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Okwaraji comes alive in Abuja

Deceased icon, Samuel Sochukwuma Okwaraji, will be remembered today in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja as the national U-20 team, Flying Eagles, and the home–based senior team, otherwise known as Super Eagles Team B, play a match in his honour at the National Stadium Complex.

Passionately patriotic and with an uncommon commitment to the national cause, Sam Okwaraji slumped and died on the turf of the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos, during an Italia 1990 World Cup qualifying match between Nigeria and Angola.

   Sam Okwaraji (in dreadlock and wearing jersey No6) sorting matters out just before he slumped and died for Nigeria in the 1-0 victory against Angola, August 12, 1989.
Sam Okwaraji (in dreadlock and wearing jersey No6) sorting matters out just before he slumped and died for Nigeria in the 1-0 victory against Angola, August 12, 1989.

At the time of his death, Okwaraji had a Master’s degree in international law, and had already registered for his doctorate studies in the same discipline at an Italian University. He was only 25 years of age, and with his dreadlocks, epitomized the authentic patriot who did not wait for his country before paying his way to come and represent the nation at international level.

Okwaraji played only 10 matches for Nigeria, but many would not believe he didn’t play more. His first game was against Algeria at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium, Enugu (where he was raised) in a Seoul 1988 Olympics qualifier.

He was the star man as Nigeria won 2-0 to qualify 2-1 on aggregate, and he then played at the 1988 African Cup of Nations in Morocco, scoring the fastest goal of the tournament – a 2nd minute effort against Cameroon in the group stages.

He went on to play at the Olympics in Seoul the same year and at the couple of World Cup qualifiers the following year, before slumping 13 minutes to the end of the game against Angola on August 12, 1989.

Incidentally, one of the key personalities in today’s match, Samson Siasia (Coach of the U-20 team) was much involved. Striker Siasia was the one who drew the attention of team–mates and match officials to the fallen figure of Sam Okwaraji, who appeared to have slumped under his own weight. Autopsy declared that Okwaraji died of cardiac arrest.

Today’ match will start at 4pm.


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