room.
He was not there. I went upstairs to find him hanging. I shouted. It was shocking and devastating. I just have not been able put it together. The police came and removed his body and took his mobile phone. That is our story, Onochie. Did Uche tell you anything? Why should this happen?”
This reporter informed that we spoke on Thursday about 4pm which should be between 10 to 11 am in Dallas.
“Oh My God! So, at 11 am my husband was still alive? I wish somebody had come earlier. Oh! God what is happening?
On her daughter she said that she had been taken to a friend’s house. Ify’s sister who had called off to stay with her said that her prayers were that whatever led to Uche’s death would be discovered.
Few minutes after Uche’s death became news, it spread all over the world. One of those who called was Stephen Keshi, his captain in their active days. Keshi could not believe this. At the time he called, this reporter had not reached Ify and still hoped that it was a rumour.
Keshi hoped so too but said the following: “He spoke with me two weeks ago and talked about going to Nigeria soon. He was of the opinion that we should be getting home to help build our football. So why should he take his life. I still don’t believe it. How can Uche die like that? There were no signs of frustration or depression. He was fine by many standards.
Why? Why? Why? I just hope it’s not true.”
When in a second call it was confirmed Keshi said he never been so confused in his life.
“I have not been able to sleep. I just can’t understand. I’m down. I still can’t believe.
I just can’t believe that Uche could hang himself. Thorough investigation should be made. He was not hungry, he was doing well. And even if there were problems, should they warrant taking of one’s life? I just can’t believe this. We have been talking and he never gave any such sign.
My brother, it is true that Uche is gone. He was found hanging in his house dead.
The Chelsea assistant coach called from London Saturday and had not recovered from the shock at the time he spoke. Uche had last year visited him with his daughter and they watched their match against Manchester United. They remained close friends from their days in Eagles till the last parting. He said:
“It doesn’t make sense to me. Uche committing suicide? It doesn’t make sense. If it was a case of cardiac arrest or high blood pressure one can understand. But this doesn’t make sense to me. If it’s true that he hung himself then all of us must be afraid. I have not been able to put myself together since I heard the news. Listen, Uche loved the wife and daughter so much, so why should he punish them? It is unbelievable. I really don’t know what to say. I am still in shock
Nobody has been able to believe what happened. Uche was a humble man who never liked trouble. He stayed away from controversy even as a player. Anywhere there some kind of trouble or mere disagreement, he stayed away. The nature of his death cannot be reconciled .
Chdid Nwanu cried for long, not being able to make any coherent statement. He was devastated. He was their sponsor at marriage in Belgium
“Jesus the Lord, Jesus the Lord,” he repeated.
“How could it be? God. God. On the day he died, I wanted to call him but somehow I kept it in view. I said I would call later. Could my call have saved his life? God. What is this? Oh! my God.