Life and death of Nigeria footballer Samuel Okwaraji

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Samuel Sochukwuma Okwaraji was a professional footballer who played internationally for Nigeria. He was also a qualified lawyer who had a masters in international law from the Pontifical Lateran University of Rome.

Okwaraji was born on 19 May 1964 in Orlu, Imo State, Nigeria.

Okwaraji had a career in Europe which included playing for AS Roma (1984–1985), NK Dinamo Zagreb (1985–1986), Austria Klagenfurt (1986–1987), VfB Stuttgart (1987–1989) and SSV Ulm 1846 (loan) (1987–1988) while finishing his education in law. In his short stay with Dinamo Zagreb, Samuel scored 3 goals in a friendly game vs NK Budućnost Hodošan. The game was played on 30 April 1986, and Dinamo Zagreb won 12–0. Samuel’s only official game for Dinamo in the Yugoslav First League was as a substitute on 18 May 1986 against FK Priština. The game was played at Maksimir stadium in Zagreb, the 29th round of 1985/86 season. Dinamo Zagreb won 4:3.

He was an active player with Belgian side K. Berchem Sport at the time of his death.

He made the Super Eagles squad in 1988 and at the African Nations Cup where he scored one of the fastest goals in the history of the championship against the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon. He played along until the final match, where the Eagles lost to their perennial rivals Cameroon by a lone goal. Okwaraji also made 4 appearances for the Nigerian Olympic team in 1988, one during the qualifiers, and 3 at the Olympics themselves in Nigeria’s 3 games in the group D.

Okwaraji collapsed ten minutes from the end of a 1990 World Cup qualifier against Angola in Lagos. He died from possible complications of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy as an autopsy showed that the 25-year-old had an enlarged heart and high blood pressure.

According to an article written by the Punch Okwaraji’s teammate Henry Nwosu, a 1980 Africa Cup of Nations winner, described the fallen midfield maestro as a true patriot who wanted to prove to Nigerians that he was a good player but died in the process.

“Okwaraji was a gentle boy who was ready to do anything for people around him and particularly his country,” Nwosu told The PUNCH.

“He was that player who was ready to die for his country and he died for his country. He was such a player who hated to be cheated but unfortunately, death cheated him in such a painful manner. It is painful that he’s been gone for so long.”

Another of Okwaraji’s teammates Etim Esin, added, “Okwaraji was my good friend back then, he was my roommate. It’s really sad and till date, I still remember him just like yesterday. It is always difficult to forget an individual who was so good even in death. I believe if he were alive we would have made it to the 1990 World Cup.


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