- NFF plans remembrance at Fed Cup venues
When Samuel Sochukwu Okwaraji slumped on the pitch and was stretchered out in the 81st minute of the Italia ’90 World Cup qualifier against Angola and replaced by Ademola Adeshina, the match went on. Little did Nigerians know that it was going to be Okwaraji’s last game for Nigeria!
For Okwaraji, August 12, 1989 was his last outing for the national team. In front of a packed National Stadium, Surulere in Lagos, the stylish midfield ace passed on at the thick of action, doing what he knew how to do best. For his team-mates, the Nigeria Football Federation, and his family, sweet memories of Okwaraji who wore jersey no 10 will not go away, not even twenty-six years after.
“He was the most committed national team player I’ve ever played with that was prepared to do everything in his capacity we won every match we played,’’ begins Folorunsho Okenla, Okwaraji’s former team-mate at the Green Eagles, now called the Super Eagles.
Okenla who was speaking to Nigerian Pilot Sports in Abuja on Monday recalled his close relationship with Okwaraji during their time in the national team.
“He was the first player in camp that paired with me. We developed very fantastic relationship. Before every match, we would sit down and have a pre-match meeting in our room. I used to play in front of him.’’
Okenla, an England-based businessman, spoke on the need for the Federal Government to immortalize the late Okwaraji.
“Nothing is too small to do in remembrance of Sam. We have heard of fallen soldiers who the government set out to honour annually. Footballers are also soldiers. Some died while playing for the country while others sustain serious injuries and have their careers terminated. If a national edifice is named after him it wouldn’t be too small. He was like a General in a warfront who fought brilliantly and did not return alive. He died.’’
Veteran NFF Match Commissioner and football administrator, Arthur Kwame said Okwaraji literally laid down his life for Nigerian football.
“Sam Okwaraji sacrificed his life for Nigeria. I’m aware he used to go to the national team even without an official invitation which showed a lot of dedication and commitment on his part. Simply put, he was a symbol of good dedication in the service of his fatherland. Present day Nigerian footballers should try and emulate him.’’
NFF Assistant Director, Media and Communications, Ademola Olajire who also spoke to Nigeria Pilot Sports described the late Okwaraji as ‘’quintessential patriot’’ whose qualities should inspire the present crop of the country’s footballers.
“He was well educated as footballer but did not carry it on his head. At the time of his death he was a doctorate degree student. Yet, he begged to join the national team even when Coach Paul Hamilton said he wasn’t invited.
Olajire disclosed plans by the NFF to specially honour Okwaraji today to mark the 26th anniversary of his passage.
“Sam Okwaraji’s portrait will be taken around inside venues of the Q-final matches of the Federation Cup. The NFF will never forget Okwaraji.’’