On this day, 12 August 1989, midfielder Samuel Okwaraji died while playing for Nigeria against Angola in a World Cup qualifier.
With 10 minutes to go, Okwaraji suddenly collapsed on the pitch of the National Stadium in Lagos and died from congestive heart failure. He was capped eight times by Nigeria.
Popular “high life” singer Oliver de Coque recorded this tribute:
One of his team-mates, Etim Esin, said on a Lagos TV channel today that Okwaraji’s death was partly down to a failure of the medical facilities in Lagos. He said the death was similar to what happened to Cameroon international Marc-Vivien Foe, who died playing for his country in Lyon, France in 2003.
Esin also contrasted the medical response Okwaraji received to how medics and paramedics were able to save Fabrice Muamba’s life, when he had a cardiac arrest playing for Bolton against Tottenham in England. Esin said that “we knew nothing about cardiac arrest” when it happened to Okwaraji. He also claimed that retired Nigeria international Nwankwo Kanu, who also had a history of heart disease, helped raise awareness about the disease in Nigeria.
Watch Okwaraji against Cameroon:
Esin revealed that he was inspired by Okwaraji to get an education. He said his fallen colleague had a Masters degree in Law and was going to pursue a PhD. Okwaraji showed Esin the importance of combining football and education.
Esin said it was a shame that the Nigerian government had not established a foundation to support Okwaraji’s family and that someone who died in the service of his country deserved better.
Okwaraji’s brother, Patrick, also spoke and thanked ex-internationals like Esin for their support. He added that the authorities knew what to do but there was “no political will to do what is right”.