Written by David Ugbabe
In a country where sports commentary was not a big deal and the art not appreciated, Ernest Okonkwo started his journey into broadcasting in 1957 when he joined the then Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) serving for a solid 33 years, leaving an indellible mark in Nigerian sports as one of the most exceptional sports commentators.
From Nando in Anambra-East Local Government Area of Anambra State, Ernest Okonkwo started from humble beginnings as a a programme assistant at what is today the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, Ernest Okonkwo went on to train at Australian Broadcasting Commission between 1964 and 1965. His judicious service got him to greater heights, becoming the Head of outside Broadcasts at the corporation.
Described as the “Golden Voice” of sports commentary on radio in Nigeria, Ernest Okonkwo’s skill was exceptional and was known to represent the best in the running of sports commentaries on radio. A master of descriptive language, he was known to be different, giving players new names reflecting certain outstanding or defining characteristics in their lives. Former Nigerian footballer, Chief Segun Odegbami remarked that Okonkwo was always conjuring words easily, effortlessly and aptly like a magician with his bag of tricks. “In the 1970s through 1980s, despite the preponderance of world class musicians across the globe, I considered Ernest Okonkwo’s commentaries more melodious to listen to than the best of music.
He is described as an expert in coining words and new expressions and even gave nicknames to footballers like Segun Odegbami as “Mathematical,” Adokiye Amiesimaka as “Chief Justice,” Yisa Sofoluwe as ‘Dean of Defence’, Sylvanus Okpala as ‘Quick Silver’ or other expressions like “Christian Chukwu taking an ‘Intercontinental Ballistic Missile’ type of “banana shot”. Honoring the man that nicknamed him, “Mathematical”, Odegbami said, “Ernest Okonkwo stood slightly apart and ahead, shining just that little bit brighter in that constellation of stars that turned commentating into an art form and made listening irresistible. Odegbami recalled “how people used to turn down the volume of their television sets in those days and turned up the volume of their radio sets to watch a match at home.
“I recall also how some spectators would carry small transistor radio sets to match venues and listen to radio commentaries of the same match right inside the venue! That was how powerful radio commentaries were rendered by great commentators, each with their unique style and strength in delivery,” he added.
Sadly, Ernest Okonkwo’s death on August 7, 1990 marked the death of apt sports radio commentary in Nigeria.