By Demola Akinyemi, Ilorin
There was no doubt that the valedictory party organised by the leadership of ruling Peoples Democratic Party,PDP, in Kwara State at the Mandate campaign office, Ilorin last Friday was conceived to celebrate Governor Bukola Saraki who was to vacate office some 24 four hours later.
The reason is simple: The Kwara Central Senator-elect has taken the centre-stage as a political leader of reckoning having successfully displaced his father and installed all the three senators, six house of representatives and 22 out of 24 members of the state House of Assembly.
But unknown to them, or so it seems, fate had a different thing in store as the whole ceremony soon went sour and tragedy enveloped the state.
The campaign headquarters along Olorunsogo in Ilorin is a very big wharehouse on a large expanse of land which is owned by Governor Saraki and had been in use since 2003. It was retained as a campaign house for Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed who was sworn in on Sunday.
Thousands of party supporters and even sympathizers from other political parties from all over the state had honoured the invitation, a development that created an unprecedented crowd.
The entire wharehouse hall was filled to overcrowding as early as 12 noon as every bit of space was taken up. Soon the whole place was choking with heat as there was little or no space for cross ventilation even though the hall has several split air conditioners.
By 2pm when the out-going governor arrived, the entire vicinity and even the main road have been taken over by a crowd of individuals, both men and women, old and young. The throng also stalled traffic as motor vehicles found it difficult driving through the dual carriage road.
The event start off well enough with party leaders and various elective office holders taking turns to pour encomiums on the man of the moment.
Dr. Saraki was obviously a happy man as he beamed with smiles and even later danced to the tune of a local musician, Pelewura, to the appreciation of the crowd.
But he was to leave the venue around 4pm to attend other programmes outlined for him. The mammoth crowd was thus left to the waiting hands of party leaders and other chieftains of the party who had been assigned to take care of them.
Vanguard Metro,VM, was told that enough money and clothing materials were provided to ensure that each person went home with N500 and six yards of Ankara materials to be sewn and used for the Governor-elect’s inauguration ceremony.
For the purpose of easy distribution, and to ensure that nobody took more than he was entitled to, iron doors were earlier installed on the about seven outlets of the campaign hall.
The idea was as each person was given N500 and the Ankara and let out through the exit door, he or she will not be able to come back for another round through the other doors which are locked.
Eye witnesses told VM that tragedy struck after the party leadership directed thousands of the supporters to queue with the purpose of receiving the largesse.
They further claimed that the sharing went on smoothly and successfully for about two hours, with over three thousand individuals collecting and leaving.
But with night rapidly approaching and apprehensive that they might miss out on the largesse on account of this, some supporters decided to jump the queue. Pandemonium ensued and the crowd became uncontrollable, a development that led to many individuals falling and being trampled upon by others. Several others were squeezed and crushed on the iron doors.
VM also gathered that the sad discovery that lives have been lost immediately prompted the party leadership to stop the distribution, and the victims were immediately taken to private hospitals within the vicinity of the venue of the ceremony, while some were later taken to the government-owned Specialist Hospital at Sobi.
With this sad development which recorded a high death toll, the initial joy which pervaded the inauguration soon gave way to a pall of sorrow, with the entire Ilorin, and indeed Kwara State, still wearing a mourning look.
Unconfirmed sources claimed that the death figure is about 42 in all, while doctors in the private hospitals visited by VM but who craved anonymity claimed that the causality figure is about 30, while an undisclosed number of victim are still receiving treatments at various hospitals.
VM later visited these hospitals where it was confirmed that the families of the victims have started coming to identify and take away the corpses of their beloved ones for burial.
As at press time, some of the victims whose bodies had been claimed at the hospitals and buried were Malau Jimoh, Afusat Maja, Iyabo Fuji Isiaka, Rukayat Isiaka and Mrs. Kaliatu Oba.Others were Titilayo Suleiman, Laro Isa, Fasilat Alagbo, Nimota Saliman and Alhaji Zayadal Ayoka Galiu.
A shocked Dr. Saraki, in commiserating with the victims, cancelled all other programmes and engagements earlier slated for Saturday as announced by the media.
Meantime, a statement issued by Mr Mas’ud Adebimpe, CPS to the former Governor, some few hours after the incident on the Friday night, disclosed that two people, who he said are members of the state PDP, died in the incident.
The government statement said that the stampede occurred when some hoodlums, who, while trying to rob the PDP women supporters at the occasion, pulled down the fence of the building.
“Preliminary investigation by the Police revealed that some hoodlums while attempting to rob party women at the valedictory ceremony had pulled down the fence of the venue which resulted in a stampede that lead to the loss of lives,” the statement reads.
The statement which expressed shock over the development claimed that the state government has directed security agents in the state to carry out a full investigation on the matter.
It said the Governor commiserated with the PDP family in the state on the development and assured that those found culpable in the incident would not go unpunished.
A similar stampede, it would be recalled, occurred at the same venue late last year during the Eid-el-Kabir celebration where about four supporters of the PDP died.
Meantime, the State Police Command confirmed the incident but said it was yet to ascertain the number of casualty.
Spokesman of the Command, Ezekiel Dabo, ASP, who spoke with newsmen on the development said the Police were yet to make any arrest but disclosed that the Command had commenced investigations into the matter.
In his own reaction, the chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Ilorin branch, Alhaji Suleiman Jawondo, described the incident as a failure of leadership.
Speaking in an interview with Vanguard Metro the NBA chief recalled that this incident was happening eight months after a similar one reportedly claimed lives of about 50 persons.
This, he affirmed, was a clear confirmation of inept leadership in the PDP-controlled state, while expressing the hope that the incident had nothing to do with ritual in any form.
According to him:‘’What has happened shows that we are still primitive in the way we play our politics here in Kwara in the area of management of people. The leadership here believe that they can take advantage of people’s poverty by claiming to be their friends while indeed they are the people’s enemy’’.
As the nation awaits the outcome of investigation into the incident, Kwarans are more anxious to know how relations and dependants of the victims will survive the tragedy.
Many can still not believe that the victims met their untimely deaths while scrambling for a mere N500 and six yards of Ankara for the inauguration of Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed.