On this day in 1989, Samuel Okwaraji also Sam Sochukwuma Okwaraji passed away while competing for Nigeria vs. Angola in Lagos. was born in Orlu, Imo state. Sam had a law degree from the University of Rome.
Ever present in our hearts, 33 years later
An Unsung Hero: Samuel Okwaraji
It has been 33 years since Nigerian player Samuel Sochukwuma Okwaraji collapsed and passed away while playing on August 12, 2022. However, the government has declined to appropriately immortalize a hero in order to inspire others.
Sunday Akin Dare, who may have watched the match as a young man and later became the Sports Minister, has not called for Sam Okwaraji to be made immortal 32 years after the August 12, 1989 FIFA World Cup qualifying game between Nigeria’s Green Eagles and the Palancas Negras of Angola in the main bowl of the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos, where Samuel Sochukwuma Okwaraji displayed heroism that ultimately claimed his life on the field of play.
It was on that fateful Saturday in 1989 when the then Green Eagles midfielder, Okwaraji lined up alongside team mates David Ngodigha, Augustine Eguavoen, Sunday Eboigbe, late Stephen Keshi, the late Obobaifo Osaro, Ademola Adesina, the late Uchenna Okafor, Humphrey Edobor, Etim Esim, Samson Siasia and Dahiru Sadi, who substituted Edobor in the second half to play the qualifying game for the upcoming Italia 90′ World Cup against the Angolan senior national team. Nigeria was supposed to win by a single goal, but the team tragically lost Okwaraji, whose patriotic representation of Nigeria in soccer was well-known.
Many Nigerians still vividly recall the day and time when Okwaraji slumped and died while working for the country’s glory in the main bowl of the packed National Stadium, subtly reminding them of the labors of the fallen soccer hero who died in vain and completely negating the sixth and seventh lines of Nigeria’s national anthem. They claimed that the stadium would have been renamed in his honor in a rational nation.
In fact, it was the first day in Nigeria’s qualification process for the 1990 World Cup, which was held in Italy. As a result, when the game began at around 4 o’clock, the Confederation for African Football (CAF) said that there were approximately 100,000 people present at the stadium. The Green Eagles took the lead in the 44th minute when Stephen Keshi scored after a long buildup started by Okwaraji in the middle. Everything looked to be going smoothly for Nigeria until Okwaraji slumped and passed away precisely in the 77th minute.
Okwaraji was declared dead by doctors within minutes, and an analysis of his remains revealed that he had passed away due to an enlarged heart. On August 27, 1989, in the Stade Omnisports in Yaounde, Nigeria went on to lose the qualification match to Cameroun by a single goal.
The late soccer star, who was born on May 19, 1964, in Orlu, Imo State, participated in roughly 10 international games for Nigeria and scored once before passing away. In a Seoul 1988 Olympic qualifying match, he made his debut for his country against Algeria at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium in Enugu. He also had a significant impact in the 1988 African Cup of Nations in Morocco, where he beat Cameroon in the group stage and scored the quickest goal of the competition.
Before his final match against Angola in Lagos that same year, Okwaraji also participated in the Olympics in Seoul. In the interim, he played professional football for the German teams SSV Ulm 1846, Vfb Stuttgart, and NK Dynamo Zagreb, as well as earning his undergraduate and graduate degrees in international law at the University of Rome.
Okwaraji was regarded as a diligent professional with a passion for Nigeria who spoke Igbo, his native tongue, as well as German, English, Spanish, and Italian. He reportedly frequently played games for the country without asking for flight tickets or match incentives because of his intense patriotism.
Prior to his passing, he and his club, SSV Ulm 1846, got into a fight that was big enough to catch the attention of Group Captain John Obakpolor, the then-chairman of the Nigeria Football Association (NFA), who intervened to secure his participation in the match. To make up for the lost gate receipts during Okwaraji’s time with the national team, SSV Ulm 1846 sought $45,000 before releasing him for the qualification matches. But Obakpolor was able to secure a favorable agreement for the nation by agreeing to a considerably lower $15,000 price tag for his release. Without his knowledge or permission, that was done.
I am a lawyer, you know I signed to play football under certain conditions, but I don’t think that included reselling my services to my country,” Okwaraji reportedly told his club after learning of their action that he will represent Nigeria without charging them a dime.You can’t stop me from representing my country, nor can your club. I’ll tell you right now that whether you like it or not, I’ll be representing my nation in the World Cup in Italy.
Even though he was unable to travel to the World Cup, Okwaraji showed a high level of dedication to Nigeria, which was matched by his professionalism and discipline. Rather than holding the nation hostage for his services, match bonuses, or return flights to his base, Okwaraji preferred to pay his own way without seeking reimbursement. However, Okwaraji’s sacrifices for his country have been in vain 32 years after his passing.
The Nigerian government did not make Okwaraji immortal for his sacrifices.
When Okwaraji’s mother was still alive, she said. Even after 30 years, she is still in pain due to Sam’s passing. She admitted, “I have regrets and I can’t hide them.” “I feel the pain because I know I wouldn’t be kept in this state if he lived among us,” she said. He cared about me, and I know he could have done so much more for me. While he was alive, the boy showed me a lot of love.That a government could make untrue promises and then break those commitments astounds me much. The 24-year-old boy who died working to honor Nigeria could not be felt by the administration. I was let down by Nigeria since the government had pledged to assist in educating my children to any degree while also assisting the family, but they had fallen short.
Since he was orphaned at age 5, his mother saved money to fund his education abroad in Italy.
At the age of 23, he had earned both an LL.B. and an LL.M. in law, and at the age of 25, he was pursuing a law doctorate when something terrible happened!
He enjoyed football in addition to education and made the decision to play professionally.
He began his career at age 21 in Ukraine before moving on to play for three additional teams.
He received a summons to the Nigerian National Team in 1988.
That’s when the issue began!
He stated that his Club did not support his trip to play in Nigeria.
I am a lawyer, as you are aware, and I signed a contract to play football with you on the premise that I wouldn’t sell my services to my country.
You can’t stop me from representing my country, nor can your club. Let me be clear: Whether you like it or not, I will represent my nation.
Despite the opposition of his club, he kept playing for Nigeria.
He flew himself to and from Nigerian matches and turned down match bonuses since he considered it an honor.
He wasn’t just a regular player; he had incredible skill with the ball and scored one of the quickest goals ever in the 1988 Nations Cup match against Cameroon.
He continued despite the fact that his Club was still against it.
Something happened during “Nigeria vs. Angola” on August 12, 1989, in Lagos!
By the time he arrived at the hospital, he had already passed away after “He Slumped And Never Got Up” on minute 77!
His “Congestive Heart Failure” cardiac condition was discovered after an autopsy.