By SIMON EBEGBULEM, BENIN CITY
If they had known, maybe they would have asked government to forget its job so they could live together. This is part of the lamentation of Mr Austin Amu, the widower of Mrs Sandra Amun, who lost her life, Saturday, March 15, 2014, at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium Benin City, where the recruitment exercise of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) took place.
Incidentally, Amun, from Uzebba, Owan West Local Government Council of Edo State, participated in the recruitment exercise with the deceased but survived the stampede. It was a pitiable sight when Sunday Vanguard visited the family’s residence in Benin City watching the husband of the deceased trying to administer medication on their last born, Favour, who was crying due to cough and catarrh.
Amun recalled that he and Sandra had woken up on the ill-fated day and had their bath together as they had always done in the past 10 years. They planned to get to the recruitment venue on time. They actually did but met an uncontrollable crowd at the stadium as thousands of applicants struggled to participate in the job test.
Sunday Vanguard found that the stampede occurred because the organizers decided to lock the big gates and used the small ones at the stadium. As a result, people had to pay N1000 each to gain entry.. Those who could not afford the money made frantic efforts to find their way into the stadium at all costs, a situation that created chaos.
Amun narrated his story to Sunday Vanguard: “ I applied for the job as a senior secondary school holder while my wife applied as a graduate because she finished from Auchi Polytechnic. On that day, while we were on queue, I could have been the victim because while I was in the crowd, I almost couldn’t breath. I told her we should go home.
But she said I shouldn’t worry, that I should find somewhere to relax while she will be at the stadium and monitor things and then get back to me. About 20 minutes later, her younger brother who also came to write the examination saw me and asked after his sister. I told him she was in the crowd. 30 minutes later, somebody shouted that a woman had died.
I didn’t know it was my wife. It was then they now went to open the big gates into the stadium. The first time, they were using the small gates; it was after the incident that they went to open the big gates, for people to enter the stadium.. I thought I was going to see her inside the stadium. I went round the place, I didn’t see her. Around 4 pm when we were about to write the test, I still had not seen her and I became more worried but the brother encouraged me to write the test saying maybe she was writing her own somewhere. After the test, I sat by the gates thinking while coming out I would see her. I waited till around 6.30 to 7 pm.
Later, thought maybe she would be in my viewing centre. I went there but didn’t see her, people came around to watch football, but because I had not seen my wife, I couldn’t open the shop. I locked the place and called her younger brother and my friend who has a vehicle. We went to the hospital where they rushed those injured during the test, to check if she was there; but they said they had discharged four people who sustained injuries.
They checked their names, my wife’s name was not there. They now said there was one woman who Immigration officials brought without a name and they used no name to book the woman’s corpse. I now requested to see the woman. Behold I saw my wife in the mortuary sleeping alone. I touched her, she could not touch me, I called her, she could not answer.
I tried to call her phone because I did not believe she was dead; but she did not pick. But somebody picked her phone on the ground and the person told me he couldn’t reach the owner until after the test, because of the crowd. It was the next day that the Civil Defence people that collected it brought it home.
“Since the incident nobody has called me from the Immigration Service. The only people that came to see me were from a human rights group based in Abuja. They asked how I felt and what happened. I told them the story. I don’t know where to start from. We had been together even before she went to Auchi Polytechnic, she went to the polytechnic from my house; she finished her studies before we started having kids.
She graduated in HND banking and finance seven years ago. The most senior child, a girl, Favour, is six years, Miracle, the second, is five and the last, Favour (male), is three years. I want assistance from government, let them give the children scholarship, give me and my brother-in-law jobs. My wife’s mother and grandmother are still alive; she is the first daughter of her family and I am the first son of my family too. This load is too much for me and I don’t know where to start.”