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AFCON 2023: Experts give insight as Nigeria loses five football lovers

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The semi-final match between the Super Eagles of Nigeria and the Bafana Bafana of South Africa on Wednesday, February 7, at the ongoing 2023 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Cote D’ivoire, ended with a combination of joy and sadness for Nigerians.

DAILY POST reported that at the last count, five Nigerians reportedly dropped dead while watching the match; a development that has left many in utter bewilderment as to how men, who were healthy before the match, could suddenly cave in to death following the tension and anxiety generated by the football match.

Before the match, hopes and expectations were high among Nigerian fans, who wanted nothing but victory.


However, events took a somber turn when the anticipated victory did not come as quickly as expected. Five persons were reported to have died as a result of the tension that characterized the fiasco, before Nigeria eventually snatched victory away from the South Africans through penalty shoot-outs.

But then, it was already late, because the deed had been done; five men were already gone to the world beyond.

The first casualty came when the South African team was awarded a penalty kick against Nigeria towards the end of the game, while the other ones happened when the match got to the penalty shoot-outs. Those were the reported figures; there could be others whose deaths were not reported, probably in the hinterlands.

However, first on the roll call was a former member of the House of Representatives, who represented Ika Federal Constituency of Delta State, Dr Cairo Ojougboh. He was said to have journeyed to the world beyond when a penalty was awarded against Nigeria.

According to the report, as soon as the South African team scored against Nigeria, Ojougboh screamed, then collapsed, and died immediately.

Again, a deputy bursar at the Kwara State University (KWASU), Alhaji Ayuba Abdullahi, also suffered a similar fate watching the tension-soaked encounter. According to sources, he died while watching the match at a viewing centre in Sango area of Ilorin metropolis.

“Abdullahi watched the game till the end of the extra time, before he felt uncomfortable and was rushed to a private hospital in the area, where he, unfortunately, gave up the ghost.

“The deputy bursar watched the match from the beginning till the end of the extra time. When it was time for the penalty kick, he complained that he was feeling frenzy, and needed to go back home to rest. He never knew that his blood pressure level had gone up.

“So, on getting home, he collapsed, and he was rushed to a private hospital in Sango, from where he was referred to the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital. But, before he could be attended to at the teaching hospital, he died,” a source volunteered.

Also, a serving member of the National Youths Service Corps (NYSC), simply identified as Samuel, was equally reported to have slumped and died while watching the match.

According to witnesses, the Kaduna-born corps member died before the last shootout that launched Nigeria into the final stage of the competition.

“We lost one Nigerian a few minutes ago during our victory celebration over South Africa today at our sport viewing centre here in Numan, Adamawa State.

“The Corps member who is serving in Numan, from Kaduna State has slumped before the kick-off of the winning goal. He died before they could reach the hospital in Numan; may his soul rest in peace,” the witness said.

The NYSC Coordinator in Adamawa State, Jingi Dennis, said the corps member was confirmed dead at the General Hospital in Numan.

“According to his colleagues who went with him to watch the match, the late corps member told the people around him that he did not like watching penalty shootouts. He then bowed his head, and suddenly collapsed.

“He was confirmed dead at the General Hospital in Numan by the doctor,” the coordinator said.

There was also a man said to be working as a sales representative with a multi-national manufacturing company in Nigeria, who equally slumped and died as he was watching the semi-final football encounter in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital.

The man, aged 43, and identified as Mikail Osundiji, was said to have died out of shock after the central referee nullified Nigeria‘s second goal by striker Victor Osimhen against the South Africans.

Checks revealed that the late Osun-born Osundiji, who was a father of two, did not show any sign of sickness before he showed up at the football viewing centre located at the Federal Housing Estate (FHE) in Olomoore axis of Abeokuta metropolis to watch the match.

His elder sister, Mrs. Adetunji Nofisat, who spoke to journalists, explained that Osundiji suddenly breathed out heavily after the cancellation of Nigeria’s second goal, lowered his head, and fell to the ground at the football viewing centre.

“That was when other people at the football viewing centre rushed to him and took him to one of the private hospitals in Olomoore before the doctor on duty pronounced him dead,” she stated.

There was also a report about the death of an Anambra-born billionaire, Chief Osondu Nwoye, resident in Ivory Coast, who allegedly died while watching the same semifinal match between Nigeria and South Africa.

A major motor spare parts dealer and CEO of Group Auto Promotion Cote d‘Ivoire, Nwoye, who lives in Ivory Coast, according to report, was shouting on top of his voice when the Nigerian star striker, Victor Osihmen, scored the second goal, which was later cancelled by the Video Assistant Referee (VAR).

It was alleged that the shock of seeing the goal cancelled, and the subsequent penalty that was awarded against Nigeria, was too much for him to bear.

He subsequently collapsed in the stadium, and was immediately rushed to the hospital, but all efforts to revive him failed, as the doctor pronounced him dead.

So, even as most Nigerians were jubilating over the eventual victory of the Super Eagles over their counterparts in South Africa, it was such a mournful moment for family and friends of the deceased.

While some have described what happened as one of the mysteries of life, which can end any time, others would want to look at it from the health status of the victims before the ugly incident.

The Medical Director, Hosanna Hospital, Festac, Lagos, Dr. Chikodi Onyemkpa, is among those who would want to view their deaths from the medical angle, rather than one of life’s mysteries.

He expressed doubt if that was the first time such had happened.

“Frankly, there is nothing strange about it. However, individuals that know they have health challenges like high blood pressure are encouraged not to get into extreme situations like watching football matches which they have interest in,” he advised.

Onyemkpa also expressed fear that the economic situation in Nigeria that was gradually going in the direction of violent confrontation was not helping matters.

According to him, if it continued, many people would still die not because they got into the street, but because the news of what happened in the street was coming to them.

He went biblical to explain how bad news could contribute to what had happened when he said: “For those that read their Bible, they should remember that it was bad news that killed Prophet Eli. It was bad news that caused Prophet Eli’s daughter-in-law to have premature delivery. So, what has happened is not new.”

However, viewing the development from the medical prism, Dr Onyemkpa said the medical connection to what had happened was that there was extreme excitement which the heart couldn’t just handle.

He likened what happened during the match which led to the unfortunate incident to running a 100 metres race, saying, “Have you ever done a 100-metre-race and discovered that you were struggling to breathe; you were panting excessively? There is a threshold that your heart will be able to handle.”

“If the emergency management chemicals in your body get produced at a level that is beyond the coping capacity of your heart to handle, then there will be a sudden event that will be disastrous; that’s the thing,” he told DAILY POST.

He stressed that the heart couldn’t just cope with the stress of the excitement that characterized the match.

“When there is an emergency, your body gets into what is called a fight flight mode; that is either you fight or you run. For your body to get into that mode, a chemical substance called adrenaline is injected into your blood immediately, telling your body either to run for life or to fight for your life.

“So, that sudden event of prepping your body for that is also associated with the heart picking up. That’s why when there is a gunshot by your window, suddenly your heart will start racing, meanwhile you are sitting down in your house.

“Your heart will be racing as if you have done a 100-metre-race; that is what happens. So, when there is sudden news, your heart picks up, either to run away from danger or fight to extricate yourself from danger.

“That protocol is managed by a chemical substance called adrenalin. And what adrenalin will also do is that your heart will start racing and your eyes become sharp, and you just want to automatically, without thinking, respond that way. So, if the heart is not able to take that load of responsibility, then there is a problem,” he said.

He also made an analogy with starting a car engine to explain how the heart works and what happens in certain situations of one’s health condition.

He said: “You start a car, you rev the engine and all that before you start to run. Some cars are said to be very good because you just start the engine and you touch your leg on the accelerator and it will move from zero rpm to about 6000 revolutions per a minute. Those are fantastic engines.

“But, you put your foot on some engines, and they cannot do more than 2000 revolutions per minute. The other one might be up to 6000 per minute. So, the one that can handle a bigger pressure, you say it is a better engine. And the one that cannot handle as much as 6000, you say it is not that sharp an engine. So, what it is now is that you have injected adrenalin and you are expecting an engine that can only do 2000rpm to do 6000 and it packs up; that is all.”

To prevent future occurrence of the sad incident, he advised that “people should know their health status before engaging in any activity that is tension-filled and emotion-laden, like watching football, especially one that is as important as the Nation’s Cup, involving the nation’s football team.

“So, if you know your health, you will know the level of pressure you can handle. This is not the first time that people have been advised not to watch explosive matches if they know they cannot handle the pressure.

“Wait for the match to be over and you can watch the replay.

“And even when you are watching the replay of the penalties of the match between Nigeria and South Africa, it still looks as if you are watching the event alive, but then, the tension is less because you already know what the result is.”

For the Consultant Cardiologist at Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH, Dr Ramon Moronkola, the spate of deaths while watching football matches could be attributed to either heart attack or stroke.

“For people that develop heart failure, for example, or those that have had what is called Ischemic Heart Disease, which is a kind of blockage in their heart, any form of excitement can lead to heart attack,” Moronkola said.

He also noted that grief or excitement could cause such deaths, particularly if there was an underlying medical case that was diagnosed or even undiagnosed.

The medical doctor told DAILY POST that, “People can die suddenly as a result of grief or excitement. For those who die as a result of excitement, usually, there is an underlying cardiovascular issue, either known or unknown to the individual.

“Some people are also prone to developing what is called arrhythmias when there is an emotional surge. Arrhythmias means that the heart is beating abnormally and goes into an abnormal rhythm, and that can also lead to sudden death.”

The President of the Nigerian Cardiac Society, Prof Augustine Odili, had this to say: “The possibility is that they might have had what people call heart attack, which is known to be caused by the expression of emotions.

“Again, it is also important to talk about how each of them died, and at what point. Two of them, I learnt, died when the Nigerian player scored a goal and the goal was disqualified and then South Africa scored and the penalty shootout,” he told our correspondent.

He also agreed with Dr Onyemkpa on the need for people to know their health status before engaging in any activity that would cause so much excitement or emotion as a way of preventing such sad developments in the future.

He noted that apart from everyone undergoing regular health checks, there should be provisions for immediate resuscitation.

“There is nothing that can be beyond regular checks. Even if you have no symptoms and don’t feel any pain, it is good to check. It is when there is no war that you prepare for war.

“So, even if you have no symptoms, and you are not sick, it is good to have regular checks, so that you can detect any underlying issue. That is the only way forward.

“Try regular health checks so that you can know what your background condition is and manage it appropriately. If you have high blood pressure that is not controlled and you have an emotional surge, your blood pressure will go through the roof compared to someone whose blood pressure is well controlled,” he advised.

In his contribution a Consultant Psychologist, LASUTH, Dr Leonard Okonkwo also aligned with the earlier speakers that the people who died watching the football match between Nigeria and South Africa, probably, had one disease or the other around their heart.

To prevent future occurrences, he also called for regular medical checks so that people could know their medical status.

He told DAILY POST that, “Many times, people have these conditions without knowing. Watching a match that is full of tension and emotion, it is very normal for the blood pressure to go far beyond what the heart can handle, and when that happens, the heart packs up, leading to sudden death.

“What has happened is not unusual because football is a sport that is full of emotions, particularly when Nigeria is involved at that stage.

“For the match to have got into the penalty kick, it built a lot of anxieties even for people who don’t have hypertension.”

“So, people should just know their health status to avoid this kind of situation in future and that can only be done through regular medical check-ups,” he stressed.

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