Okawaraji: Our Dreams, Aspirations Buried With Sam – Patrick, Elder Brother
By Emma Njoku
Today, August 12, marks exactly 30 years since one of Nigeria’s finest footballers, Samuel Sochukwuma Okwaraji slumped and died on the pitch of the National Stadium, Surulere Lagos, while playing for the country in a World Cup qualifying match against Angola.
Although the mercurial midfielder was the fourth in a family of seven children, prior to his sudden death, he was the sole bread winner of the family, having lost his father at a tender age.
His mother, Madam Janet Nkechi Okwaraji, had toiled day and night to raise her children after her husband passed on barely nine years into their marriage.
“Our mother went through hell to raise us after my father died shortly after the Nigerian civil,” Mr Patrick Okwaraji, elder brother of the late Super Eagles’ midfielder, began in an exclusive telephone chat with Sunsports/Sporting Sun.
“We were seven children from my parents, five boys and two girls, but two of us are late now, Sam and one of the girls. I’m the first born and Sam was the fourth. He was the hope of the entire family. But all our dreams and aspirations were buried with him,” he lamented.
Thirty years after Okwaraji paid the supreme price in defence of his fatherland, his family is still broken-hearted.
They are pained that all the promises made at his graveside during his state burial have remained unfulfilled, contrary to the sixth line of the first stanza of Nigeria’s national anthem, which says, “The labour of our heroes past shall never be in vain.”
“Sam demonstrated uncommon patriotism as a national team player. He never asked for money to play for the country. Although he was given a state burial, none of the promises made to the family at his graveside has been fulfilled. “We, his siblings, were promised scholarships and jobs upon completion of our studies, but nobody cares about the family. Each time we try to remind the appropriate authorities, all they say is we are working on it. It’s very unfair. Is it because he’s Igbo? If Sam wasn’t an Igbo man, the government wouldn’t have been so insensitive to his issue.”
Patrick lamented that the death of his younger brother put paid to the lofty dreams the iconic player had for the family. According to him, the late Okwaraji, who was plying his trade in Europe had a life assurance cover worth $4million but the insurance firm refused to pay the family the entitlement because they claimed that he died in Africa. In other words, if he had died in Europe, the family would have been paid.
“Sam lost everything; he lost his life, his career and his insurance benefits, all for the sake of Nigeria. He had plans to leverage on his insurance bond to open a big printing press for me. But the firm backed out of the project when he died. He was also working on using his insurance bond to facilitate a partnership with Toyota that would have made one of my younger brothers a marketer for the company in Nigeria. My younger brother would have been a major supplier of Hiace bus in Nigeria. He would have been a very big businessman by now, but the company pulled out of the deal because they said the person who held the bond was no more.”
The Federal Government as well as the Imo State government, the late Okwaraji’s home state, had made several promises at his burial towards immortalising the late prolific footballer.
Regrettably, 30 years after the demise of the iconic soccer star, whose patriotic disposition remains a talking point in the history of Nigerian sports, none of the promises has been fulfilled.
As a matter of fact, some two years ago, a member of the House of Representatives, Mr Tajudeen Yusuf, from Kogi State, moved a fantastic motion in the House, insisting that the federal government should fulfill those promises.
“I remember that the then Head of State, General Ibrahim Babangida, represented by General David Mark at the burial, made about five promises, but none of them has been fulfilled till date. One of the promises was to retire his (Okwaraji’s) No. 6 national team jersey. Another promise was to build a stadium in his community in Umudioka, Orlu, Imo State, which has not been done.
“David Mark, who represented the then Head of State, General Babangida at the burial, later became the Senate president for many years and could not use his good offices to see to the fulfillment of the promises by the federal government. It is because Okwaraji was an Igbo man. If he wasn’t an Igbo man, he would have been honoured and his family wouldn’t have been so abandoned,” Patrick said.
Interestingly, a stadium was named after Okwaraji in Orlu, Imo State, by former governor of the State, Achike Udenwa, but the stadium has since been displaced by a new road. Although a new stadium has been built in the same area by the immediate past governor of the state, Rochas Okorocha, he did not name the stadium after the late footballer before his exit from office.
However, a member of the Imo State House of Assembly and Chairman, House Committee on Sports, Michael Crown, in a telephone chat assured that the current state government under the leadership of Governor Emeka Ihedioha, will address the late Okwaraji’s matter with a view to immortalising him.
“I intend to move a motion in the House on the issue of the late Sam Okwaraji when the house resumes after the public holidays. I can assure you that the present government, under the leadership of His Excellency, Rt Hon. Emeka Ihedioha is very interested in taking sports to greater heights in the state. The House will look into the late Sam Okwaraji’s issue when we reconvene next week,” he said.
Corroborating his colleague, Hon. Paschal Okolie, member representing Orlu Constituency in the Imo Assembly, described the late football icon as a role model who should be celebrated and immotalised to inspire the present generation.
“The late Sam Okwaraji was a role model. Many people in his village do not know that such a person existed. He needs to be recognised to serve as an inspiration to the present generation. There were many promises made to the family at his burial and none has been fulfilled. All his family got was a paltry N10,000 an insurance company.
They promised to retire the No. 6 national team jersey, but somebody still wears that number till date. The federal government promised to give scholarship to any member of the family who wished to study up to university level and provide jobs for them after their studies, but that was not done. We are not happy.
“Next week, we shall move a motion in the House for the late Sam Okwaraji to be recognised by the government,” Okolie assured.