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Prayer For Carl Ikeme By Shola Oshunkeye

September 4, 2017

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. It was about the dazzling rendition of Katy Perry's By the Grace of God by Kechi Okwuchi the previous night.  Spurred by the tweet, I rushed to YouTube to watch the clip of the spectacular event.

It was the final night of the quarter-finals of America's Got Talent. And Kechi Okwuchi, a Nigerian, was one of the seven acts of the night. She set the hall on fire, metaphorically, with a mind-blowing performance that got the audience screaming and the judges hailing. She sailed into the semi-finals amid sustained standing ovation. Tears of joy welled in my eyes as I watched the clip. I suspect that the song, which mirrored Kechi’s personal struggles, must have also ministered some calm to many people in her new hometown of Houston in Texas. The city has been reeling under the devastation of Hurricane Harvey.

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.  At the time of the horrific accident, Kechi was a student at the Loyola Jesuit College, Abuja.  Since then, she has undergone series of reconstructive surgeries. I wept for joy because despite her travails, the lady has made a huge success of her life.

Confucius, a Chinese philosopher, once wrote: “Happiness and sorrow are close relatives.” On Thursday, I found myself in a station between happiness and sorrow, as I read another tweet. The tweet, this time, was posted by Nigeria’s international goalkeeper, Carl Ikeme. The 100kg, 1.91 metre-tall goaltender is currently receiving treatment for acute leukaemia in a British hospital.

On Thursday, the transfer window closed across most of Europe, an exercise that gulped over $2 billion, and recorded the most expensive in soccer history; the transfer of Neymar da Silva Santos Junior from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain which gulped 222million pounds sterling. 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 across the world. But that was not the first time the ailing star was tweeting from his hospital bed. He has been doing so regularly since his admission. The tweets range from birthday messages to friends to inquiries about progress in his club, to comments on the various efforts being made to help him.

Like I did after watching Kechi’s musical clip on Wednesday, I wept, again, after seeing Ikeme’s tweets. It was tears of sadness and joy. Sadness because had he been fit, Ikeme might have been in goal for the Super Eagles, in last 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 devour their Central African foes, the 6 feet, 3.2 inches tall goalie continued to fight his biggest battle yet in the field of life.

I wept for joy because, in his affliction, Ikeme has evinced tremendous courage and an unflinching resolve to defeat the debilitating disease.  In his tweets, I saw strength. I saw faith. In the selfie, I saw a man who, despite his current turbulence, has demonstrated an inner peace that emphasised his implicit faith in the power of the Almighty to calm the howling storm raging against him. In the selfie and tweet, I saw a man effusing 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.”

In all these, I see a David who is not intimidated by the fiery frame and heavy armour of a Goliath but, instead, confidently declaring that he will slay the Goliath in the name of the Most High God.

But this life is full of cruel ironies; and paradoxes of chilling extremes. 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 is running or should be running at full throttle? To me, this diagnosis is one of the 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, suddenly, this cancer of the blood came like a bolt from the blue. The footballer had returned abnormal blood tests during pre-season training with his Championship club, Wolverhampton Wanderers. This prompted further medical investigation after which 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, “is 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, spread 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 the disease somewhat problematic for doctors to handle. But as the Good Book says, there is nothing too difficult for God to handle. With God, nothing shall be impossible.

While 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 last Saturday, 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 at last Saturday’s event in the United Kingdom.   

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 during 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 goalkeeper hit the limelight in 2003 when he graduated from the Wolverhampton Wanderers Academy and became the number one goaltender for the club. At some points in his club career, he was loaned out to clubs like Sheffield United, Queen Park Rangers, Leicester and Middlesbrough, 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 their barren draw against Tanzania in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier (September 2, 2015); the 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 may 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 and dazzle the world soccer with his dexterity between the goal posts. No matter what medical science might say for now, there will be divine intervention in his matter.

All Nigerians of goodwill have a part to play in Ikeme’s recovery. First, we must support him with our substance, even if he doesn’t solicit for it. Second, we must continuously support him with prayers. We must persist in that mode until Carl Onora Ikeme conquers leukaemia and returns to do greater exploits for country and Creator. God bless Nigeria.


Shola Oshunkeye is the CEO of Omnimedia Nigeria Limited, and Executive Director of the non-profit, Sustainable Development and Transparency Foundation.