Welcome to this week edition of our History Diary. We bring to you the history of one of the Most Patriotic Football Player ever to come out of Nigeria and Africa as a Whole. He is called Samuel Sochukwuma Okwaraji
Samuel Sochukwuma Okwarajiwas born on 19th of May, 1964 in Orlu, city of Imo state Nigeria. He was a professional footballer who played internationally for his beloved fatherland, Nigeria.
Samuel Okwaraji attended WTC Practicing School, Enugufor 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 top European football clubs, which includes the likes of NK Dinamo Zagreb,VfB Stuttgart and SSV Ulm 1846 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 he 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, Christain Obi, Jude Agada, Henry Nwosu and so on.
Things you need to know about “Samuel Okwaraji”
Multi-talented footballer and midfield maestro On the field of play, Okwaraji went for the tackles, aerial balls and in fact did more than his fair share of safe guarding the perimeter of the 18-yard box. This earned him a place in Nigeria’s first Olympic team in 1988. Debuting on January 30, 1988 in a match against Algeria, at the Nnamdi Azikwe Stadium, Enugu, Okwaraji with amazing skills played himself into the consciousness of Nigerians.
Okwaraji’s football career in Europe started in 1984-1985, in AS Roma. After which he had a career playing for NK Dinamo Zagreb (1985-1986), Austria Klagenfurt (1986-1987), VfB Stuttgart (1987-1989), SSV Ulm (loan) (1987-1988).
Scored one of the fastest goal in African football history
Okwaraji, who made the Green Eagles squad in 1988 at the African Nations Cup in Morocco, scored one of the fastest goals in the history of African football against Nigeria’s perennial rivals, the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon. Shining like a million stars in that tournament, Okwaraji was named man of the match twice.
A Patriot par excellence
Okwaraji’s was indeed seen as a patriot. At one occasion, when he had the chance to play for his fatherland but his club would not agree. His club manager was said to have asked the Nigerian Football Authorities to pay an estimated cost of $45, 000 for their star player’s match bonus and an expected loss in the club’s gate taking for the period in which he would be on national duty.
Samuel Okwaraji being Immotalized
Hearing about this agreement, this patriot hit back at his club saying: “I signed to play football for you on certain conditions, but I don’t think it includes reselling my services to my country. You cannot stop me playing for my country and let me tell you, I am going to represent my country in the World Cup in Italy whether you like it or not and I would very much like for you to be there.”
No doubt, Okwaraji paid his way to play for Nigeria without asking for a dime. He would come to camp uninvited and beg the coach to throw the jerseys on the floor for players to fight for. It was this move that heralded the era of throwing the camp open. He was not afraid to put his career on the line for his country. He put his life on the line too.
On The Deal Day !!
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.