Thursday, 21 May 2020

BIRTHDAY IN HISTORY SAMUEL SOCHUKWUMA OKWARAJI (Sam Okwaraji) @ 56 by Dr. Rapheal James of CRIMMD Lagos

He would have been 56 today, for he was born today May 19, 1964, in Orlu in Imo State. While in primary school, he got a recommendation and congratulatory letter from the Korean government for one of his art works which was chosen as the best in a primary school art contest." He held a Bachelor's and Master's degrees in international law from the University of Rome. Apart from his traditional mother tongue, Igbo, he also spoke German, English, Spanish and the Italian languages.
First played for the national team against Algeria at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium in Enugu in a Seoul 1988 Olympic qualifier and played a key role at the 1988 African Cup of Nations in Morocco, where he scored the fastest goal of the tournament against Cameroon in the group stages. He played professional football with NK Dynamo Zagreb of Yugoslavia, VFB Stuttgart and SSV Ulm 1846 of Germany. He also played at the Olympics in Seoul, he played about 10 matches for Nigeria and scored once. He was described as a thorough professional with a heart for Nigeria. Such was his patriotism that he was reported to have often played games for the country without requesting for flight tickets and match bonuses.

Prior to his death, a conflict had ensued between him and his club, SSV Ulm 1846, which was significant enough to attract the attention of the then Chairman of the Nigeria Football Association (NFA), Group Capt. John Obakpolor, who mediated in the matter to ensure his participation in the game. SSV Ulm 1846 had demanded $45,000 before it could release Okwaraji for the qualifying games as compensation for what it would lose in gate takings while Okwaraji was away with the national team. But Obakpolor was able to negotiate a deal for the country by paying a much lower $15,000 for his release. That was done without his knowledge and consent. He was reported to have expressed his disappointment with his club's action when he learnt of it and had told them that he will represent Nigeria without paying a dime, insisting: "I am a lawyer, you know I signed to play football under certain conditions but I don't think it included reselling my services to my country. You or your club cannot stop me from playing for my country. Let me tell you, I am going to represent my country in the World Cup in Italy whether you like it or not."

In what turned out to be his last game, playing as the Green Eagles midfielder, he was lined up alongside team mates David Ngodigha, Augustine Eguavoen, Sunday Eboigbe, Stephen Keshi, Obobaifo Osaro, Ademola Adesina, Uchenna Okafor, Humphrey Edobor, Etim Esim, Samson Siasia and Dahiru Sadi, who substituted Edobor in the second half to play the qualifying game for the upcoming Italia 90' World Cup against the Angolan senior national team.

In front of an estimated 100,000 spectators at the stadium, the game kicked-off at about 4 pm. The Green Eagles led the game with a 44th minute goal from its skipper, Stephen Keshi via a massive buildup initiated by Okwaraji in the midfield, all things seemed seamless for Nigeria until Okwaraji slumped and died exactly at the 77th minute of the game. During the August 12, 1989, FIFA World Cup qualifying match between Nigeria's Green Eagles and the Palancas Negras of Angola in the main bowl of the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos, he suddenly slumped on the field of play. During the qualification campaign for the 1990 World Cup hosted in Italy. He died of an enlarged heart. He rest in peace, one the very best ever in Nigerian Sports.

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