Survivors relived yesterday the Saturday stampede in which more than 20 worshippers died in Anambra State.
The death toll was downgraded from 28 to 25. Three of those presumed dead were revived, it was gathered. The Catholic Archbishop of Onitsha Diocese, the Most Rev. Valerian Okeke, attributed the stampede at the Holy Ghost Adoration Centre, Uke, Idemili South Local Council Area of Anambra State, to “false alarm’’.
Rev. Okeke told a news conference that the stampede was not caused by sabotage and that that the church was not suspecting any sabotage. “It is an unfortunate incident,’’ he said.
Represented by Rev. Fr. Uche Ukor, the Director of Social Communications, Rev. Okeke also denied reports that the stampede was caused by a snake. “In the early hours of Saturday, November 2, there was a stampede moments after prayers at Holy Ghost Adoration Centre, Uke, in Idemili South Local Government Area of Anambra State.
“The stampede, which occurred while people were going home, resulted in the loss of some lives. Some are still injured and receiving treatment in some hospitals.
“The stampede was reportedly caused by a false alarm raised by somebody in the crowd along one of the narrow roads out of the town. “The crowd was so huge that people wanting to leave all at the same time, made it very difficult for people to find enough space to move.
“Vigil was usually held at the centre on every first Friday of the month. “The crowd at the centre was unprecedented on this first Friday of November, probably because it was the Solemnity of All Saints – a holy day of obligation for Catholic faithful.” “Save for the unprecedented crowd, the vigil started and ended normally,’’ he said, and expressed sadness over the ugly incident.
“My heart goes out to the families and friends of those who lost their lives in the incident. On whether the incident had a political connotation, Rev. Okeke said the church would not delve into politics or speak for any politician. He, however, confirmed that Sen. Chris Ngige, the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the November 16 election, did not attend the programme. Three of the victims regained consciousness at the hospitals, it was gathered. Dr. Ngige, who visited the recuperating victims in the hospitals, donated N500,000.00 to take care of their hospital bills.
Governor Peter Obi, in a broadcast, declared a three-day mourning, which ends today. He said it began since Saturday and denied any link with the stampede, asserting that he left the vigil at 3.00am. Obi said he would set up a panel to probe the incident and exonerated himself from the stampede.
But he blamed All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate Ngige, whose supporters he said, were at the ground to campaign. But the Ngige campaign team described the governor’s allegation as “tantrums” which ought not to come at a time of mourning. Obi promised that the government would take care of the expenses of the injured and appealed to the people to remain calm and prayerful.
Ngige, commiserating with the Archbishop of Onitsha Catholic Diocese Catholic, Dr. Valerie Okeke, and the owner of the Adoration Centre, Rev Obimma, described the incident as “unfortunate”.
Members of the Chris Ngige Campaign Organisation told the Obi administration to stop linking Sen. Ngige to the tragedy, adding that the people were no “fools”. The Communication Director, Chief Charles Amilo, in a statement, said this is the period of mourning and sadness for the people of the state instead of throwing tantrums by the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) government to a clean person.
A survivor, Comrade Aloysius Attah, Chairman of the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) in Anambra State, who was at the vigil with his wife, recounted the stampede. He said: “I was there and my heart is bleeding with all these stories making the rounds about the ugly incident. At a time everybody should be mourning, you can see they are politicising it.
Why would it be so? I was there and if I wasn’t there, it would have been a different thing. I would have been deceived by all the stories I am reading and or hearing from some political quarters. “What actually happened was that the Spiritual Director of the centre, Rev Fr Emmanuel Obimma, asked for the final prayer.
We raised our hands and prayed and at the end of the prayer, everybody started going home. “I was with my wife. As we were going, we suddenly saw people rushing back and, judging the crowd that was unprecedented in the arena, I sensed that there would be a stampede and because we didn’t know what actually caused the rush back, I positioned myself to escape the possible ripple effect and rushed away from the traffic. I went the adjacent way.
“But, immediately in a spontaneous move, my wife was already under the surging crowd, but I mustered my last strength to shield her and I dragged her to my corner to save her from being trampled upon. It would have been a different story by now. At the end of the stampede, many were revived and those who were at the scene where it started revealed that somebody shouted, fire! fire! because of a spark from the frying pan of a woman at the road side frying plantain.
People started rushing back, thinking it was a fire. Attah said people should be concerned about the families of those who died and stop overheating the polity because of selfish concerns. He said the situation worsened because of the number of motorbikes on the road at the same time as some fell over motorbikes.
Another survivor, Ikwunne Nriezeadi, said he volunteered to assist in the revival of victims and to ferry others to the hospitals for medical attention. He said he heard people saying that it was politically- motivated. “Whatever they are saying, I don’t want to take up issues with politicians who are mentioning peoples’ names.
“It was on the way back home that people started rushing back and started trampling on others. I personally heard people shouting ‘go back!’, ‘go back!’ and that caused panic and tension. So, we started assisting them to the hospitals and at the hospital they carried the dead into the mortuary.“
Another witness, Kenechukwu (surname withheld) insisted that the woman frying plantain was the secondary cause of the incident. He wondered why people should be shouting fire when such a huge crowd was surging.
Source: The Nation