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Sam Okwaraji: Today’s ‘Paper Talk’

Sam Okwaraji: Today’s ‘Paper Talk’
August 18
17:05 2014

Death was the august visitor in the month of August, 25 years ago.

It took the lives of Sam Okwaraji and 12 others on Saturday August 12, 1989, inside the main bowl of the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos during a 1990 World Cup qualifier between Nigeria and Angola.

TheCable goes into its archives to see how the sad events of that month, and related issues, were reported.

Welcome to Today’s Paper Talk.


August 3

Agwai dreams of 5-0

Super Eagles team manager, Augustine Agwai, says the mobile team he has in mind will take Nigeria to the World Cup in Italy in 1990.


“My dream team will beat Angola on August 12 with at least five goals, hold the Cameroonians in Yaounde, and zero in on Italia 1990.” (Nigerian Tribune)

August 8

Angola will shock Nigeria

On Saturday, August 12, at the main bowl of the National Stadium in Lagos, Angola will be coming to take on Nigeria as part of a bid for the regional soccer championship for the 1990 World Cup in Italy.


I advise you to get some tranquilizers before going to the stadium because after it all, you will need them to maintain your sanity.

Listen carefully: “As God the Lord liveth before whom I stand, Angola will beat Nigeria in Lagos and the deciding goal will be an own goal – the mouth of the Lord has spoken it. (Sam Akpabot writes for you, Nigerian Tribune)

August 9

FIFA names referees for World Cup prelims


FIFA-graded referee M. Hounnake-Kouassi of Togo has been appointed by FIFA to handle Saturday’s World Cup preliminary match between Nigeria and Angola. (Nigerian Tribune)

August 10


FIFA says no to Sunday date

FIFA has officially turned down Nigeria’s request for a change of date for the World Cup Africa qualifier match against the Angolan national team from Saturday to Sunday.


In a telex sent to NFA on Tuesday, the world soccer ruling body told NFA that it turned down the request on the basis that Saturday 12 was the official date chosen by Nigeria and that has been sealed.

Nigeria had earlier made a request to FIFA for a change of the match date from her traditional Saturday to Sunday expressing the fear that Gabon, who is apparently out of the World Cup race could sell out to Cameroon, Nigeria’s closest rival for the Group C leadership. (The Guardian)


Angolans due here tomorrow

A party of the Angolan national soccer team will fly in from Luanda tomorrow via Ethiopia airlines. Time of arrival is uncertain.

The NFA has already made arrangements for the team to stay at Lagos Hilton Hotel or at New World Hotel.

Enter foreign coaches

Dutch duo Clemens Westerhof and Jen Udiense, contracted last month to coach the Super Eagles and the junior national team respectively, flew back midnight Monday, to start work.

The men from Holland arrived via KLM, the Royal Dutch airlines and NFA officials were at hand at the Murtala Muhammed Airport to wheel the new employees straight to Eko L’hotel Meridien. (The Guardian)

August 11

NFA has met my conditions – Okwaraji

Nigerians would Saturday watch Antwerp latest catch, Samuel Okwaraji, on the field against the Angolans in the World Cup African qualifier.

Okwaraji, the dreadlocked attacking midfielder has been off Eagles line-up for an undisclosed rift, which he said has been duly resolved.

“The fact that I am here for the match against Angola shows that all my conditions have been met,” said Okwaraji.

He however refused to disclose the conditions that were met. (The Guardian)

August 12

Eagles, Angola in dicey tie

Three hearty cheers! After almost three years of inactivity occasioned by the refurbishing of the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos, life is back at the Sports City as the Super Eagles take on Angola today, in one of the 1990 World Cup African qualifying series matches. (Nigerian Tribune)

August 13

Soccer tragedy

  • Okwaraji dead
  • 7 fans also dead
  • Fate of many unknown

The biggest soccer tragedy hit Nigeria yesterday when the country’s most colourful schemer, Sam Okwaraji, collapsed and died.

Okwaraji, who was a motivating factor in the Green Eagles/Angola match yesterday, collapsed during the match and started foaming from his mouth.

The top midfielder who first played for Nigeria last year January during the Seoul Olympics Games soccer final between Algeria and Nigeria was rushed to the Lagos general hospital where he was confirmed dead. (Sunday Tribune)

Okwaraji’s wish

In an interview granted to Tribunesports recently in Enugu, Sam Okwaraji, a dazzling midfielder, declared that he had had the wish to live long but it was only God who could determine the life span of a man.

As if having premonition about his imminent death in a reaction to the question:  “What do you dread most?” He replied sharply: “The word death strikes me hollow.”

I warned them

“I smelt danger and I did warn against playing the match in Lagos. I said it. Bring the match to Ibadan and that there were too many enemies on the ground.”

Dr. Akpabot declared these almost in tears in Ibadan yesterday.

They died too

At least seven soccer fans were reported dead at the Eagles/Angola World Cup qualifier match at the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos yesterday.

A source close to the National Stadium medical centre, where they were taken to, confirmed the death of the soccer fans while about eight others were still being revived as at the time of this report.

August 14

Stadium death toll now 12

Apart from the seven soccer spectators that died last Saturday at the National Stadium, five more dead bodies were fished out yesterday morning.

Authoritative sources close to the Nigeria Football Association (NFA) said that the bodies were discovered when the stadium was being made ready for the opening ceremony of the National Sports Festival. (Nigerian Tribune)

State burial for Okwaraji

The federal government yesterday expressed shock over the death of Sam Okwaraji and 12 other Nigerians who died at the National Stadium last Saturday.

The chief of general staff, Vice Admiral Augustus Aikhomu, in an interview, said that Okwaraji would be given a befitting burial because he died while on national service.

Minute silence

A minute silence was observed at the National Stadium, Lagos yesterday in honour of late Sam Okwaraji, Nigeria’s football superstar who died on Saturday as the 8th National Sports Festival opened.

The almost-30,000 spectators stood in total silence. The observance of the minute silence that greeted the occasion was like that at a grave yard.

August 15

Okwaraji’s mother faints thrice

Mrs. Janet Okwaraji, mother of the late football idol, Sam, fainted thrice on Sunday when the news of her son’s death was broken to her at 8a.m.

The air was thick with grief and tears flowed freely as hundreds of mourners and sympathisers thronged the Osmond Crescent home of the Okwaraji’s in Abakpanike, a suburb of Enugu, Anambra State.

Mrs. Okwaraji, 55, a retired headmistress, was prevented from speaking to the press by the late Okwaraji’s elder brother, Patty. (The Guardian)

Eagles pledge to beat Cameroon

The death last Saturday of Nigeria’s midfield dynamo, Samuel Okwaraji, has fired the patriotic instinct in his colleagues in the national team to beat Cameroon in Yaounde on August 25 and to qualify for the World Cup coming up next year in Italy.

Govt plans hero’s burial burial for Okwaraji

A three-man delegation, including former chairman of the Nigeria Football Association (NFA), Group Captain John Obakpolor, left for Enugu yesterday to condole with the family of the late soccer idol, as sports officials spoke of plans to accord him a befitting burial.

Okwaraji 2Last moments of the fallen star, by Angus Ikeji

Angus Ikeji, Flying Eagles goalkeeper and one of the closest friends of the late Sam Okwaraji and who was with the body in the ambulance in the last moments of the fallen star recalled those moments of his friend.

“I saw when he slumped and when he was carried on the stretcher into the ambulance. I accompanied the body from the ambulance to the National Sports Commission medical centre.

“He was just lying flat without any movements…he opened his mouth wide and was having difficulty in breathing.

“He was not responding to treatment and it was very apparent that his breathing was deteriorating. All of a sudden, he just gasped twice and he gave up.

“I was not in doubt that he could still be revived, not until he was certified dead at the general hospital.”

Doctors, nurses wear mournful looks

The atmosphere was gloomy at the Lagos general hospital on Sunday morning as health attendants tucked the body of the fallen footballer into the first crate of the large morgue.

Burial plans out

The Nigeria Football Association (NFA) in conjunction with late Sam Okwaraji’s family has mapped out plans for the burial of the soccer star.

The NFA, after a meeting with the player’s family, said that Okwaraji would be buried on Saturday, September 2, 1989 at Umudioka in Orlu local government area of Imo State.

The association said that the lying-in-state of the body would be held at the main bowl of the National Stadium on August 31.

The body would leave on September 1 for Enugu, where a short ceremony would be conducted before it moves to Owerri for official wake-keeping.

The NFA also plans an official visit to the mother of the footballer before the burial ceremony commences. (Nigerian Tribune)

Autopsy report for govt only

The post mortem report on the death of soccer star, Sam Okwaraji, is now a government property.

A medical officer at the Lagos general hospital said yesterday that the hospital would not release the report to anybody except the federal government.

The doctor also said that Okwaraji’s death might be attributed to cardiac failure.

He said that when the player collapsed, he did not get medical attention immediately.

It was gathered that Okwaraji died before he was taken out of the pitch.

FIFA to probe Okwaraji’s death

The Federation of International Football Association (FIFA) is interested in investigating what caused the tragic death of Sam Okwaraji and others at the National Stadium last Saturday.

According to a BBC report monitored in Ibadan, the highest football ruling body, FIFA and Nigerian government would investigate what led to the deaths at the National Stadium.

Towards this end, the federal government has set up a nine-man administrative commission of inquiry to look into the circumstances surrounding the tragic incidents.

The committee is headed by Mr. A. Anam, with Mr. R.N. Onyeabo as secretary.

Other members are Mr. Olu Mogaji, Chief Jonathan Ogufere, Colonel Yemi Akinyanju, Dr. E. Ekunkoya, Mr. Paul Ezeoka, Mr. Vincent Obi and Mr. Ben Bruce.

August 16

Should Eagles draw in Yaounde…

…They will emerge tops in Group C

…Play either Zambia or Tunisia on home and away basis with winner qualifying for Italia ‘90

Nigeria’s Super Eagles have one more hurdle to clear to qualify if they draw with Cameroon in Yaounde on August 27, 1989 in the 2nd leg of the African zone qualifier for Italia ’90. (Nigerian Tribune)

Governors sign for Okwaraji

More important dignitaries have signed the condolence register opened by the Nigeria Football Association (NFA) for the late soccer star, Sam Okwaraji.

Among them are eight governors who witnessed the opening ceremony of the National Sports Festival last Saturday.

Over 2,000 people have so far signed the register.

August 17

Angola Tuesday became the first country to pay her condolence to Nigeria on the death of star midfielder, Sam Okwaraji. (The Guardian)

August 19

‘God, give us another Sam Okwaraji

The minister of works and housing, Major-General Mamman Kontangora, has called upon God to give Nigeria another Sam Okwaraji.

The minister who was at the NFA office yesterday to sign the condolence register praised late Okwaraji for his dedication to his fatherland.

He said that Okwaraji’s patriotism should be a lesson to other footballers. (Nigerian Tribune)

August 22

Igwe of Orlu pays tribute to Okwaraji

The traditional ruler of Orlu in Imo, Igwe P.I. Acholonu, has said that it will be hard for the nation to find a substitute for Sam Okwaraji, the soccer star who died last Saturday during the World Cup qualifier between Nigeria and Angola.

Igwe Acholonu told NAN in his palace on Friday that the players would be substituted on the field but the vacuum Sam’s death has created could not be filled forever. (Nigerian Tribune)

Probe panel in Sports City

The panel probing the death of Sam Okwaraji and some soccer fans said in Lagos on Saturday that members of the public wishing to testify before it should now report at the National Stadium office of the Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC) yesterday and today.

The committee appealed to those who have accounts of the events leading to the deaths to come forward and testify. (The Guardian)

Okwaraji 3August 24

Okwaraji: NFA declares 30 August league-free day

The Nigeria Football Association (NFA) has declared August 30 as a free day for all the national league club sides.

The association said that no league matches will be played that day because of the burial of the late soccer star, Sam Okwaraji.

The NFA said that all matches scheduled for that day will now be played on August 31. (Nigerian Tribune)

Battle of Yaounde…

Four pros fly in

Four professionals based in Belgium are now in town in preparation for Nigeria’s World Cup match against the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon.

The players are skipper Stephen Keshi, Ademola Adeshina, Dahiru Sadi, and Osaro Obobaifo.

The players arrived from Belgium on Tuesday night and joined the Green Eagles at training in Lagos on Wednesday.

…Eagles for Yaounde in military aircraft

The Super Eagles will now travel to Cameroon for their World Cup engagement in a military aircraft.

The team will leave the country for Yaounde on Sunday, the day of the match at 7.30a.m.

Okwaraji’s funeral details released

A detailed arrangement for the burial of the late soccer star, Samuel Okwaraji, has been released by the federal government.

The body of the late soccer star would lie in state at the main bowl of the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos on Tuesday between 6.30a.m. and 12noon.

The body would leave the stadium for Enugu the same day where it would be received by the Anambra State governor, Colonel Robert Akonobi.

According to the plan, there would be a funeral oration by the federal government before the farewell address by President Ibrahim Babangida.

On the same day, the body would leave Enugu for Imo State, where it would be received by Governor Amadi Ikwechegh.

At 5.15p.m. the same day, Sam’s body would lie in state at the Owerri Township Stadium and at 6.30p.m. The body would leave for his Umudioka family house for a wake-keeping ceremony, which is expected to start at 7p.m.

On Wednesday, there would be a funeral service at Catholic Church, Umudioka between 11a.m. and 12.30p.m. to be followed by a funeral oration by the Imo State governor and presentation of wreath by mourners before interment at 1p.m.

Etim Esin, Rufai arrive for Cameroon

…Eagles leave today

Green Eagles attacking midfielder, Etim Esin and goalkeeper Peter Rufai arrived yesterday to join the Eagles for the World Cup qualifying match tomorrow.

The two players arrived yesterday morning and trained with the Eagles in the morning and evening.

August 25

Presidential farewell for hero

A presidential “fare thee well” address will accompany the body of fallen football star Sam Okwaraji to its final resting place.

The address, which is one of the early activities marking the funeral of the late footballer, will be delivered next Tuesday morning at the National Stadium. (The Guardian)

August 26

Eagles’ handler ‘fires’ Odegbami, Omokaro

Eagles’ right winger, Wole Odegbami and former left back Bright Omokaro have been turned back from the Eagles camp by the technical adviser, Clemens Westerhof.

The two players who reported for the Eagles training yesterday were turned back on ground that they were late.

August 27

Minister writes Okwaraji’s mother

The federal government has, in a condolence letter to the mother of the late Nigerian footballer Sam Okwaraji, described the deceased as a “young, dynamic, patriotic and dedicated Nigerian” and assured that he would be given a state burial.

The letter, which was signed by the minister of social development, youth and sports, Mr. Tonye Graham-Douglas, stated that by his style of play and captivating personality, the late footballer added a “unique colour to soccer, which will be remembered by posterity.”

It added that “Sam loved football, played football and died playing football”, saying that he was a patriot of no mean degree.

According to the letter, “he had on a number of occasions paid his way from abroad to champion the cause of this dear country. If he could do all that to the nation, he must have been everything to the family.” (Sunday Tribune)

World Cup Match…

Eagles set to cage Lions today

The question of who qualifies from Group C into the semi-finals of the African zone of the World Cup qualifying series would be put to rest this afternoon at the Stade Omnisport, Yaounde when the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon take on the Green Eagles of Nigeria in a crucial encounter.

No doubt the spirit of Sam Okwaraji will be at the Stade Omnisport and may the odds favour the Eagles.

Rufai weeps at Okwaraji’s death spot

Sam! Sam! Peter Rufai shouted and cried uncontrollably on Friday at the spot where late Sam Okwaraji slumped and died two weeks ago.

Rufai asked teammates after evening training on Friday inside the main bowl of the National Stadium to show him the spot where the late midfielder slumped. He went there and started shouting the name of the deceased footballer amidst tears.

Rufai ran round the pitch sobbing while his colleagues and the team manager came to his side to console him. (The Guardian)

August 28

1990 World Cup

Cameroon oust Nigeria

The Green Eagles of Nigeria are out of the race for a place in the 1990 World Cup scheduled for Italy.

Stade Omnisport, Yaounde yesterday became the waterloo and a 31st minute goal by Oman Biyick was all that the Indomitable Lions needed to advance into the third and last qualifying series. (Nigerian Tribune)

August 29

Burial rites for Okwaraji begin

Burial rites for Nigeria’s top soccer star, Samuel Sochukwuma Okwaraji, begin in Lagos this morning.

According to the programme released by the Federal Government, the remains of the late soccer star will leave the Lagos general hospital mortuary for the National Stadium at 6a.m. (Nigerian Tribune)

Okwaraji’s burial rites begin today

The late Green Eagles midfielder Sam Okwaraji will this morning begin the journey to his final resting place… (The Guardian)

Bachem Antwerp president flies in

Bachem Antwerp president Hugo Claeson who on Wednesday, August 23 telexed the Nigeria Football Association (NFA) demanding a compensation on the death of midfield dynamo Sam Okwaraji, was scheduled to arrive in Lagos on Monday night with five other officials of the club for the burial of late Okwaraji.

August 30

Okwaraji begins last journey

Nigeria has missed a great patriot whose vacuum will be difficult to fill.

This was the sports minister, Mr. Tonye Graham-Douglas’ departing words at the lying-in-state for the late soccer star, Sam Okwaraji, who died on Saturday August 12.

Sam’s casket was decorated in the national colours of green-white-green and his corpse dressed in a national colour track suit.

Spectators wept openly when the casket was opened for soccer fans to see the body for the last time.

Green Eagles players led by skipper Stephen Keshi also paid their last respect to the soccer star.

In a brief sermon, Reverend David Osu of St. Gregory Cathedral, Lagos prayed God to rest his soul in eternal peace.

The casket, which left for the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Ikeja in a motorcade at 11.45a.m., departed for Enugu at 12.55p.m. on NAF 917. (Nigerian Tribune)

August 31

Okwaraji’s family gets N250, 000

The federal government yesterday in Owerre-Umudioka, Imo State, presented N250, 000 to the family of late Samuel Sochukwuma Okwaraji.

The cheque for the amount was presented to the mother of the soccer star, Madam Janet Okwaraji by Sports Minister, Mr. Tonye Graham-Douglas.

In addition, the minister announced the government’s intention to give scholarships and jobs to the fallen star’s immediate relations and immortalise his name.

Mr. Graham-Douglas also presented a plaque with a clock, which he said would be placed by the graveside.

About 20, 000 people attended the burial, which virtually turned Umudioka to a tourist centre.

Indigenes of the town as well as visitors used the occasion to make brisk business by selling the late soccer star’s photographs for N3, vests N15, posters N2, and caps N1 each.

The government and people of Imo, Rivers, Bendel, Ondo, Oyo, Anambra, Cross Rivers and Akwa Ibom were officially represented. (Nigerian Tribune)

Laid to rest

The remains of the late Samuel Okwaraji were lowered into his final resting place at exactly 2.55p.m. amidst tears from all who witnessed it.

His mother, Madam Janet Okwaraji, had to be physically moved from the graveside situated by the family’s house in Umudioka. His grandmother, Madam Agnes Ekwem also wept all night.

A funeral service was earlier held at the Catholic church, Umudioka, where the Bishop of Orlu, Gregory Ochiaha, prayed for the repose of the soul of the deceased.

Family receives late hero’s jersey

The national outfit worn by late Sam Okwaraji during his last appearance for the country on August 12 against Angola was formally presented to the family of the deceased Tuesday morning.

Dr. Amoni Green of the National Sports Commission’s medical centre, presented the jersey to Okwaraji’s elder brother, Emmanuel.

The erstwhile sparkling Number 6 jersey and other items, including the boots, hose, short, and stocking looked unwashed and stains of several falls by Okwaraji on that fateful day were still very visible.

The jersey would be returned by the late footballer’s family and would be sent to the national archives for keeps. (The Guardian)


1 Comment

  1. Dave1
    Dave1 August 19, 21:17

    This is an excellent piece. Well done Simon. You captured every detail just as it transpired. This is a rare style of documenting of our history for generations yet unborn. Ok warfarin was truly patriotism personified. He lived a great life. It’s still difficult to believe he played in the national team for less than 20 months.

    Reply to this comment

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