Today marks the 30th year anniversary of the death of Nigerian football midfield maestro; Samuel Sochukuma Okwaraji on the turf of the National Stadium in Lagos.
Okwaraji, 25, slumped and died during Nigeria’s Italia ’90 World Cup qualifying match with Angola.
The result of the match, a 1-0 win for Nigeria, has certainly gone into oblivion. But the other sad events keep memories to linger on.
Not only did Okwaraji die, five other fans, also died of exhaustion and suffocation in a tightly packed arena that was being reopened for matches after two years closure.
It was also the first time Okwaraji played at the National Stadium and was the last time he lived.
According to autopsy report, Okwaraji’s death was due to complications of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy: an enlarged heart complicated by high blood pressure.
His sudden death was similar to that of Cameroon’s Marc-Vivien Foe who slumped during a FIFA Confederation Cup match in France in 2003.
In the case of Okwaraji, his death was bizarre. As the drab match progressed, an Angolan player slumped. Medical personnel rushed to administer treatment. It was barely 10 minutes to the end of the match.
As attention focused on the injured Angolan player, and while some fans that had fainted by the sidelines were being attended to, dreadlocks haired Okwaraji suddenly slumped, face down. Few people would have thought it was mere exhaustion.
The nearest player to him, Samson Siasia, rushed to the prostrate form and tried him to face up but it was in vain. What Siasia saw frightened him. It was the first clear sign that someone terrible had happened to this Nigerian player with a Ph.D in Law in sight.
In tribute to this uncommon Patriot who died in the service to fatherland, several promises were made to the Okwaraji family. Employment and sundry welfare packages were pledged to Okwaraji’s mother and siblings. Majority of these promises remain empty air!
But even as these promises remain unfulfilled, ardent Nigerian football fans who were of age at the time of Okwaraji’s exploits with Eagles will never forget him. He remains an icon and an inspiration to generations yet unborn.
His bust in front of the National Stadium in Lagos remains a reminder to Nigeria the debt we owe this uncommon Patriot who dared his club in Europe to serve fatherland at no cost.
There have been other ways to immortalized him butr Earlier this year, on the occasion of his 55thposthumous birthday, search engine giants, Google, on Sunday May 19, 2019 honoured him Google Doodle.
The Google Doodle is used on the search engine home page for different seasons or special days such as birthdays of famous people.