Today makes it 30 years since Nigeria lost a rare gem, former Super Eagles midfielder, Samuel Sochukwuma Okwaraji died while playing for Nigeria inside the main-bowl of the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos State, during a 1990 FIFA World Cup Qualifier against Angola.
It was the saddest in the history of Nigerian football considering the fact that the midfielder maestro died when in the line of duty for Nigeria.
Words can’t express his committment and dedication to national call as Sam Okwaraji would delightfully don the green and white jersey with smile beaming in his face.
30 years has gone by, yet football lovers in Nigeria and around the world still remember Okwaraji.
For those that know him a bit and those that don’t know him, here are 10 things you should to know about Samuel Okwaraji.
1. Samuel Okwaraji was born on the 19th of May, 1964 in Umudioka Orlu, Orlu Local Government Area, Imo State, Southeastern Nigeria.
2. His father, Mr. David Okwaraji worked with the defunct Nigeria Airways as a Duty Officer with the mother, Lady Janet Okwaraji being a retired school headmistress. Samuel Okwaraji has four brothers and two sisters.
3. According to his mother, Sam had a very active childhood and played various games while growing up. Football was one of them while table tennis was another. But however, he seemed to enjoy football more.
4. He attended WTC Practicing School, Enugu for his primary education, and Ezeachi Secondary School, Orlu, Imo State. He later went to Federal Government College, Orlu and got both his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in International Law.
5. He could speak five languages -English, German, Italian, Spanish and of course, his native Igbo.
6. He was a talented midfielder wearing the Number 6 jersey for Nigeria, Okwaraji had an eventful soccer career which was unfortunately very short. During the 1988 Nations Cup in Morocco, he blasted one of the fastest goals past the Cameroonian goalkeeper -all within 60 seconds! He was later named the Most Valuable Player (MVP) -twice.
7. The Nigerian Football Association requested his release from SSV-ULM 1846, his club, so he could come and represent Nigeria in the match but his club refused demanding that NFA pay a sum of $45,000 in gating fees which the late Group Captain John Obakpolor, reduced the deal to $15,000.
8. On the 12th of August, 1989, while he was playing for Nigeria in a 2nd round World Cup Qualifier match (Group C, Italia World Cup) against Angola, Samuel Okwaraji slumped on the pitch and died immediately.
It was 77 minutes into the match. Right there, in front of 20,000 Nigerians at the Main Bowl of the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos, the Green Eagles were thrown into disarray and all attempts to frevive him failed.
9. Okwaraji was 25 when he died but Autopsy revealed he died from high blood pressure-induced congestive heart failure (which occurs when the heart is unable to provide sufficient pump action to ensure enough blood goes round the body). His heart was discovered to be enlarged -not a good sign in medicine. Okwaraji literally played his heart out for Nigeria.
10. On the 12th of August, 2009, Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola of Lagos State unveiled a concrete bust of Samuel Okwaraji in the Rededicated Memorial Garden in his honour in front of the same stadium where he died.