Football fans in the country have extolled the patriotism and unique character of the late Super Eagles midfield maestro, Sam Okwaraji, 29 years after his demise.
The former Eintratch Frankfurt of Germany star suddenly collapsed in the 77th min and died on Aug. 12, 1989 during an “Italia 90” World Cup qualifier against Angola, at the National Stadium, Lagos.
The fans, who spoke to newsmen yesterday in Abakaliki, alleged that in spite of the nation’s football authority’s erasing Okwaraji’s memory in its activities, Nigerians and Africans still remember the midfield maestro.
Eche Ezechukwu, a former Golden Eaglets striker, said that Okwaraji’s unique lifestyle motivated him to pursue his soccer career.
“Okwaraji remains the only Nigerian player who paid for his flight expenses whenever on national duties and truly saw wearing the national colours as an honour.
“He remains in death, a role model for Nigerian players because the sort of tension and grief generated by his death in the country that day, had not been experienced till date,” he said.
Jude Asokuh, who claimed to be Okwaraji’s relation, lamented that several promises made to the Okwaraji family by the federal and some state governments had not been fulfilled.
“The governments only erected several statues of Okwaraji at the National Stadium, Lagos and other places, organised activities in his name within that period, while decorating his grave at his hometown Umudioka, Orlu in Imo.
“Several financial among other promises made to his family were not fulfilled and football authorities in the country cannot even maintain the simple task of keeping his memory alive,” he lamented.
A businessman, Orji Ndah, collaborated Asokuh’s assertion, saying that such treatment for departed and retired ex-internationals accounted for the non-patriotic disposition of active footballers.
“Players have families to cater for and future to secure and this make them demand for financial commitments for national duties because they will be forgotten immediately they retire or die.
“It is shameful, for instance, that the football authorities no longer remember Rashidi Yekini, a player revered around the continent and whose goals brought honour to the country and joy to several homes,” he said.
In the same vein, the Nigeria Football Federation has paid tribute to the player who died at the age of 25.
“We remember former Super Eagles midfielder, Samuel Okwaraji, who passed on to glory on this day in 1989,” NFF tweeted.
“He was such a patriot in the truest sense of the word. Keep resting Samuel Somtochukwu Okwaraji ( 19 May 1964 – 12 August 1989) #WeRememberOkwaraji.”
The former Super Eagles midfielder made eight appearances for Nigeria and scored one goal. At club level he represented Dinamo Zagreb, Austria Klagenfurt, VfB Stuttgart, and SSV Ulm on loan.