By Ori Martins
The other students had gone on holidays but few of us were selected and directed to stay behind in order to provide services to the priests who were on annual retreat.
I can remember three of us from my class who were asked to stay behind: Uzoma Iwuala, he was the SP, and now a London boy., Athanasius Madu, the regulator, and now Canada based, and yours sincerely.
The previous day, we had watched the Super Eagles in an appalling performance against Angola. Nigeria managed to put in a goal in that Italia ’90 World Cup qualifier at the National Stadium, Lagos. Nobody was happy.
The following day, Sunday, we had just left the chapel for breakfast. I became indisposed and was lying down. It was one Gilbert Alaribe now a Rev Fr who is the chaplain at Alvan Ikoku Federal College of Education, Owerri, that came to my corner and said with a shaky and sorrowful voice “Okwaraji is dead. Okwaraji is dead” .
Alaribe knew because he was always glued to his midget transistor radio. I woke up, cleaned my face, yet unable to comprehend Alaribe’s chant. I raced out to buy a newspaper to know what exactly happened. I was the school journalist.
At the gate I overlapped the SP who flung a colorful copy of The Champion newspaper on me with super punch: “MT, Okwaraji is late”. I was known as MT in the school. I followed him back to the premises. Both of us were in absolute quietness together for more than 30 minutes until Anistus Njoku, now a priest also but based overseas beckoned on Iwuala to see him. This was how I got to know Okwaraji’s death news.
His first game was against Desert Warriors of Algeria in Enugu in January 1988. It was a Seoul Olympic qualifier. Okwaraji provided the pass with which Henry Nwosu scored the winner.
In the same 1988 he helped Nigeria to win silver at Maroc ’88 Nations Cup. In fact, his amazing volley against Cameroon was not just the quickest goal of the tournament but it was also the only goal conceded by the Indomitable Lions goalkeeper, Antione Beiol.
In all, Okwaraji played for only eight games for Nigeria, scoring two wonderful goals. His roommate on the eve before his death was goalkeeper David Ngodigha.
The first person who rushed to him after he fell down was Sampson Siasia. He was in love with Siasia, Etim Esin and Segun Odegbami who had become a football manager then. But the question is: why did Okwaraji handed the number six jersey rather than his traditional eight? Why was he not invited to the other games even when he was fit?
After his burial, one of Nigeria’s biggest journalist, Paul Bassey, then sports editor, Champion newspapers, scribbled this eternal headline: Now, Okwaraji All Alone!!! Indeed, Okwaraji has been sleeping all alone since August 12, 1989. May his soul continue to rest in peace.