Thirty-two years ago a promising Nigerian midfielder Samuel Okwaraji slumped during a FIFA world Cup qualifier against Angola inside the National Stadium Lagos, he was pronounced dead by the time the ambulance reached the hospital.
Okwaraji died aged 25 and his autopsy, per Otite Edafe [Nigeria Football 360], “showed that he died of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.”
“In hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the heart muscle cells enlarge and the walls of the heart chambers thicken.
The heart chambers are reduced in size so they cannot hold much blood, and the walls cannot relax properly and may stiffen. Also, the flow of blood through the heart may be obstructed,” his report concluded.
It was the first time Nigerian football fans would witness such a heart-wrenching moment at such a big stage, but, several years down the line it’ll regrettably be normalized.
The next high profile death of a Nigerian professional footballer happened on October 29, 1995 in a domestic league game.
Julius Berger player Amir Angwe collapsed and died of a heart attack during a league match in the 1995 Nigeria Premier League season.
In December 2010, 21 year-old Emmanuel Ogoli played for Ocean Boys F.C. He collapsed on the field while playing a league match, the youngster later died in the hospital.
The most recent being the death of Chineme Martins during an NPFL game at the Lafia Stadium in 2020.
Poor emergency response, broken down stadium ambulance and negligence were the immediate cause of death – cardiac arrest was the remote cause of death.
Retrospectively, a number of Nigerian footballers have suffered from such tragic on-field situations and it begs the question, if professional footballers are truly safe in the current climate and if there’s need be worried.
Research contribution from thescoreng.com