Chineme Martins! Oh that boy! I knew him very well. I used to watch him regularly when he was playing for Ifeanyi Uba Football Club here in Nnewi. He was a fine player. Good defender… Very good with the ball…. Oh…!.
THAT was part of the response of an over-the-phone contributor to a radio programme here in Anambra State, last week, after the news of the sudden death of a young footballer in a Nigerian Premier Football League (NPFL) shocked the country.
There are times when screaming off one’s head appears apt given the enormity of sensed and experienced calamity around. But tears and yells solve nothing. Only constructive engagement of the matter offers solution.
Indeed, if life is worth anything in this generation, it would actually be something quantifiable in terms of such inane factors as money, sex, cars, colours, fame and noise. Expressed better, the human person of this era is worth lesser than materials and all the vanity of the time. The proofs are evident in as many sectors as any study probes.
“This generation,” states the Global Risks Report 2018 of World Economic Forum, “enjoys unprecedented technological, scientific and financial resources… And yet, this is perhaps the first generation to take the world to the brink of a (political, economic, and environmental) systems breakdown.
In Nigeria, we daily encounter reminders of the breakdown in very sordid form- most times, in extremely cruel circumstances.
Last Sunday, March 8, a young fast-budding footballer of Nasarawa United Football Club (F.C.), Chineme Martins slumped and died in Lafia Township Stadium, Nasarawa State during a Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) match between his team and visiting Katsina United. He collapsed in the field of play and died minutes after as a result of issues that border on general disregard to human life. Chineme, until then, the vice-captain of Nasarawa United formerly plied his trade with Ifeanyi Uba F.C of Nnewi. He had his eyes set on the stars for a glorious sporting career, but he died when the society would have just helped his course.
Chineme now goes down as the eight of such cases recorded in the modern narratives of Nigeria football.
Among victims of such fate was the Late Sam Okwaraji who died on August 12, 1989 in National Stadium, Lagos at the age of 25 while playing for the national football team, then named, Green Eagles.
One would have thought that with the outpour of tears nationwide after Okparaji’s sudden death in the field, well over three decades ago, the nation would have taken action to forestall subsequent cases like Chineme’s. But here we are!
The story is that Chineme was in the starting line-up of Nasarawa United F.C. during the run of the match with Katsina United F.C when he had a tackling encounter with a footballer in the opposing team and slumped. Initial efforts to revive him could not wake him. The ‘medical team’ in the stadium were not up to the task. An ambulance was needed. The vehicle called ambulance in the stadium had nothing, not even a first aid kit. It was out of order.
According to a statement by the Sports Writers’ Association of Nigeria (SWAN) “the ambulance which was supposed to be used to convey Martins to hospital had to be pushed without success before the Governor’s Press Crew vehicle was used.” Eventually, the lad died.
However the story is told, whatever could come up as the issue, the fact that a stadium had no ambulance; the absence of an ambulance in the contingence of the two competing football clubs, and the absence of fit and proper medics that could provide emergency first aid is tantamount to gross negligence.
Further, the fact that such a development could happen in a country that boasts of an ‘active’ football federation and a ‘performing’ football league management company shows our society’s nonchalance, if not disdain to human life.
The saddening fact of the matter is that the match was between two of Nigeria’s prime professional football league teams. What that means is that it underscores the best standard we can offer of our country’s football.
But following Chineme’s death, Nigeria’s Minister for Youth and Sports Development, Sunday Dare, has directed that no game should be played henceforth without the presence of medical personnel and equipment at match venues.
Excerpt from Mr. Dare’s statement: “Henceforth, from March 14th 2020, no league match would take place without paramedics personnel and necessary equipment as provided for in the NFF Club Licensing Regulations. This decision was reached to ensure prompt response in the event of any incident during matches.
“We don’t want any avoidable deaths in our match venues or any other sports for that matter.”
At least, even the sports ministry acknowledged that Chineme’s death was avoidable. His case is not different from that of scores of other Nigerians who die avoidable death daily in stadia, concert arenas, factories, hospitals, offices, churches, schools among others where the negligence of policy makers, implementers and the general society make the worst happen to citizens regularly. In climes where government agencies, professional bodies, local authorities, organisations and individuals care about human life, nobody would attempt to hold events without taking vital safety, environmental and health measures.
If human life really matters here, in particular, how would a stadium be approved to host events when it does not have, at least a functional emergency hospital. But in the case of Chineme’s death venue called ‘stadium’, there was no clinic, not even an ambulance or First Aid kit. Chineme’s Nasarawa United FC was at home ground in the match. How is it explainable that in their home, during league match, a premier league team has no health kit during emergency. This is setting a platform for murder. A sport’s team that stepped out for games with neither a medical crew nor ambulances should not have the authorisation to take citizens out for such a suicide mission. Even if the club was so mindless as to set out on such a misadventure, the relevant authorities of the land should not have allowed that.
Upon learning that even in our books there are provisions against that annoys more. The sports ministry’s statement, in a bid to justify the new directives intended to take effect from this Saturday, stated that originally, before football clubs are licenced there are vital facilities they must have which comprised health facilities. So why match commissioners, host State football associations who the ministry now directed “to inspect all medical facilities at match venues, (and) test-run to confirm that they are working before the commencement of any league game” paying blind eye all the while?
Legislation, laws of the land, standard requirement of overseeing agencies, ethics of professions should ensure that at least the basic protection of life of citizens is held paramount. Chineme’s case is like a situation where organisations that operate machines inflammable and hazardous materials among others are not compelled by relevant authorities in societies to provide safety kits, ambulances and first aid kits and emergency health protectors for citizens. This should not happen in a sane country.
The Chineme story will however be better appreciated when considered along with the Okwaraji saga. Only then will the very disturbing factor of how it shows our nation’s tendency for not taking such developments seriously and solving it be understood. The same 1989 that Okwaraji died in National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos and Nigeria continues to allow more and more of such to happen, the Hillsborough Disaster happened in United Kingdom and the country radically reformed her football, made it the best in the world and turned it to the nation’s richest economic venture.
UK, under Margaret Thatcher, made her worst football ground disaster which led to the deaths of 96 fans while 162 were hospitalised with injuries to become a turnaround for the sector and her entire economy.
On April 15, 1989, more than 50,000 people had gathered at the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England, for the FA Cup Semi-Final football match between Liverpool FC and Nottingham Forest FC. In a bid to ease a bottleneck of Liverpool fans trying to enter the venue before kickoff, police opened an exit gate and people rushed to get inside. More than 3,000 fans rushed into a standing-room-only area with a safety capacity for just 1,600. A stampede resulted. People died in scores in the stands, prompting organisers to stop the game after just six minutes. Thereafter, Prime Minister Thatcher set up a panel to probe the development. After a two-year sitting, the panel disclosed its findings which led to radical reorganisation of football packaging, from stadium facilities to security, marketing, FA influence and even fans’ control in England. A success of that decisive action taken by UK government is what we have today as the globally hailed English Premier League (EPL).
In our case, we allowed the opportunities presented by Okwaraji’s death, and seven more since then, slip. That is why we now have Chineme’s death.
Hope we will not allow the chance for reforms which this death has presented waste too?.