Abuja – President of Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Amaju Pinnick has praised the patriotism and professionalism of Samuel Okwaraji, a former Super Eagles midfielder who died on August 12, 1989 while playing for the country.
Okwaraji died while playing for the Senior National Team in a 1990 FIFA World Cup qualifying match against Angola at the National Stadium, Lagos.
A statement posted on the NFF website on Tuesday in Abuja, to mark the 26th anniversary of the unfortunate incident, quoted Pinnick as telling Jane, Okwaraji’s wife, that history would not forget her husband.
Jane, who is based in Owerri, Imo, was contacted by Pinnick through the telephone.
“Mama, there is nothing I can say other than to tell you to continue to take solace in the fact that Sochukwuma (Okwaraji) was a star for Nigeria.
“He is a name that no one has been able to forget, no matter how much they tried; he was the quintessential professional and patriot per excellence.
“Please be rest assured that Sochukwuma will continue to be in our hearts and consciousness because he was a rare gem.
“I assure you that the NFF will continue to keep in touch with you,” the statement quoted Pinnick as saying.
The NFF boss recalled that as a young boy, he was at the National Stadium to watch the big match only to go home with a heavy heart after news broke of Okwaraji’s tragic departure.
“The incident saw one of the brightest midfielders in Nigeria’s football history die of cardiac arrest.
“It was a horrible day for someone like me and several other Nigerians who were right inside the National Stadium, Lagos, that day.
“By all accounts, Sam Okwaraji was a consummate professional and was a shining example of patriotic fervor,” Pinnick added.
Also, NFF General Secretary, Dr. Mohammed Sanusi who was one of thousands of fans at the National Stadium, Lagos that fateful day, described Okwaraji as a dedicated player.
Sanusi said: “that was a day better –forgotten. We lost one of the most dedicated and committed players to have featured for any of the National Teams.
Okwaraji, a doctorate degree student of law, slumped with 13 minutes left to the end of the match, and was confirmed dead on arrival at the hospital.
The statement quoted Patrick Okwaraji, Samuel’s brother, who responded after Pinnick’s phone call, as saying “We are grateful to the NFF President for his phone call.
“At least, Mama is feeling better now:’.
The statement further said that the portrait of the late midfielder would be displayed at the eight venues of the 2015 Federation Cup quarter –finals on Wednesday, in remembrance of him.
Enugu, Benin City, Neros Stadium, Oleh, Lokoja, Abuja, Ilorin and Makurdi are the venues. (NAN)