A visit to his Umudioka, Orlu LGA home speaks volume of what is left of late Nigeria’s International Footballer, Samuel Okwaraji.
With unkempt premises and overgrown weeds lacking maintenance the face of the building tells a better story of how Okwaraji has been abandoned. He breathed last at the National Stadium while in active service spotting the Green and White jersey of Nigeria National Football team.
Nothing concrete can be said to have been done to immortalize this hero who died in active service. Apart from a burst erected at the National Stadium Lagos and Memorial game played in his honour in 2009, there is nothing concrete for the soccer legend who was capped nine times and scored a goal for the Super Eagles.
Samuel Okwaraji, a doctorate degree student of law, on August 12, 1989 slumped with 13 minutes left to play in the 1990 FIFA World Cup qualifying match against Angola at the national stadium, Surulere.
He was confirmed dead on arrival at the hospital. 30 years after his death, the late Nigerian hero was honoured with a special feature on his posthumous birthday as he was born on May 19, 1964. Multinational technology company Google celebrated the Nigerian football icon on what would have been his 55th birthday with a doodle.
Samuel Okwaraji For the younger generation who never saw the enigmatic midfielder play, it would seem the man is over extolled by the nation but Okwaraji was more than just a Super Eagles player, he was a legend in every right. In a country where the learned went on to become politicians using their educated wits to con a nation full of semi-literates in the 1980’s, Okwaraji was an oddity, in that the law graduate from Rome, Italy decided to engage the beautiful sport.
The team he played with was not full of university graduates (no offence to his contemporaries) who only became more enlightened through their exposures in the sport. This not only made Nigerians fall in love with him but in many ways he bridged the gap between the rich and poor, literate and illiterate, proletariat and bourgeoisie. If widespread rumours are to be believed, Okwaraji used his personal funds to fly himself down to Nigeria for matches with the Eagles and never asked the Nigeria Football Association (now NFF) for refunds.
Not from the richest families in the country, Okwaraji wore the number 6 jersey for Nigeria and Nigeria got to the final but lost to Cameroon. Okwaraji was also remembered for an incident involving his club and the NFA (now NFF).
It was reported that for his passion to play football for his fatherland, one day he stormed his manager’s office to say these harsh words on hearing the deal: “I am a lawyer and you know, and I signed to play football for certain conditions but I don’t think it included reselling my services to my country. You or your club cannot stop me from playing for my country. Let me tell you, I am going to represent my country whether you like it or not.” Moments like this just make you fall in love with a player like Okwaraji.