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THE GREAT REAPER: How sudden, unexpected death is sending Nigerians to the grave

Sudden and unexplained death has recently become a worrisome trend in Nigeria with many people, especially young people dropping dead in a bizarre manner.


Anthony Iwuoma

Until he suddenly slumped and died in his office in Abuja on Saturday, November 20, Gbenga Aluko, was full of life. The former Senator from Ekiti State was 58 years old. 

According to reports, Aluko, fondly called “SGA” was rushed to a hospital in Abuja where he was confirmed dead. His close aides said he was neither sick nor showed any symptom of sickness.

The Ode-Ekiti-born politician represented Ekiti South in the National Assembly and also unsuccessfully contested the governorship ticket on the platform of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in Ekiti State in 2018. 

Gbenga’s death is not isolated; other prominent and less prominent Nigerians have slumped and died in similar situations.

Last May, the Chairman of Andoni Local Government Area of Rivers State also dropped dead in an eerie circumstance.

The council boss in a video that circulated online was dancing at an event before collapsing.

Meanwhile, the audience was pouring encomium on him and had thought he was still entertaining and so, nobody rushed to his aid. By the time people realised that something was wrong, the chairman, who had arrived at the occasion without any known health condition had died.

However, he was rushed to the hospital for treatment but pronounced dead by doctors on arrival.

In July last year, controversy trailed the sudden death of a Benue make-up artist during her birthday celebration.

The deceased, Deborah Tushimah, was celebrating her birthday at the Hampton Mews Hotel in Makurdi, Benue State.

She was having fun with her guests when she started feeling unwell while dancing. She suddenly slumped and started vomiting blood and then died, leaving her expensive birthday gifts, including an iPhone behind.

On the eve of New Year in 2019, 55-year-old Isah Harisu, a Sokoto State House of Assemblymember representing the Kebbe constituency, slumped on arriving at the Assembly and was rushed to the Usman Dan Fodio University Teaching Hospital. The husband of four wives and father of 22 children was confirmed dead on arrival barely 15 minutes later.

Also, in June 2018, a family physician with the Federal Teaching Hospital, Abakaliki, Dr Canice Ebirim, died unexpectedly while watching a football match between Nigeria and Argentina. Ebirim was rushed to the hospital but he reportedly died on getting to the hospital.

People slumping and dying without notice has become a common occurrence in recent times. The rate at which Nigeria is losing its citizens to sudden death is alarming.

Suddenhealth.org, an online health website, describes sudden death as any kind of death that happens unexpectedly.

Of course, death is inevitable. The circumstances are unpredictable but most times it is expected that one would die due to health complications or accidentally. However, when one suddenly drops dead without warning is confusing and difficult to comprehend.

Slumping and dying suddenly could be linked with undiagnosed or neglected health conditions.

The issue of sudden death transcends professional and age barriers. There have been cases when even pastors collapsed and died on the pulpit, betraying no prior signs of sickness thereby deepening the shock of mourners.

Sudden death could be attributed to stress and high blood pressure, the silent killer because most sufferers are not aware of this condition until the harm is done.

Research conducted by some Nigerian teaching hospitals has identified stroke and heart attack as the major causes of SUD in the country.

They blamed the rise in SUD on rural to urban migration, increased salt and fat intake from the consumption of processed foods, increased tobacco use and sedentary lifestyle.

According to Dr. Emmanuel Nwokedi, there are usually no signs of ill health in victims of sudden death.

“Most victims of sudden death until their death are assumed to be healthy. However, postmortem often reveals unknown conditions. That is why regular medical checkups are unavoidable.”

He further advised that nobody should assume that his state of well being is so good he has no need for a routine health check.

Another doctor identified hypertension as a major culprit in sudden death, adding that uncontrolled hypertension could become malignant and potentially dangerous.

She pointed out that what is called sudden death is not really sudden but an accumulation of issues that the body had given warnings about but largely ignored.

She counselled that people should not be negligent of anything that has to do with their health and pointed out that heart palpitation or a state whereby the heart is not properly coordinated could lead to sudden death.

“A major trigger to sudden death is stress. People no longer have time to rest due to the nature of their jobs or anxiety as regards how to make ends meet in the face of palpable scarcity. People rush out early and return home too late, only to rush out yet again. The situation on the road is chaotic. All these frenzy activities contribute to stress. Stress without proper medical attention kills.”

A cardiologist noted that high blood pressure was the most common and known risk factor although there were some other causes of cardiac attack not connected to high blood pressure.

“When you look at cardiac arrest, you look at it from the pump failure. One thing that can result in malignant hypertension is low-key syndrome. This is when the heart is unable to work well at the rate it is supposed to work. This leads to electrical abnormalities when a person is not getting enough rest, it can affect the relaxation of the heart. And there are some external things that we take that can cause the low-key syndrome,” she said.

These external things that contribute to this menace, experts say, is buying over-the-counter drugs, especially antibiotics, leading to a low-key syndrome, which could cause sudden cardiac death.

People just go to the pharmacy to buy drugs to take without even knowing the state of their hearts. The drugs can actually become poison to them.

Background cultural heart disease common in young people especially males is another cause of sudden cardiac death.

Such people look seemingly healthy and don’t have a heart checkup, unaware that they have a big heart that is not contracting well. It is such people that collapse and dies while doing an exercise because any form of stress, exertion or anxiety would shorten the heart reverberation process and the heart, not being strong enough to fight that process collapses consequently.

Also, patients that have been diagnosed with specific heart diseases due to stress without proper treatment risk sudden death.

A cardiologist, Dr Olugbenga Oyatokun, reportedly explained: “There are many Nigerians who walk around believing they are healthy but they are not. Many people do not even know that they have high blood pressure and sometimes, it doesn’t really show any symptoms so it causes sudden death. In some instances, there are cases of heart disorder,  diseases of the heart or abnormalities in the heart’s electrical activities. Either of these diseases can cause people to have heart symptoms and die shortly after.”

He further noted that it was genetic in nature if anyone exhibited the above symptoms and posited that such people must present themselves for examination to be sure they are okay.

“We also have to be mindful that there are many people diagnosed with heart diseases but who don’t take their drugs,” he was quoted as saying.

However, he did not quite agree that sudden death is on the rise.

“We don’t have any fact that sudden cardiac death is on the increase, but we know that the cases are getting into the public space because of social media. Prior to the age of social media, people don’t know.  We really don’t know if there’s an increase but we know that awareness is on the increase.”

Way out

The research by Nigerian teaching hospitals noted that to check the rising cases of sudden death, there must be urgent review and upgrade of critical care management facilities in the country, as well as an improvement upon the level of awareness, control and management of hypertension among the populace.

They also recommended that Nigerians should engage in physical activities to protect their heart health and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), including heart disease and stroke.

According to health experts, the best way to forestall sudden death is through regular health checks. “People should have a cholesterol check, a body mass index to make sure they are fit and work on their lifestyles; regular high blood pressure and if there is any issue, you can be referred to a cardiologist, who will let you know if there is an abnormal electrical activity; check the blood sugar level; avoid stress as much as possible and exercise regularly so that your blood can flow regularly”.

It is also advisable for people to start attending health talks, sometimes organised by NGOs in their neighbourhood to learn a few things, especially on coping with stress.

Notwithstanding that living and surviving in Nigeria has become a big challenge, people must create time to have enough rest and regular checkups to know what’s going on in their bodies before it’s too late.

A Nurse Staff Midwife, Chiro Udochi, posited: “To avert sudden death, it is very important for people to undergo regular medical checks. This is even more so if you come from a family with a history of heart-related conditions. There is no better way to healthy living than going for a medical checkup and, of course, living a healthy lifestyle. When you guzzle alcohol, smoke, eat junk and refuse to be active, you are obviously inviting health complications, which could come via sudden death.”

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It has been observed that the people neither have the luxury to rest nor the money to go for the medical checks prescribed.

“Medical checkup?” amused Martins Eloka, a commercial motorcyclist asked. “Where is the money for that? I have not been able to put food on the table for my children and you are talking of rest and medical checkups. Moreover, there are no places checkups could be done for free and even if there are, there is no time to go there. No die, no rest o! It is the government that is killing Nigerians, not sudden death. Most of us are already dead, going somewhere to fall. Nigerians should be ready; there will be many more of such deaths next year by the time this government tightens the noose on their necks with the proposed petrol price increase”.