Sam Okwaraji: Mark’s unkind oversight, Ekweremadu’s silence (1)

Odogwu Emeka Odogwu


SPORTS is war. An international war at that! But, a war without shooting. Have you seen youngies arguing a sporting event, hundreds of miles away from them? In the pitch of soccer, wrestling or table tennis, there is no fairness, each person or group wants to carry the Trophy, right? You can see the jealousy, boastfulness and what have you, all targeted to win laurels.

Odogwu Emeka Odogwu
Odogwu Emeka Odogwu

While winning, countrymen forgot their sorrows, faiths, creeds and races in solidarity, but when losing, then, bitterness, ethnicity, creed, hatred and the sorts would be played up. Was the popular ‘sporting spirit or spirit of sportsmanship’ without envy and jealousy to win? Is there anything like patriotism, and nationalism in sports or is it farce?

At the international stage, countries support their sports stars men and women alike all through, hence, Serena Williams resolute outing at Toronto to strip Japanese born Naomi Osaka her World ranking title as number one in Tennis. Osaka disgraced Serena for three times and most painful was US Open final where she was docked a point and a game. Osaka’s victory was for Japanese, while that of Serena was for America. America supported Serena in and out in solidarity to win back her world title as number one in the world.

Is same scene obtainable in Nigeria? Are our sports men and women proud of adorning our colours? Where are our retired former sports men and women with international laurels today after years of toil for the nation? Are people in sports administration in Nigeria capable? Are families of late sports heroes treated fairly in Nigeria?

Nigeria’s mercurial midfielder, Samuel Sochukwuma Okwaraji slumped and died 30 years ago, precisely August 12, 1989. He marks his 55th posthumous birthday. He died on the pitch of the National Stadium, Surulere Lagos on August 12, 1989, FIFA World Cup qualifying match between Nigeria’s Green Eagles and the Palancas Negras of Angola. He was to Nigeria what Pele is to Brazil. He was gone, but not forgotten. He lives on. He was one of Nigeria’s finest in the pitch of soccer. He died at 25 years of what doctors said was congestive heart failure in the 77th minute. An autopsy showed that he had an enlarged heart and high blood pressure from possible complications of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Whatever that means!

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Okwaraji was an international professional footballer. He was a qualified lawyer with a masters in international law from the Pontifical Lateran University of Rome. He was on his Doctorate Degree before his demise. He was the highest educated footballer for all times in Nigeria. He played in Europe for AS Roma (1984-1985), NK Dinamo Zagreb (1985-1986), Austria Klagenfurt (1986-1987), VfB Stuttgart (1987-1989) and SSV Ulm 1846 (loan) (1987-1988) to mention but a few. The Coordinator, Sam Okwaraji Remembrance, Oko Emmanuel, lamented that Okwaraji’s mother was living in a shameful abode, even as the tomb of the late footballer in Umudioka, Orlu, Imo State had been abandoned. Sam’s over 90 years old mother has opened a school in Enugu in memory of his late son. Can’t that school be taken to the next level?

His mother, Madam Janet Nkechi Okwaraji, and brethren including community and country lost Okwaraji forever. All the efforts by the mom to enjoy from her son went down the drains. All his certificates and feats died with him, yet no one was concerned, not even Senator David Mark who represented the then Head of State, General Ibrahim Babangida. Babangida himself with all his wealth stood aloof 30 years counting, despite the media attention yearly. He did nothing to the Okwaraji’s. What an irony! Igbo people in Babangida’s cabinet like Kalu. I. Kalu; Major General Ike Nwachukwu and Senator Uche Chukwumerije to mention but a few failed Okwaraji’s family.

 Sam Okwaraji
Late Eagles’ player Sam Okwaraji

Mark who was already a full blown star Brigadier General of the Nigerian Army in 1989, later became the Senate President and one of the longest serving Senators in Nigeria. He was in Nigeria’s senate from 1999 until 2019, yet his conscience allowed him to answer David and Mark, even Bonaventure, Christian names? Where is your conscience David Mark? How could you be so insensitive? Was it because Okwaraji was an Igbo born star footballer? Would same treatment be meted on someone not from Igbo race, same measure?

I was shocked recently that Senator Mark was the man who made such promises we were told during our vacation class in 1989 when I was in Primary 6 at New Layout Primary School 2, Abakaliki by our Master, Mr Vincent Nwufo, from Enugu-Ukwu. I am 42 years today, yet Mark was still in power enjoying everything and a little crumbs could not get to Okwaraji’s family. What has he done with all these money accumulated in the Nigerian Army and the Senate where he was Senate President for 8 years from 2007 to 2015? Remember, he was the military Governor of Niger State from 1984 to 1986 and later, the Minister of Communications with NIPOST and NITEL under him in 1989. What is money if not for service to humanity? He was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in 1970 and became a Captain in 1971 and before 1989, already a General.

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David Alechenu Bonaventure Mark, GCON, made some promises on behalf of the Supreme Ruling Council as Minister for Communications. Mark promised that Okwaraji’s national team jersey shall retire. His jersey was with inscription of Number 6. That never happened, as other footballers wore that after. He said Federal Government would build a stadium in Okwaraji’s community in Umudioka, Orlu, Imo State. That was an empty promise too. They promised Sam’s brothers and sisters scholarships to complete their education and jobs on completion of their studies. But nothing like that happened whereas Hundreds of thousands have gotten Federal scholarships and jobs unmerited. Babangida and Mark were the key players and still call some shots in Nigeria of today, why can’t they remedy this sore thumb?

Federal Government reneged even with Mark in the Senate for 20 years as a senator and later Senate President. Why would it be so? Was it because Okwaraji was an Igbo man? Okwaraji’s mother lived in penury thereafter and Mark still parades himself as a Christian from Idoma, though a polygamous with about five wives despite that Mrs. Kate Mark is the official woman. He has also Omale, Helen and Randa as well as Priye. In year 2000, his divorce case was high profile.

Unfortunately, he had no moral burden a true Christian would have if he was part of such high profile promises that gone awry from Federal Government to Okwaraji’s aged mother who continued to live in abject poverty, misery and deprivation till recently, when an Anglican Priest, Reverend Canon Frankline Mmor from Anambra state and his Crusader for Justice and Peace through Non Violent means and Fellow International Human Rights remembered the poor stricken woman. They mobilized fund, went to market and refurbished her home in what he tagged ‘Project Sam’. Fada Frank as he is popularly called mobilized his Facebook friends and Compassionate Hearts to wipe the 30 years tears of Late Sam’s mother for the first time. They painted the house, changed doors, tiled the floor and bought food stuff for the woman because the home was in ruins, dilapidated, decrepit and abandoned. He described the fate of Okwaraji’s mother as height of hypocrisy with Nigerian leaders.

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Mark wasn’t the President or Head of State, but, what did he do on a personal note having been the messenger of such Federal Government delegation to Imo State in 1989? Did he brief Babangida known for his large heart on this properly? Was there a memo to that effect after his delegation to the burial? Did he use his good offices in the ruling body then, or later in the senate to rally round the Federal Government of Major General Ibrahim Babangida as Head of State and others after him like Ernest Shonekan, Sani Abacha etc? And as a Senate President, did he present it to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo; Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua ; Dr Goodluck Ebere Jonathan and General Muhammadu Buhari? Was he able on a personal note to remember the family with employment then? That would have been as easy as ABC for him. He failed Okwaraji and his family at that critical time. At his death, he left behind aged mother and five brothers and two Sisters, having lost his father at a tender age of 6, shortly after the Civil war. Sam was fourth in their family.

Mr Patrick Okwaraji, elder brother of the late Super Eagles’ midfielder succinctly put what happened to them after Sam’s death thus: ‘’…all our dreams and aspirations were buried with my brother, Sam. We were heartbroken”. His labours for his country could be said to be in vain unless David Mark changes the equation today. Will he?

I was told Late Sam was happy to adorn Nigeria’s colour and not money. I was told too, he was given a state burial. I was told none of the promises made at his grave side were fulfilled.

Cornucopia is a weekly column of Odogwu Emeka Odogwu.
Odogwu is a known Journalist, Editor, Media Consultant and famous Blogger, as well as Social Media Entrepreneur, Publisher and Conversationalist @ among others.

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