On Sunday, 13 October 2019, Nigeria played Brazil in a friendly match in preparation for the 2022 World Cup qualifying rounds in football. Just a little over 30 years ago, a Nigerian named Samuel Okwaraji, slumped while playing Nigeria in the 1990 World Cup qualifiers.
Samuel Okwaraji was said to have had a heart attack in the match in Lagos on August 12, 1989, playing as a midfielder in the 77th minute against Angola to get Nigeria to qualify for the world cup games.
Equally notable for his signature dreadlocks, Okwaraji had a Masters Degree in Law from Pontifical Lateran University of Rome and was reported to be pursuing his PhD when he slumped in the match, as everyone watched at the National Stadium, Lagos.
The erroneous belief that only politicians can ever be elevated to patriots status -who have selflessly served their country – is fast shifting. Very much so, Nigerians who act in such capacity as Okwaraji are regarded as patriots too. The Merriam-Webster dictionary simply defines a patriot as “one who loves and supports his or her country and is ready to boldly support and defend it.”
Significantly, this definition of a patriotic citizen given by Urban Dictionary is apt -“someone who loves their country enough to speak up when they see something that needs to be changed; not someone who blindly assumes that their government knows best and is always right no matter what.”
All of these fit the profile of Samuel Okwaraji who not only was known to speak against the hypocrisy in places of power as a legal practitioner but also played his little role in the service of his country. Okwaraji, in his little capacity as a member of fast-evolving team of footballers defended the pride of his home country through sports. Among many Nigerians, sportsmen beyond personal gain and glory do the country proud when they put their country on a medals roll. Therefore, they deserve all the credit and benefits they get for representation.
If at all, the morale of Okwaraji’s teammates did not dampen due to his death. In fact, his other teammates went on to secure Nigeria a strong outing in subsequent World Cups and at a subsequent African Nations Cup which they won shortly after the incident.
While no national monument or official remembrance is erected in honour of Samuel Okwaraji, who may not have died on that day if he had not been playing for his country; the Tech giant Google, however, commissioned a Doodle on May 19, 2019 – on what would have been his 55th birthday.
However, as a nation, more has to be done to celebrate Nigerians who are stepping up to defend the country at all cost. The culture of remembering our heroes past and celebrating present heroes of must be continuously imbibed. If this does not become part and parcel of our culture soon, the allegiance of ‘Nigerians by blood’ may begin to tilt towards rival nations as we see often nowadays with some ‘Nigerian’ sportsmen who instead of the country choose to represent others.
Featured Image Source: @NGSuperEagles – Twitter
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