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Friday, September 30, 2022

Today in History: Nigerian Player Samuel Okwaraji Slumped and Died in 1989

Samuel Sochukwuma Okwaraji was born on May 19, 1964. He was a professional footballer who represented Nigeria at the international level. He was also a lawyer with a master’s degree in international law from the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome. 

It was the saddest in the history of Nigerian football considering the fact that the midfielder maestro died when in the line of duty for Nigeria. 


Okwaraji played in Europe 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 completing his law studies.  

He made the Green Eagles squad in 1988 and at that year’s 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 fell ten minutes before the completion of a World Cup qualifier in Lagos against Angola in 1990. An autopsy revealed that the 25-year-old had an enlarged heart and elevated blood pressure, suggesting that he died from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy problems. 

8 Things You Need to Know About Samuel Okwaraji 

  • His father, Mr. David Okwaraji worked with the defunct Nigeria Airways as a Duty Officer with the mother, Lady Janet Okwaraji being a retired school headmistress. Samuel Okwaraji has four brothers and two sisters.
  • He attended WTC Practicing School, Enugu for his primary education, and Ezeachi Secondary School, Orlu, Imo State. He later went to Federal Government College, Orlu and got both his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in International Law.
  • He could speak five languages -English, German, Italian, Spanish and of course, his native Igbo.
  • He was a talented midfielder wearing the Number 6 jersey for Nigeria, Okwaraji had an eventful soccer career which was unfortunately very short. During the 1988 Nations Cup in Morocco, he blasted one of the fastest goals past the Cameroonian goalkeeper -all within 60 seconds! He was later named the Most Valuable Player (MVP) -twice.
  • The Nigerian Football Association requested his release from SSV-ULM 1846, his club, so he could come and represent Nigeria in the match but his club refused demanding that NFA pay a sum of $45,000 in gating fees which the late Group Captain John Obakpolor, reduced the deal to $15,000.
  • On the 12th of August, 1989, while he was playing for Nigeria in a 2nd round World Cup Qualifier match (Group C, Italia World Cup) against Angola, Samuel Okwaraji slumped on the pitch and died immediately.

Also Read: Today in History: Power Mike, Great Wrestler Of 1970s Was Born 

It was 77 minutes into the match. Right there, in front of 20,000 Nigerians at the Main Bowl of the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos, the Green Eagles were thrown into disarray and all attempts to frevive him failed. 

  • Okwaraji was 25 when he died but Autopsy revealed he died from high blood pressure-induced congestive heart failure (which occurs when the heart is unable to provide sufficient pump action to ensure enough blood goes round the body). His heart was discovered to be enlarged -not a good sign in medicine. Okwaraji literally played his heart out for Nigeria.
  • On the 12th of August, 2009, Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola of Lagos State unveiled a concrete bust of Samuel Okwaraji in the Rededicated Memorial Garden in his honour in front of the same stadium where he died.




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