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Remembering Samuel Okwaraji, Nigeria’s Most Legendary Footballer

The Nigeria Football Federation has directed that Samuel Okwaraji’s portrait should be carried round the 8 venues of the 2015 Federation Cup quarter final fixtures today in remembrance of him. The venues are Enugu, Benin City, Neros Stadium, Oleh, Lokoja, Abuja, Ilorin and Makurdi.

On this day August 12, 1989, he collapsed and died of congestive heart failure in the 77th minute of a World Cup qualification match against Angola at the Lagos National Stadium in Surulere, Lagos State.

Samuel Sochukwuma Okwaraji (19 May 1964 – 12 August 1989) was a professional footballer who played internationally for Nigeria. He was also a qualified lawyer who had a masters in international law from the University of Rome.

 

CAREER

Okwaraji had a career in Europe which included playing for NK Dinamo Zagreb, VfB Stuttgart and SSV Ulm 1846 while finishing his education in law. In his short stay with Dinamo Zagreb, Samuel scored 3 goals in a friendly game vs NK Budućnost Hodošan. The game was played on 30 April 1986, and Dinamo Zagreb won 12-0. Samuel’s only official game for Dinamo in the Yugoslav First League was as a substitute on 18 May 1986 against FK Priština. The game was played at Maksimir stadium in Zagreb, the 29th round of 1985/86 season. Dinamo Zagreb won 4:3.

He made the Green Eagles squad in 1988 and at that year’s African Nations Cup he scored one of the fastest goals in the history of the championship against the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon. He played along until the final match, where the Eagles lost to their perennial rivals Cameroon by a lone goal. He was later named the Most Valuable Player (MVP) twice.

 

LEGACY AND REMEMBRANCE
Millions of Nigerians mourned his passing with many musicians like General Kollington Ayinla and Oliver de Coque waxing songs in his honour. 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, to mark the 20th anniversary of his passing. The structure is about 7ft high and is placed on marble, but as at September 2012, the whole place was already overgrown with weeds and trees which obscure the bust from sight of passersby. Governor Fashola said of him: “Literally, Sam was ready to die for his country and I believe he demonstrated that before he died and by the circumstances leading to his death.”

In 2012, In Sammy’s Boots, a sports movie was made in his honour by 360 Degree Entertainment. The movie was specially made for children. Former NFA Chairman, the late Captain Obakpolor was so moved and touched by Okwaraji’s patriotism that he proposed that the 12th of August on which he died be made a National Patriotic Day.

A statement posted on the NFF website on Tuesday, 11th August, 2015 in Abuja, to mark the 26th anniversary of the unfortunate incident, quoted Pinnick as telling Jane, Okwaraji’s mother, that history would not forget her son.

“Mama, there is nothing I can say other than to tell you to continue to take solace in the fact that Sochukwuma (Okwaraji) was a star for Nigeria. He is a name that no one has been able to forget, no matter how much they tried; he was the quintessential professional and patriot per excellence. Please be rest assured that Sochukwuma will continue to be in our hearts and consciousness because he was a rare gem. I assure you that the NFF will continue to keep in touch with you,” the statement quoted Pinnick as saying.

 

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Ejura Salihu is an Anatomist, Writer and Editor. She is currently the Editor-in-chief for Connect Nigeria. You can contact her via email: ejurasalihu24@gmail.com or follow her on twitter @icyquin_msc

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