Even though it is 28 years since Samuel Okwaraji, a Nigerian midfielder passed on, it has been difficult for most Nigerians, especially the teammates to forget the player. Okwaraji slumped and died on August 12, 1989 at the National Stadium, Lagos during Nigeria’s World Cup qualifying duel with Angola.
One after the other, some of the Super Eagles players of that era expresses their feelings on the dreadlocked player, who will forever be a national hero. Okwaraji also entered the record books as the fastest scorer at the 1988 Africa Cup of Nations, which was the only edition he featured.
After barely 95 seconds of the kickoff of Nigeria’s third group match with Cameroun, Okwaraji shot Nigeria ahead in the game, which eventual ended 1-1. He was bobbling with great excitement the fateful day he marshaled Nigeria’s midfield in the World Cup qualifying encounter with Angola
According to an autopsy report of August 12th, 1989, the 25-year-old died from a congestive heart failure (similar to that of late Cameroonian footballer Marc-Vivien Foé, who also died 16 years later). Despite all the sacrifices he made, it is quite unfortunate the Nigerian government is yet to immortalize fully the late soccer icon.
Talking about his early life, Sam was born on the 19th of May, 1964 in Owerre-Umudioka in Orlu Local Government Area of Imo-State, South Eastern Nigeria. He had a successful career in Europe which included playing for NK Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia), VfB Stuttgart (Germany) and Austria Klagenfurt (Austria), among others. He was also a qualified lawyer who had a master’s degree in international law from the University of Rome.
I remembered vividly how Okwaraji was very patriotic during his playing days for Nigeria. On several occasions he used his personal cash to fly himself down to Nigeria for national call-ups, and wouldn’t even bothered to demand a refund from the then Nigeria Football Association (now NFF). For someone who did all that while playing for his fatherland, I think he deserves much more after his demise; even when it was obvious, he died on national duty.
Although, former Imo-State Governor Achike Udenwa tried in his own capacity by naming a stadium after the soccer legend, which is another way of immortalizing him; but all that is not enough. It should be something of federal concern. But because we don’t keep the record, that is why we don’t know the approach, not to talk of rewarding the family he left behind. If it were not so, Madam JANE NKECHI OKWARAJI, the 78 Year Old Mum of Late Soccer Icon would be living a heroic mum’s live whose son shed his blood for Nigeria’s sake.
The likes of Adokie Amiesimaka and Samson Siasia have stadia name after them in their states (I am not against it), but I believe people in the highest office should do something better for the late Sam Okwaraji. Or maybe name National Stadium in Lagos after him, which would be strategic, after-all we already have Image of his Statue in front of the stadium where the player died in the course of serving his fatherland; why not name the edifice after him? If that is done, it will go a long way by immortalizing the great hero who shed his blood while playing for his country.
“On that fateful day, I was there inside the hot afternoon weather watching from the stands as he (Okwaraji) was busy displaying his talents on the pitch before he finally collapsed. But all I can say about him at this juncture is that may his gentle soul continue to rest in perfect peace. The painful aspect of it is that our government is not doing anything about immortalizing our heroes and heroine, nevertheless, his memories will continue to live on”.
Frankly speaking, if Okwaraji were to be a white-man (unfortunately he was not), or died while playing in their colors; he would have been more celebrated with better recognition even in death. Can the same be said of Nigeria? Do they even care about your predicament when you represent the country? The answer is capital ‘No’. I wonder what people in the NSC are doing? It seems they don’t understand. Is it that when they are dead their memories disappears? If the latter is what we have chosen, then our sports is in jeopardy.
At least, he should be immortalized, then the younger generations would get to know little or much about the player’s career; even as the memory continues to linger.
At this juncture, I believe there is room for improvements, especially in the area of immortalizing our past heroes. Sam Okwaraji was a brave warrior who gave his all for Nigeria, so he deserves more befitting remembrance from the Nigerian government. Even though we lost him, Twenty-Eight years after his memory lives on.
As a matter of fact, he made the Green Eagles squad in Morocco 1988, and at that year’s African Cup of Nations finals; he scored one of the fastest goals in the history of the competition against the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon. May ‘the god’ of soccer remember his soul. I say again, may the labor of our heroes past never be in vain. Because of his death, we lost the 1990 World Cup ticket to Cameroon.
May your soul continue to rest in peace, our dearest Samuel Sochukwuma Okwaraji.
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