I wept twice this past week.
The first was on Wednesday, in the morning. I had read a tweet posted by Mrs. Obiageli Ezekwesili, former Minister of Education, and a co-founder of Transparency International, T.I., about the dazzling rendition of Katy Perry’s By the Grace of God by Kechi Okwuchi in last Tuesday’s quarter finals of America’s Got Talent.
The mind-blowing performance, which mirrored the lady’s personal struggles and ministered to scores of citizens of her hurricane-ravaged home town of Houston in Texas, got both audience and judges screaming and hailing. That sterling performance swept the lady into the semi-final. Like I did when I watched her full performance on YouTube, some audience members wept as Kechi’s powerful voice rang to a flawless crescendo. Kechi shone like a thousand stars that night.
In case you don’t remember her, Kechi Okwuchi is one of the two survivors of the Sosoliso plane crash that killed that wave-making televangelist, Pastor Bimbo Odukoya, and 108 others in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, about 12 years ago. Since that unfortunate accident, the lady has undergone series of reconstructive surgeries. I was so moved by what I saw on YouTube that I tweeted my response: ‘Indeed, she who God has ordained a superstar, one billion demons can never put down. For Kechi, it can only be God.’
Confucius, a Chinese philosopher of the Spring and Autumn period of Chinese history, once wrote: “Happiness and sorrow are close relatives.” On Thursday, I found myself in a station between happiness and sorrow, as I read the tweet by Nigeria’s international goalkeeper, Carl Ikeme. The 100kg, 1.91 metres tall goal tender is currently receiving treatment for acute leukaemia in a British hospital.
On Thursday, the transfer window closed across most of Europe. But while Germany, England, Scotland, France and Italy drew the curtain to transfers, the most expensive in soccer history, Spain delayed till midnight on Friday, Turkey extended its own till September 8, Argentina till September 17 and Portugal till September 22.
But that is not the story. The story is, while that last minute frenzy was going on, Carl Ikeme did something that moved many people across the sports world to tears. From his hospital bed, he took a selfie and tweeted:
BREAKING NEWS: Ikeme transfers from one room to another!! Medical underway #stillsmile #TransferDeadline
The tweet elicited encouraging responses from his colleagues and fans. But that was not the first time the ailing star would be tweeting from hospital. He has been doing so regularly since his admission.
Again, I wept. I shed tears of sadness and joy. Sadness because had he been fit, Ikeme might have been in goal for the Super Eagles, in Friday’s 4-0 massacre of African Champions, Cameroun, in a crucial 2018 World Cup qualifier.
The match was played at the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium, Uyo. But while his fellow Eagles were making last ditch preparations for the big day in the Akwa Ibom State capital, during the week, planning how to fly past their Central African foes, the 6 feet 3.2 inches goalie continued to fight his biggest battle yet in the field of life.
I shed tears of joy because in his affliction, Ikeme has evinced tremendous courage and an unflinching resolve to defeat the debilitating disease. In the tweet, I saw strength. I saw faith. In that selfie, I saw a man who, his turbulence, demonstrated an inner peace that emphasised his implicit faith in the power of the Almighty to speak ethereal calm to the howling storm raging against him. In the selfie and tweet, I saw a man effusing in the words of God in Isaiah 26:3: “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”
I added all these, and came to the conclusion that this giant is certainly not intimidated by the roaring lion. Rather, he is saying that God has not given him the spirit of fear or timidity but of power, courage and sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7).
Despite our faith, life could be filled with cruel ironies sometimes. If life isn’t cruel, why would a man like Ikeme suffer this kind of affliction in an age of maximum strength, an age when the engine of life should be running at full throttle? To me, Ikeme’s diagnosis is extreme ironies of life. Prior to the sad development, early July, the goalkeeper was as fit as fiddle. Or, so it seemed to the untrained eye. He was as agile as a cat.
Then, this cancer of the blood came like a bolt from the blue. He had returned abnormal blood tests during pre-season training with his Championship club, Wolverhampton Wanderers. And after further medical investigation, the goalkeeper was diagnosed with acute leukaemia. The news shattered his colleagues, club, country, and the global football family.
Also referred to as acute lymphocytic leukaemia or acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, the disease, according to www.cancer.org., “is a cancer that starts from the early version of white blood cells called lymphocytes in the bone marrow (the soft inner part of the bones, where new blood cells are made).” When it strikes, “leukaemia cells usually invade the blood fairly quickly”, then, spreads to “other parts of the body, including the lymph nodes, liver, spleen, central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), and testicles (in males).” That makes it somewhat problematic for doctors to handle. But as the Good Book says, I believe that with God, nothing shall be impossible.
When announcing Ikeme’s diagnosis, via a press statement, Laurie Dalrymple, managing director of Wolverhampton Wanderers FC, had revealed how “shocked and saddened” the club, its players and management were. But the MD quickly assured that the club was confident that the gentle giant would fight the disease to a standstill. “…We all know what a fighter and a competitor Carl is,” Dalrymple said, “and I have no doubt that he will take all of those attributes into this battle.”
That’s precisely what the Nigerian international has been doing since he began treatment. And he has enjoyed tremendous support from the club.
Only yesterday, a long-serving supporter of the club, Steve Plant, organised a fundraiser for Ikeme, with the hashtag, #Cure Leukaemia. Since the goalkeeper’s diagnosis, the #Cure Leukaemia had garnered over £70,000. More money was expected to be raised last night in the UK.
Back home, I understand that the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, has visited the goalkeeper. What I don’t know is whether or not they supported him with cash. And the man needs loads of cash to prosecute his lengthy treatment. I’m also not aware if any of our billionaire political office holders or any of our numerous wealthy soccer enthusiasts has shown love to Ikeme with their money. It would not be out of place if the NFF, or anybody at all, establishes a foundation or organises a fundraiser to help this patriot in his greatest hour of need. The man did his best for his fatherland in the brief period he served. He deserves the best care and sympathy a grateful nation can give him at this hour.
Born Carl Onora Ikeme in Sutton Coldfield, United Kingdom, on June 8, 1986, the giant goalkeeper hit the limelight in 2003 when he graduated from the Wolverhampton Wanderers Academy and became the number one goal tender for the club. He has been loaned out to a couple of clubs in the Championship. They include: Sheffield United, Queen Park Rangers, Leicester and Middlesbrough; just to mention a few.
Between September 2015 and October 2016, he won 10 caps for Nigeria. He was in goal for the Super Eagles in these assignments: the barren draw against Tanzania in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier(September 2, 2015); 2-0 whipping of Niger Republic in an international friendly in Kano(September 8, 2015); 2-0 defeat of Congo in a friendly in Belgium (October 8, 2015); 3-0 defeat by Belgium in a friendly( October 11, 2015); 0-0 way draw against Swaziland in a World Cup qualifier (November 13, 2015) and 2-0 defeat of the same team in Port Harcourt.
On Mach 25, 2016, the 31-year-old was on duty again when the Super Eagles drew 1-1 with Egypt in Kaduna; 1-0 defeat of Mali in a friendly in Belgium (May 27, 2016); 1-0 pipping of Tanzania in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier in Uyo (September 3, 2016); and 2-1 defeat of Zambia (October 9, 2016). But for this debilitating condition, Ikeme might have been part of the victory song in Uyo last Friday.
However, in the midst of this adversity, there is solid hope that Ikeme will win and return to the game he loves best. Like Kechi Okwuchi, who emerged from the valley of the shadow of death to dazzle them in America, Carl Ikeme will bounce back. No matter what medical science might say for now, there will be divine intervention in his matter.
Indeed, every Nigerian has a part to play in this. In addition to supporting him with our substance, we must continuously lift him before the throne of grace, through our prayers. We must persist in our supplication to God until Ikeme is delivered from the mouth of the lion.
We must pray that like Daniel, who went to the lion’s den and came out unscathed, Carl Ikeme will conquer leukaemia and return to do greater exploits for his country and his Creator. We must not sop praying until God shows mercy and gives Carl Onora Ikeme irreversible victory.