BY BOLAJI OKUNOLA.
Even though it is 27 years since Samuel Okwaraji, a Nigerian midfielder passed on, it has been difficult for most Nigerians, especially the teammates to forget the player. Samuel Okwaraji slumped and died on August 12, 1989 at the National Stadium, Lagos during Nigeria’s World Cup qualifying duel with Angola.
One after the other, some of the Super Eagles players of that era spoke to Sports Village Square to express their feelings on the dreadlocked player who will forever be a national hero. Okwaraji also entered the record books as the fastest scorer at the 1988 Africa Cup of Nations, which was the only edition he featured.
After barely 95 seconds of the kickoff of Nigeria’s third group match with Cameroon, Okwaraji shot Nigeria ahead in an eventual 1-1 drawn game. He was bobbling with great excitement the fateful day he marshaled Nigeria’s midfield in the World Cup qualifying encounter with Angola
Etim Esin, one of the Super Eagles players that day, recalled vividly the sad incident during a chat with the Super Eagles.
“I don’t like remembering the sad incidence. It was the worst game in my career. Okwaraji’s death remains one of the greatest shocks I ever got”, remarked Etim Esin. Another former Super Eagles’ player, Ajibade Babalade.
Another player at the match, Austin Eguavoen recalls: “This is not a good episode for me to recount. Remember that apart from Okwaraji, there were some other deaths among the fans. I weep any time I remember August 12.”
Also, former national team skipper and the youngest of the 1980 Africa Cup of Nations winners, Henry Nwosu remarks: “It is very sad to remember such event. But what can we do than to keep praying for the families of those who has lost their loved ones – the fans and the late Okwaraji who will forever remain a hero.”