BY KUNLE SOLAJA
Former Nigerian international who also coached the national team, Pat Ekeji, has revealed that he cautioned against the fielding of Samuel Okwaraji on the day he died in 1989.
The all-round sports personality whose featured in all aspects of football as a player, coach, teacher at the National Institute of Sports, sports writer and later administrator, informed www.sportsvillagesquare.com that the death of Okwaraji was unfortunate, but he cautioned against the fielding of the player on that fateful August 12, 1989 match.
Okwaraji would have been 55 last Sunday and his birthday was marked by Google search engine placing his image on its home page.
“I queried the wisdom of fielding Okwaraji in that match as he happened to have been, from what I gathered, on a visit home since the soccer season in Europe was on break.
“Obviously his body was not yet tuned-in for sporadic movements to which he was introduced to under take in that match.
“It was either he was assigned the role of roving mid-field play without boundaries or he was sucked-in with the flow of the game that his cardiovascular function got over laboured because the system was yet in “holiday” phase.
“It was unlikely he had cardiovascular mal or sub-function as this would have been detected by his club’s medical team in Europe.”
Dr. Pat Ekeji who had handled the national team in 1985 and later rose to the pinnacle of Nigerian sports administration as Director General of the National Sports Commission recalled his earlier teachings.
“I used to teach the subject of the science of high performance training at the NIS when I was there and it was a core and compulsory subject Student that coaches must pass in order to acquire the basic coaching certificate – then Grade 3 Certification.
“I do not know what teaching goes on there today but I think too that some coaches do not take advice from the medical team. I know this. There is need more education in this field for our coaches and this one reason I keep advocating for the return of the NSC.
“The NIS today is like a “motherless” child. I doubt if it gets any attention at all. That sector is one of the four pillars of our sport development.”
Samuel Okwaraji slumped and died on the field in the 81st minute of Nigeria’s World Cup qualifying duel with Angola.
Unknown that he had died while he was stretched out of the field, Okwaraji was later substituted by Ademola Adesina.
Sadly, the match at the Lagos National Stadium was Okwaraji’s first at the arena and it was the last time he lived. He was the only Nigerian player that got cautioned that day by Togolese referee Hounnake-Koussai.