Survivor: My son crushed, daughter missing
Buhari, Wike mourn, gov orders probe
By Davies Iheamnachor
Rivers State Police Command, yesterday, confirmed that 31 persons, including children, died in a stampede in Port Harcourt, the state capital, during a church programme.
The new generation church had organised its annual Shop-for-Free Programme at Polo Club in Port Harcourt GRA.
It had, in its usual manner, invited residents of the state to the programme and a huge crowd turned out to grace the event.
Sunday Vanguard earlier gathered that over 40 people were carried unconscious from the venue but about 35 of the victims later died.
Public Relations Officer of the state Police Command, DSP Grace Iringe-Koko, confirmed that 31 persons lost their lives.
Iringe-Koko said the state Commissioner of Police, Friday Eboka, had ordered thorough investigation into the incident and commisserated with bereaved families.
She said: “The Rivers State Police Command wishes to inform the general public that the stampede that occurred at Polo Club, Tomba Street, Port Harcourt, Rivers State has been brought under control and normalcy restored to the area.
“Preliminary investigations conducted by the Command have, however, revealed that the unfortunate incident occured when the management of King’s Church Assembly organized a crusade which attracted a mammoth crowd.
“It further revealed that there were plans by the church management to give away food and gift items to the less privileged. Unfortunately, the crowd became tumultuous and uncontrollable and all efforts made by the organizers to bring sanity proved abortive, hence the stampede.
“On receipt of the information, the Commissioner of Police immediately drafted adequate police patrol teams to the scene and they were able to restore normalcy. Persons that were injured were swiftly evacuated to hospital for immediate medical treatment. Unfortunately, a total of thirty-one persons lost their lives in the stampede.
“Meanwhile, the situation has been brought under control and enough police presence has been put on ground to work with the Command’s safety management officers.”
One of the persons privy to the development, who resides around the venue, Ita Okon, said he got hint of the programme yesterday morning, adding that the gate of the venue was locked when he got there.
Okon said: “ That morning, the gate of Polo Club was locked. While people were pushing the gate and pushing each other to gain entrance into the venue, the gate was later forced open because the force from the people was overwhelming. People at the back were the ones who caused the stampede because people tried to rush inside. This thing happened around 6am when the programme had not started”.
According to the eye witness, victims were rushed to the military hospital on Aba Road.
Meanwhile, Samuel Orji-Eke, who lost his five-year-old son, has called for thorough investigation into the incident, blaming the church for the deaths.
Eke said: “Around 6:30 am, I attended the church programme with my three children. I was holding my son and carrying my six-month-old daughter in my arm and my wife was holding the other one.
“When we got there, the gate was locked, and the crowd was not much. People were refused entry and at such a church event the gate was not supposed to be locked because the crowd was much. When they eventually opened the gate, there was rush to enter and it was in that process that the stampede occured.
“As at the time the incident was happening, there were no police officers, only church ushers were controlling the crowd. It was when the place became rowdy that was when they came and started shooting in the air to disperse the crowd after the damage had been done.
“My son did not die immediately but when it happened, there was no help, no first aid. I am calling for justice. For a church to openly invite people and no proper logistics…”
“I am looking for my 11-year-old daughter. I came with two other kids. King’s Assembly invited us because last year we came, they gave us foodstuff, so we came this year. We were many at the gate, and I was not able to carry the three of them, so I hanged one on the fence, and carried the small one on the back and the 11-year-old was in the crowd and they were pushing her and that was how I lost sight of her.”
Governor Nyesom Wike, last night, expressed grief over the deaths.
Wike, in condolence a message, also ordered a probe into the incident.
He stated, “On behalf of the government and people of Rivers State, I pray for God to grant the bereaved families the fortitude to bear the loss of their loved ones.
“I also pray for the souls of all the faithful departed rest in perfect peace. And to the injured, I wish them a speedy recovery.”
“The governor said the Rivers State government will constitute a probe panel to investigate the incident and details on what transpired.”
President Muhammadu Buhari also expressed sadness over the incident.
In a reaction, the President admonished organizers of religious, political and other big events to plan well and carry them out in a disciplined manner to avert similar calamitous deaths and injuries.
He directed that “all efforts should be made to provide relief to those injured in the unfortunate incident,” and that disaster and relief agencies of the Federal Government should maintain constant contact with the Rivers State government to ensure that good care is taken of the relief efforts.
Buhari, in a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mallam Shehu Garba, expressed his condolences and that of the nation to the bereaved families and to the government and people of Rivers State and prayed to the Almighty to repose the souls of the deceased.