Official Website of Godknows Boladei Igali

Adieu, Bayelsa’s Fallen 4 Heros and the Love for Football and Country

BY GODKOWS BOLADEI IGALI

on that Saturday morning, June 17, 2023, the sky was exceptionally sunny in the middle of the rainy season over Yenagoa, the Bayelsa state capital, the wettest of all of Nigeria’s 36 states. Though the weather was sparklingly bright, a most sombre mood which had attracted not less than 5,000 young men and women gathered in Yenagoa’s “Peace Park” to bid farewell to a quartet of the state’s and indeed Nigeria’s hopeful future, whose brusque exit has become a metaphor for the country’s love for that beautiful game called football. So sadly was the fact that Mr. Eze Igali, 38 years old and his immediate younger brother, Kurotimi, 36 years old and two other first cousins, Philemon, 38 years old and Clement, 32 years old were to be sent off from human existence just like that.

2. The crowd itself was of a mixed grill, with at least half comprising young adults from the vivacious population of downtown Yenagoa: youth clubs, inner city fraternities in dingy customs and the like had poured out in numbers. More noticeable were scores of athletic idols of various levels of reckoning, brandishing their nationally or locally adorned colours and jerseys. In this, the famed squad from Bayelsa Queens Football Club, the penultimate champions of the Nigeria Female Football League, pensive and sufficiently befuddled were sufficiently visible. Not the least was the presence of traditional rulers from all across Bayelsa as well as religious and ecclesiastical formations in their numbers. Finally were the high and lofty political gentry from Bayelsa and neighbouring states, there gathered to superintend over the sombre State Funeral event.

3. As disparate as the various groups were, one common psychological and emotional state which comingled unhiddenly was melancholy, dejection, sorrow and mournfulness. The pathos and poignancy underscored the gloom and dourness which gutted Nigeria on 11th June, 2023. Even for the youth groups who had turned out in their large numbers, the gyrations and outburst of songs could not buoy the dampness in their mouths, dullness on their faces and lumps in their husky throats. As for family, from Eniwari town and outlying Fonibiri and Kainyabir communities of Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, the rheumy eyes instinctively belied all as tears gushed out from their hearts and the grief which seemed to have taken over their best parts.

What really happened?

4. The Nigerian Female Football League which in the past 33 years has come to be one of the signposts of the nation’s dominance in football had fixed the finals of its Super Six 2023 Nigeria Women Football match in Asaba for June 11, 2023. In total, there had been two groups which had such teams as Bayelsa Queens FC, Delta Queens, Rivers Angel FC, Nigeria Ratels FC, Heartland Queens, Bell Queens, Osun Queens coming on top. Others are Edo Queens, Confluence Queens, FC Robo Queens, Nasarawa Amazons, Adamawa Queens, Abia Angels FC, and Ebonyi FC. By end of the day, Delta Queens FC was lined up to face the team, Bayelsa Queens FC, from their neighbouring state in the final match.

5. In a world where female football has become as vaunted and appreciated as their male counterparts and even Afghan women are fighting for their rights to play soccer, the leadership of the NWFL which by the way was founded in 1990 had prepared copiously to host the entire country to watch these young Nigerian amazons from the two South-South states slug it out at the impressionable Joe Keshi Stadium in Asaba.

6. Governor Douye Diri of Bayelsa State who styles himself appropriately as the “Miracle Governor” and maintained a record of supporting both the male and female teams to serially becoming Nigerian champions had personally assumed a position as Chief Cheerleader for the Bayelsa Queens FC. Asaba therefore became the destination for all on that fateful Sunday. To support their favoured team, as would be expected, the sporting community in Bayelsa turned out in large chunks with their big drums, pumps, megaphones, and related accessories to see their girls, the reigning queens, defend their trophy and return home as in other years.

7. The journey from Yenagoa to Asaba ordinarily is three and half hours. So, to join up and cheer their team, gleefully the fans in their numbers gathered at the Sampson Siasia Stadium and at the home of the State Commissioner of Youth and Sports, Dr. Daniel Igali for take-off. Champ Igali, himself a celebrated athlete of global standing, having won the freestyle Olympics gold medal at the Sydney Summer Olympics in 2000 and is still rated as the world middleweight champion and continues to hold the position of President of the Nigeria Wrestling Federation. So, he was scrupulous in ensuring that all due diligence was taken before embarking on the journey. Besides, Team Bayelsa and the gathered fans were used to such cross country travels both on land and by air. Cars were checked, tyres were checked, waters and other consumables all loaded in the five buses lined up for the movement and not the least, prayers were said.

8. With cheerful songs, ecstasy and beautiful outpouring of affection and support for one another, the convoy of buses took off. In particular, Champion Igali had become accustomed to attracting the company of siblings and close cousins, many of whom were also sportsmen in their own rights, on such trips. Like past movements, he brought out his own personal 15 seater bus to carry his family and the close friends. For some lucky few, space was not enough and they were dropped off; now a blessing of sorts on hindsight.

Alas, big calamity

9. From accounts, the journey took off safely, including driving smoothly past the yet to be repaired portions of the East-West Road destroyed by flood 2022. Beyond that, the team branched off the highway to head towards their destination, Asaba. For a movement of mostly youths, the outpouring of emotions and conviviality was sustained by songs, celebratory jokes and emotions. The journey from the main express road to Asaba itself being at most 160 to 173 kilometres, depending on the route taken, went on steadily for most of the time. Suddenly, on the outskirts of the town of Kwale came the most deafening sound, almost like an atomic bomb from the second to the last vehicle. Was it a bomb, many wondered? Or a terrorist attack, others pondered?

10. As all saw the scenario turn out, the outcome was simply incomprehensible. Two lives gone on the spot and two others, gasping for breath! Seven others with limbs badly mutilated and detached from their sinus, lying helplessly. Amongst shouts, blood and hopelessness came the realisation of all that this was not even a head on collision but a road departure which had happened as the right rear tyre exploded above a major pothole at what was obviously a higher than normal speed. The vehicle thereafter, like a moving volley tumbled at least 6 times, hitting everything on its way off the road into the forest.

11. Then come the greatest catastrophe, unimaginable disaster and shock!!!

12. So, entered the text message of the darkest night. “Brother, please pick my call. On our way we have just had a very serious action. Several of our family boys are affected.” This added the Bayelsa quartet to the global carnage and epidemic of road accidents. Indeed, the four Bayelsa brothers and cousins had become part of the 1.3 million people who are killed annually by road traffic accidents around the world, while the remaining seven who survived enough to be rushed to the Specialist Hospital, Asaba had become counted as part of 50 million who are seriously injured in road accidents around the world. Indeed, the names of the dead had instantaneously become counted among the 40,000 people over whom Nigerian families have to grieve over annually as a result of road accidents. The greater shock and pain of the instant case was the fact that the four dead and at least three of the injured were all of the same blood, leaving behind three young wives and eight infant children

And so came the hand of government

13. With full tilt and swift, intervened the host authorities, led by the newly inaugurated Governor of Delta State, Rt. Hon. Sheriff Oborevwoi who showed up at the Specialist Hospital, Asaba built by his predecessor to visit the living with the generous pledge of taking over and placing to the charge of Delta State, all costs of treatment for the living. A true expression of being a brother’s keeper as he also promptly visited his bedridden and debilitated hospitalised guests. On its part, from the home state came pledges and support from Governor Douye Diri even as families headed by yours truly decided to expeditiously lay the fallen heroes to rest.

14. So came the blighted day of Saturday, 17th June, 2023 as the four ambulances bearing the caskets of the young men, draped rightly, with the Nigerian flag, were ushered into the special State Funeral which had been arranged in their honour. The actual funeral obsequies which saw little Christopher Igali, 13 years old son of now late Kurotimi Igali read the only lesson with greatly dripping and blubbered eyes. Taken from Thessalonian chapter 4 vs 13-17, he sobbed through thus:
“brothers and sisters we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope; For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who had fallen asleep in him”.
Yes, his father and the three other uncles whose mortal remains were before him, needed only to awake on that hopeful day in yonderland. They had passed on while performing the most patriotic duty of love for country, and love for a game which since the 19th century when it started in Britain has become the most appreciated sporting rendezvous of all times for mankind.

15. Gladly, the soothing provided by Governor Diri for the mourning families which includes scholarship for all the eight surviving children up to university level, automatic employment for the young widowed wives and some funds for micro business support for members of the family will truly provide the succour. Even though those gone, all of whom were actively engaged members of society and breadwinners, well, the gesture is salubrious. Of no less significance is the directive issued to the State’s Ministry of Youth and Sport to consider other ways in which the memories of these four young men on whose blood and lives that great gathering was convoked could be immortalised in perpetuity.

Conclusion

16. For long will remain the ponder: what really happened? The recovering driver and survivors offer scant insight. But was it human error, mechanical error, infrastructural decay or even “a spiritual attack” as the most religious persons are wont to ascribe? Only heaven knows. Not the least, no man can question the sovereign will of God Almighty. It was the American writer, Ralph Emerson, who once charged living humanity that “it is not length of life but depth of life that matters. Indeed a life lived in depth is a life lived wide open, a life lived with all your heart is a life that gives love freely. The length of life isn’t always a choice, but the depth of how you live life is up to each of us.” Any lessons learnt? Maybe, government should pay more attention to fixing our roads, maybe we should reduce the speed on our roads, maybe ………

17. Eze, Philemon, Kurotimi and Clement in support of one of Nigeria’s greatest pastimes, paid the supreme prize with no opportunity even after falling to rise. But one unique thing is the fact that their indescribably painful departure is not in vain as family and friends, Bayelsa state, and indeed all of Nigeria will continue to remember them with the fondest of affections. No wonder, even after the mammoth funeral events, no member of the crowd shied away from accompanying their remains to the specially reserved space at the Azikoro Cemetery, defying the rains which finally came to see them take their place in that land of the dead. Ultimately, on Sunday, 12th June, 2023, the Bayelsa Queens who moved straight from the interment back to Asaba, finally again won the main Nigerian Female Championship League and returned home to greatly honour their dead fans.

18. Now, may the souls of the Bayelsa 4 rest in perfect peace till that glorious morn!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *