ON-FIELD OBITUARIES BEFORE AND AFTER SAMUEL OKWARAJI

BY KUNLE SOLAJA

Samuel Okwaraji death may have been the most pronounced on-field obituary in Nigeria; www.sportsvillagesquare.com recalls that it was neither the first of such nor the last.

David Omofeye aka “Idi” May 6, 1954

Before Okwaraji slumped unchallenged and died on the turf of the National Stadium, Lagos 30 years ago, during Nigeria’s World Cup qualifying match with Angola there was that of David Omofeye, a left full back and captain of the Old Reliable, Railway FC of Lagos – the record seven-time winners of Nigeria’s national cup.

Newspaper report of the funeral of ‘Idi’ in 1954

Omofeye’s demise was perhaps, the earliest recorded death on the Nigerian football field. It was on May 6, 1954.

He was popularly called “Idi” since 1932 during his days at Lagos Government School where his hefty hips attracted attention.

He narrowly missed being selected as a member of the famed ‘UK Tourists’, Nigeria’s first national team 70 years ago.

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Idi was an all-round athlete. The player, aged 32, hailed from Amukpe in the present day Delta State, a town that was to cause a big upset in the Challenge Cup in 1962.

Idi had played for Railway II team and graduated to Railway I to become its skipper when Titus Okere, a member of the famed 1949 UK Tourists, left in 1952.


He was in the Railway team that went to Cotonou and beat the home side 3-1 in 1948. Besides captaining the football team, he was also the skipper of the Railway Amateur Athletics Club where he was a hurdler.


According to reports, Idi had no premonition of death when he trotted out of the dressing room, a minute after his colleagues, in the May 6, 1954, first division match with Marine.


Shouts of “Idi! Idi!” greeted him at the now Onikan Arena, Lagos. It was the last ovation he received alive. He looked quite hale and hearty at the beginning of play, but fell suddenly after clearing the ball for his side.


Idi was rushed to the General Hospital, Lagos, where he was confirmed dead few minutes later. The match which was the first encounter in the season for both Marine and Railway, had to be abandoned when the news of Idi’s death filtered into the stadium.

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John Akande – February 21, 1974

After Idi’s death, there was that of John Akande. He was a player of IICC Shooting Stars, which he joined barely six weeks before his untimely death.


It was on February 21, 1974 during a league match at the Olubadan Stadium. He had a collision with an opposing player and could not get up. He was rushed to a hospital where he was confirmed dead.

 Amir Angwe – October 29, 1995


After Okwaraji, there was the death of Amir Angwe of Julius Berger. It was almost in similar fashion like those of Idi, Okwaraji and John Akande.


Angwe was a striker of Julius Berger. He died during an African Winners Cup semi-final with Maxaquine of Mozambique.

The striker, who in the 1990 final, opened scoring for BCC Lions in Tunisia, was aiming to be a part of Berger’s victory five years later.


Angwe came in as a substitute for Taiwo Oloyede who scored the only goal of the semi-final match.


He was pronounced clinically dead 10 minutes after the game. Angwe was barely 15 minutes old in the game when he fell without anyone having contact with him, bringing in sad memories of Sam Okwaraji who died six years earlier.


Help came too late apparently because the fallen player did not have body contact with anyone, making the Ugandan referee, Charles Massembe, and other players to probably think that the fall was either a time-killing tactics or it was due to exhaustion.


When he failed to rise, his team-mate, Ikponwosa Omeregie, who was nearest to him, had to call the attention of the referee who in turn called for medical attention.
It was a medical emergency.

Four medical doctors among them, Jose Novao, the Portuguese team doctor of Maxaquine, battled in vain to revive Angwe.


The player’s wife, Ann, was reportedly in the crowd that saw her husband make the death fall.


“It’s too bad. It is not a normal thing in sports. He is not breathing. He had heart failure. Then his breathing also failed.

“I can’t confirm, but I think he has passed out. He is dead, but let’s wait for what your doctors can do,” said Jose Novao, the Portugal-born Maxaquine team doctor, before leaving the scene.


At that point, it was almost certain it was over. The Nigerian doctors also lost hope and called for an ambulance that took the player’s body to the General Hospital mortuary.


In an earlier quarter-final match with Motema Pembe of Zaire (now DR Congo), Angwe barely survived as he also slumped. But he could not be revived on the fateful October 29, 1995 match.


Controversy set in on why the late player was fielded in the match as the then NFA General Secretary, Sani Toro, said the club had been given medical advice against fielding the player, although his team mates believed he was healthy from the layman’s point of view, having participated in the trainings and endurance tests that preceded the match.


But according to the NFA which recalled that Angwe barely survived a similar incident during quarter-finals game with Motema Pembe, it was suggested that a more thorough examination of the player and his team-mates be made.


One doctor, from Imo Sports Council was asked to do the tests two days to the match with Maxaquine. The NFA claimed that the doctor advised against fielding of Angwe.

But a Julius Berger official claimed the doctor cleared him for the game on the day of the match while his team-mates said they had even expected him to be on the starting line-up as he played full time in the first leg two weeks earlier in Maputo.
That was weeks after he passed out in the game with Motema Pembe.

Moreover, he reportedly practised for three hours with the remaining players two days to his death. Jose Novao said from what he saw of available facilities at the Onikan Stadium, “the administration here did not seem well equipped to meet any serious emergency.


“What is clear to me is that he died of heart failure which a good test could have revealed before the game… I did not see any medical facility that could have assisted even the best doctor to save that situation.


“I am an orthopaedic surgeon and as football team manager, I expected to see better facilities than cold water and stretcher at the venue of an international match”.


The Maxaquine team doctor said although he sympathised with Nigeria over Angwe’s death, his team would not have taken it easy with the NFA if it was a player of his side that died.


“Of course, all my players were well tested before we came for the match, but emergencies can develop anytime and that is why FIFA and other international sports bodies take sports medicine very seriously,” remarked Novao.


What happened to Angwe remains a mystery. Two weeks after he collapsed in the game with Motema Pembe, he was invited to the Super Eagles’ camp preparatory to the 1995 Afro-Asian Cup matches with Uzbekistan.


In the Super Eagles’ camp, he reportedly told a newspaper of the incident at the Motema Pembe match: “I don’t know what happened, I just entered the match and the next thing I noticed was that I could neither breathe nor see. It was terrible. But I’m alright now.”

Tunde Charity Ikhidero – September 9, 1997

In a similar manner, former Flying Eagles’ defender, Tunde Charity Ikhidero, also died, but from injury sustained on the football field.

That was eight years after he had been a prominent member of the 1989 Nigerian youth side that placed second behind Portugal at the 1989 FIFA World Youth Championship in Saudi Arabia.

Tunde Charity at Saudi ’89 FIFA World Youth Championship

He was playing for his local club, Insurance of Benin in a week 31 professional division one league tie with Niger Tornadoes in Benin City.

No one had a premonition of the fatality of the head injury he sustained in the 78th minute when he had an aerial collision with Frank Osazuwa of Niger Tornadoes. 

The latter was taken out on a stretcher to the Central Hospital for treatment. He was replaced by Harrison Omokoh.

Tunde was however able to continue the game after he had been revived by the medicals. He was reported to have trekked home after the match even though he complained of “heat” in his head. It was later discovered he suffered internal bleeding after the clash.

He was later taken to the University of Benin Teaching Hospital. A surgery to remove thick clot of blood from his brain was not successful. Barely a week after the match that terminated his life, the homeward journey of the dead player began.

The casket bearing his remains was draped in yellow and green colours of Insurance FC. As the body lay on an improvised platform on the tartan track of the then Ogbe Stadium, Benin, a referee symbolically flashed a red card to signify that the player had played his last match.

Endurance Idahor – March 6, 2010

After the episode involving Sam Okwaraji and Amir Angwe, Endurance Idahor, a 2003 joint top scorer in the Nigerian Premier League, became the next high-profile Nigerian footballer to slump and die on the football pitch.

The tragic incident occurred outside the shores of Nigeria while the former Julius Berger and Dolphins striker was in action for his Sudanese club, El Merriekh, in a domestic league game against Al Amal in Omdurman on March 6, 2010.

Endurance Idahor being taken into an ambulance

In the first half of the game, Idahor, 25, was reportedly felled by an elbow of an Al Amal defender. He was taken off the field in an ambulance after it appeared his situation was more critical than initially thought. There was chaos on the pitch and some players were seen weeping. The referee cancelled the match afterward after consulting with other officials. He was pronounced dead in the hospital.

The Nigerian ambassador to Sudan was reportedly to be one of the first to arrive the hospital, when the institution insisted that it would not perform an autopsy on Idahor except it received an order from either the ambassador or the late player’s wife, who was based in Dubai, where Idahor had previously played when he was loaned to Al-Nasser of UAE for one season.

Thousands of heartbroken fans, some of them weeping, also rushed to the hospital in tribute to a player who had been a great role model since he joined with El Merriekh in 2006 from Dolphins.

El Merriekh released a brief announcement, describing Idahor as “an example of a professional and committed individual and a symbol of loyalty”, and added: “We will assure that justice takes place.”

Few weeks to his death, he had visited a motherless babies’ home in Sudan, where he donated three months salaries. Autopsy report later released by the director of mortuary at the hospital, Dr. Jamal Yousif, revealed the Nigerian player died of sudden circulatory failure and heart attack.

Bankole Faloye & Adekunle Oyetola – September 22, 2010

Another cloud of gloom was over Nigerian football when two referees suddenly collapsed and died on September 22, 2010, at the National Stadium, Abuja, field during a routine Cooper Test to ascertain fitness. 

The referees were Matthew Bankole Faloye from the Ogun State Referees’ Council and Adekunle Oyetola of Oyo State.

Both reportedly slumped and there was no oxygen cylinder for their revival. According to the NRA president, Ahmed Maude, the deceased referees were among those who could not participate in the earlier cooper test conducted about six weeks ago due to one reason or the other, but were given a second chance.

Media reports had it that the deceased referees had failed previous test three months earlier and had been advised to withdraw on medical ground. But their second attempt proved fatal.

They were reported to have completed the mandatory 10 lap round the practice pitch of the stadium only to slump thereafter.

Participants at FIFA Cooper Test are expected to run and complete 3,200 metres within 12 minutes.

In its original form, the Cooper test was designed by Kenneth H. Cooper in 1968 for US military use. 

The test measures the condition of the participant and is supposed to be run at a steady pace instead of sprints and fast running.

Emmanuel Ogoli – December 12, 2010

After the Season 2010/2011 had gone five weeks, former league champions, Ocean Boys, had their first win on December 12, 2010.

But the 2-0 win over Niger Tornadoes could not be celebrated. Tragedy had befallen not just the Ocean Boys, but also the entire Nigerian Premier League as Emmanuel Ogoli, a defender of the club who slumped to the ground after 39 minutes of the game had died in the hospital where he was rushed.

Emmanuel Ogoli

But the report of his death on the way to hospital at the end of the game threw the Ocean dressing room into mourning.

Before then, he was reported to have suffered a “horror injury” days earlier when he clashed with Obinna Nwokolo in a game against Plateau United on the same Samson Siasia Stadium pitch in Yenagoa.

He was expected to be out of the game for about two months, but resumed training barely a week after the injury.

The pacy left full back who moved from Beyelsa United to Ocean Boys at the close of the previous season, returned to the field in a week 3 game against Gombe United.

After his death, there were claims that Ogoli had health problems, especially relating to his heart. One version had it that he had collapsed six weeks earlier during training.

SuperSport.com however quoted the team doctor; Erefa Inengibo, as denying the claims, saying all the players, including Ogoli, passed every routine checks and pre-season medical tests.

He was quoted as saying that the deceased was in the hospital for routine check-ups. “We found him to be as fit as fiddle. We ascertained his stamina and endurance levels and the results were satisfactory. So, his death is clearly a shock,” the team doctor was quoted to have said.

Tales of the Tape

May 6, 1954: David Omofeye aka “Idi” slumped and died during a Lagos first divi­sion match between his club, Railway and Marine. This is Nigeria’s first recorded sudden death on the field.

February 21, 1974John Akande, left winger, 22, died at a hospital following a collision with an opponent in a league match at the Olubadan Stadium. He was playing for Shooting Stars which he joined six weeks earlier.

August 12, 1989Samuel Okwaraji slumped and died, playing for Nigeria against Angola in World Cup qualifying match in Lagos.

September 9, 1995Igweniwari George, Golden Eaglets and Enugu Rangers play­er and younger brother of Finidi, a Super Eagles player, died in the hospital from gunshot wounds sustained after their FA Cup tie with Super Stores ended with riots at Lekan Salami Stadium, Ibadan.

October 29, 1995: Amir Angwe playing for Julius Berger against Maxaquine of Mozambique in the African Winners Cup slumped and died.

September 9, 1997: Tunde Charity Ikhidero died in the hospital following head injury sustained in a league match involving his club, Insurance and Niger Tornadoes in Benin on September 6, 1997.

August 30, 1997: Emmanuel Nwanegbo died of heart failure playing for German lower division side, SSV Reutlingen

February 23, 2000: John Ikoroma, a former Golden Eaglets player died of heart attack while playing for United Arab Emirates club, Al-Wahda in Dubai.

April 16, 2000: Gabriel Anas, a central defender of Iwuanyanwu Nationale col­lapsed and died.

July 14, 2001: Charles Esheko, 26, playing in India for Bengal Mumbai, suffered massive cardiac arrest on the field and died later in the hospital.

August 12, 2006: Boniface Danjuma of Plateau United slumped and died in a league match with city rivals, JUTH, exactly 17 years after similar incident involv­ing Samuel Okwaraji.

May 26, 2009: Orobosa Adun, the goalkeeper of Warri Wolves slumped and died during a training session.

March 6, 2010: Endurance Idahor, former Julius Berger and Dolphin striker, playing for Al Merreikh of Sudan, collapsed and died in Omdurman while playing against Amal Atbara.

September 22, 2010: Habib Faloye and Kunle Oyetola, both Nigerian referees, slumped and died while participating in the Cooper Test, a yearly referees’ fitness programme at the Abuja National Stadium.

December 12, 2010: Emmanuel Ogoli of Ocean Boys died shortly after slumping in a league match with Niger Tornadoes.

May 25, 2017: Saka Abdulazeez, a player of Kwara United, slumped unchallenged and subsequently passed on while training.