We have in times past profiled many Nigerian heroes and individuals who are a part of the Nigerian story as a way of rousing a sense of patriotism in our children. Of late, we have deemed it necessary to delve into other areas of the Nigerian story other than politics, areas like sports, literature etc. In this week’s edition we are profiling a prolific Nigerian who, while playing football for the country lost his life.

Enjoy the story below.

Samuel Sochukwuma Okwaraji was a prolific and professional Nigerian football player who played for both international clubs and his country. He was born in Orlu, a city in Imo State, to a duty officer, Mr. David Okwaraji and a headmistress, Lady Janet Okwaraji on the 19th of May, 1964. Samuel Okwaraji attended WTC Practicing School, Enugu for his primary education and Ezeachi Secondary School, Orlu, Imo State. Sam Okwaraji also attended Federal Government College in Orlu and finally completed his studies in law in the University of Rome, Italy, but did not take up the profession after schooling. While bagging his masters in international law in the University of Rome, Samuel Okwaraji played for NK Dinamo Zagreb (1985-1986), VfB Stuttgart (1987- 1989),  and SSV Ulm 1846 (loan) (1987-1988) where he performed exceptionally.

In 1988, Samuel Okwaraji made his way into the Green Eagles squad; at the African Nations Cup played that same year in Morocco, he did the unexpected by netting one of the fastest goals (60s) in the annals of the competition against the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon. Sam Okwaraji also played at the ‘1988 Summer Olympics’ that was held in Seoul, South Korea. He played alongside other professionals like Samson Siasia, Rashidi Yekeni, Bright Omokaro, Wole Odegbami, Christian Obi, Jude Agada, Henry Nwosu and so on.

On the 12th of August, 1989, at the unripe age of 25, Samuel Okwaraji unfortunately met his untimely death right on the football pitch before the eyes of 20,000 spectators. He slumped and died of heart failure in the 77th minute of a 2nd round World Cup qualifier match against Angola at the Surulere Stadium now Lagos National Stadium, Lagos State. This was a big and irreplaceable loss for Nigeria. He was given a befitting and heroic burial in his hometown, Umudioka Community in Imo State.

On August 12, 2009, as a way of immortalizing this icon, Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola of Lagos State erected a concrete burst of Samuel Okwaraji in front of Lagos National Stadium, the same stadium where he died.

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