“You or your club cannot stop me from playing for my country. Let me tell you, I am going to represent my country whether you like it or not”– Samuel Okwaraji
Over the years, Nigeria has lost many football gems on the pitch of play to the cold hands of death.
In a tragic occurrence, some of these players suffered heart attacks and high blood pressure while playing for country or club sides.
While some died on the football pitch before they could make it to the hospital, others died at the hospital.
Here are the 10 Nigerian footballers who threw the nation into mourning.
1. Samuel Okwaraji
One day Nigerians will never forget in a hurry is August 12, 1989.
It was the day our beloved Samuel Okwaraji collapsed in the Mainbowl of the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos, during a World Cup qualifying match against Angola.
His collapse on the pitch of play threw Nigerians into panic as everyone began calling on the deities they serve to protect their superstar.
He was a professional Lawyer and committed to the Nigerian national team.
Once when his club didn’t want him to represent Nigeria, he was reported to have told his Team Manager in Germany, “You or your club cannot stop me from playing for my country. Let me tell you, I am going to represent my country whether you like it or not”.
The wizard dribbler began his playing career with the AS Roma Youth team in Italy. He also played for several other clubs in Europe.
Samuel Okwaraji was popular amongst his teammates and loved by them all.
It was rumoured that after he collapsed on the pitch of play, the Stadium ambulance failed to start.
His death was later announced that night, throwing the whole nation into mourning.
Before his death, he scored one of the fastest goals in the history of the African Nations Cup against Cameroon in the 1988 edition.
The cause of death was announced to be congestive heart failure.
As at the time of his death, Samuel Okwaraji was 24 years old.
2. Amir Angwe
The versatile Julius Berger player was the first home-based Nigerian player to die while playing.
This tragic event occurred on October 29, 1995 in an African Cup Winners Cup semi-final match against Maxaquene from Mozambique at the Onikan Stadium in Lagos.
The tragic fate which befell Amir Angwe, who had come on as a second-half substitute, cut short the team’s celebrations after they won the match 1-0 to advance to the final of the competition.
He was reported to have died of a heart attack.
As at the time of his death, Amir Angwe was 29 years old.
3. John Ikoroma
The family of John Ikoroma was thrown into mourning when news that their son and kinsman had passed on in faraway United Arab Emirates while undergoing trials at Al-Wahda Football Club.
The deceased was the top scorer for the Golden Eaglets which failed to qualify for the 1999 edition of the FIFA Youth Championship.
John Ikoroma collapsed while playing against Astana FC of Kazakhstan 20 minutes to the end of the game.
Until his death in February 2000, the skilled 17-year old was an Enugu Rangers player.
He was a right winger who delighted fans with his dribbles and tricks.
4. Endurance Idahor
On March 6, 2010, Nigerians heard the news that Sudan-based forward had collapsed on the pitch and died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.
Endurance Idahor, who had previously played for Julius Berger and Dolphins FC between 2003 and 2006, suffered a circulatory collapse from a heart attack.
During his time at the Sudanese club Al-Merreikh, he was loaned to another Sudanese club where he played 11 matches and scored 5 goals in 2008.
By the time he was recalled to his parent club after the loan spell, he impressed the team coach and was drafted into the team.
He helped the club reach their first CAF Confederation Cup final since 1989.
He also delivered spectacular performances that saw him emerge top scorer.
Before his untimely death, he made 62 appearances for the club and scored 46 goals.
As at the time of his death, Endurance Idahor was 25 years old.
5. Wilson Mene Weyinmi
When Wilson Mene Weyinmi stepped onto the field in Phnom Penh in 37 degrees heat on May 8, 2010, little did the Nigerian player playing in faraway Cambodia know that would be the day he would breathe his last.
Wilson Mene Weyinmi was one among hundreds of young African football players who voyaged to Southeast Asia over the years, in order to actualize their dreams.
Wilson Mene Weyinmi suffered a heart attack while playing and he was attended to on the pitch by medical officers before rushing him off to the hospital.
He died before the ambulance could make it to the hospital.
As at the time of his death, Wilson Mene Weyinmi was 22 years old.
6. Emmanuel Ogoli
7 months after Wilson Mene Weyinmi passed away in South East Asia, the Nigerian Professional Football League suffered the loss of Ocean Boys’ Emmanuel Ogoli.
The Ocean Boys defender collapsed at the Yenagoa Stadium in Bayelsa when his team faced Niger Tornadoes in a domestic league match.
He collapsed in the 39th minute and was quickly rushed to the hospital but he died on the way.
Prior to his death, Emmanuel Ogoli had collided with Obinna Nwokolo of Plateau United in the previous month when Ocean Boys faced Plateau United in the Week 2 match of the domestic league.
The former Bayelsa United captain had recently returned to training after recovering from the horrific injury he suffered against Plateau United.
As at the time of his death, Emmanuel Ogoli was 21 years old.
7. Bobsam Elejiko
While playing in a 5th tier match for K. Merksem S.C. against F.C. Exc. Kaart in Belgium on November 13, 2011, Bobsam Elejiko collapsed and died while play was on.
The Nigerian defender had suffered a traumatic rupture to his aorta which led to the game being abandoned.
During his playing days, the deceased played for Malaga’s youth side before moving on to Wacker Nordhausen in Germany.
Between 2001 and 2008, he played for Belgian sides Antwerp, Westerlo and Turnhout.
Bobsam Elejiko was 30 years old when he passed away.
8. Chinonso Ihelwere Henry
After joining Farul Constanta of Romania in 2007, the Nigerian player moved on to CS Delta Tulcea in 2nd tier of the Romanian football league.
He had come on as a second-half substitute before he suffered a cardiac arrest and collapsed on the pitch.
After attempts to resuscitate him for over an hour failed, the medical team pronounced him dead.
The unfortunate incident happened in a match against FC Balotești.
As at the time of his death on August 5, 2012, Chinonso was 21 years old.
9. Joshua Pepple
Barely 2 months after the Nigerian Football suffered the loss of Chinonso Henry who died in Romania, Joshua Pepple also collapsed on the pitch and passed away.
Playing for Pomorzanin Nowogard in a League game against Iskierka Szczecin, Joshua Pepple suffered a heart attack and died.
As at the time of his death on October 7, 2012, Joshua Pepple was 24 years old.
10. Chineme Martins
This incident is still fresh in the hearts of Nigerians as this tragedy occurred last month.
While playing against Kaduna United, the Nassarawa United player became unconscious in the second half of the NPFL game.
Team Medics quickly rushed to attend to him but all to no avail and while they attempted to rush him to the hospital, the Stadium ambulance failed to start.
He was eventually rushed to the Dalhatu-Araf Specialist Hospital in Lafia where the Doctors pronounced him dead.
As at the time of his death on March 8, 2020, Chineme Martins was 22 years old.
It is so heartbreaking to find out that many of the tragic occurrences we experienced here in the Nigerian local league could have been avoided.
As at this age, we should not be losing footballers to the cold hands of death on the pitch because there isn’t adequate emergency equipment.
Our Football Administrators need to do better than this.
It is my prayer that the souls of all of the footballers that we have lost, both on and off the pitch, continue to rest in perfect peace in the bosom of the Almighty God.