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32 years on, has sports commentary on radio died with Ernest Okonkwo?



Kunle Solaja, during his undergraduate days interviewing Ernest Okonkwo in 1982


It is 32 years today since Ernest Okonkwo breath his last. He seemed to have gone with the magic of running commentary on sports events on radio.

There was a time when sports, especially football thrived in Nigeria. It was also an era of beautiful and graphically crafted informed commentaries on the traditional electronic media – radio and television.

In addition to the expected beautiful spectacles on the fields, sports followers eagerly awaited the voices of notable commentators like Ishola Folorunsho, Ernest Okonkwo, Sebastian Ofurum, Joe Lartey, Walter Batowei, Yinka Craig and Tolu Fatoyinbo among others.

That was in the ancient past. Most of these men have gone to the world beyond. Others have retired from service.

The Nigerian sports followers are starved of informed commentaries of proceedings on the fields, tracks and other sporting arenas.


In many instances, spectators went to the arena with their transistor radio sets to listen to graphic descriptions of scenes they were watching live.

Those commentators added colour to events they were describing. They were a delight to listen to.

The up and coming commentators have no models to take after. Most of the tapes of the informed commentators are no longer in existence.

Sina Abimbola, a retired Director of Programmes at Radio Nigeria is one of the broadcasters who worked under the tutelage of the Late Ernest Okonkwo.

He described him as ‘commentators’ commentator’. “EO, as we fondly called him, was a in the A1 class because of his knack for pictorializing scenes and situations in a way that successfully made him the eyes and ears of his listener. He was exceptional.”


But unfortunately, the country appears to be bereft of the A1 class of sports commentators both on television and on radio.

Abimbola explained that what obtained in the 1970s through the 1980s is no longer prevalent.

“We appear to have left the era when it was just radio and now that it is the era of television and middlemen in the mould of TV Rights buyers.

“They further use their rigidity to further alienate radio from the people with what you may call the Pay per View regime.

“In other words, the public service broadcasting philosophy that existed in Ernest Okonkwo’s time is no longer available. This is hampering radio talents in this field”, remarked Sina Abimbola.


Incidentally, in spite of the services rendered by Ernest Okonkwo and others in his ilk, the only significant remembrance of them is a broken board announcing the “Ishola Folorunsho – Ernest Okonkwo Media Tribune” on the left wing of the covered terrace of Teslim Balogun Stadium in Lagos.

In other climes, this may not be the most appropriate tribute. For instance, there was a certain Diego Lucero, a Uruguayan journalist based in Argentina who was reputed to be the only man known to have witnessed all World Cup finals from 1930 to 1994 before his death on June 3, 1995, aged 94.

Before his death, he was honoured with a Medal of Merit by FIFA at Mexico ’86 and had the School of Sports Journalism of La Plata in Argentina named after him.

Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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