TRAGEDY struck in Anambra State Saturday as no fewer than 25 persons were feared dead at the weekly adoration crusade organised by Rev. Fr Emmanuel Obinma of the Holy Ghost Adoration Ministry, Uke.
Gov. Obi who was accompanied to the crusade by 10 others, including Sir Victor Umeh, Willie Obiano, among others would have been caught in the stampede that followed if not for the fact that the team left at 3:30am shortly before the close of the crusade at about 5:08.
At least, 25 people were confirmed dead, as at 3 pm Saturday.
An eyewitness said trouble started shortly after the event, when a group of people raised the alarm over a phantom fire outbreak, which immediately sent people scampering to safety.
The source said the crusaders believe that the commotion was deliberately organised by some people who learnt that Gov. Peter Obi would visit the place. But the Governor had already left the venue quietly without them knowing.
Those affected “were many because the number of crusaders tripled to over 100,000 because the day was All Saints’ Day and the first day of the month, when so many people usually gather to pray for the new month,” the source said.
Gov. Obi, who cancelled all his engagements yesterday, including campaign flag-off at Nsugbe, Live Radio programme at silverbird, Flag-off of road projects, inspection of the on-going shopping Mall at Onitsha and the on-going Stadium at Awka, was the first person to visit the Adoration Ground with Security Agencies, who he informed of the incident immediately he got the report.
The Two Police DIG visiting the State, P.I Leha and Kachi Udoji, were accompanied by the State Commissioner for Police, Bala Nassarawa. They commended the governor’s quick response and cancelation of the scheduled events as signs of commitment to the people.
Although the Spiritual Director of the Centre was not around, as he was said to have gone to brief his Local Ordinary, Archbishop Valerian Okeke about the incident, he was received by the Coordinator of the Centre, Bro Achebe Nnadi. He said it was most sad and confusing for a group of people to start raising fire alarm when there was none.
Subsequently, the governor visited the Crown Hospital, Nkpor to see the wounded, most of whom had left. He directed that the names of all the wounded should be compiled for him, a move that suggested that the state government might be planning to take care of the hospital bills.
Chief Medical Director of the hospital, Dr. Edwin Emegoakor, told journalists that he was shocked by the response of the Governor. He said that the Governor called him on phone few minutes after they brought the wounded to him.
He said he was pleasantly surprised since the Governor did not have his number. According to the him, the Governor inquired about the wounded and appealed to him to take utmost care of them and promised to come to the hospital.
He said while he was still contemplating whether Obi was actually the one that called his mobile number, the governor arrived the hospital.
According to him, no death was recorded in his hospital, as many of the people that were brought to him were revived, leaving only three still in stable condition.
From Crown Hospital, the Governor moved to the Immaculate Heart Hospital, Nkpor, where he gave similar directives.
Obi also visited St Charles Borromeo hospital. At the hospital, the spiritual Director of the Ministry, Fr. Emmanuel Obinma, who was also visiting the wounded at different hospitals met with the governor’s team. He said he was still too shocked to talk to journalists.
Meanwhile, the Governor said that a Panel of enquiry would be set up immediately to ascertain the immediate and remote causes of the incident.
One of the victims of the stampede, Mr. Osmund Okoli, said, “devil just wanted to do overtime.” Asked what he meant, he said that they were overjoyed that the governor attended their crusade, asked them to pray for Nigeria and Anambra State, promised to sponsor 20 indigent and elderly ones on pilgrimage to Israel, to construct the access road to the crusade ground on the reason that the road was critical due to the number of people that used. Yet, the ugly event happened.”
Another eyewitness at St Charles Borromeo Hospital, Onitsha, Chinenye Etinanma, who came to visit her sister, who was equally a victim, said she narrowly escaped because they were the first set of people to encounter the road blockaded by a group of people shouting anti-APGA slogans to cause a stampede.
Obi, who said he was heart-broken by the event, disclosed that he went home after the crusade satisfied on the rewarding spiritual encounter only to get the shocking news of the stampede. He consoled all those affected one way or the other and said that those responsible would be punished.
Obi also visited the Archbishop of Onitsha over the matter, the result of the meeting of which was not disclosed to journalists.
AT least six national Commissioners and 16 state Resident Electoral Commissioners of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), as well as two Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) have arrived Awka ahead the scheduled November 16 governorship election in Anambra State.
The two police chiefs, who arrived early yesterday, are to assist the sitting Assistant Inspector General in charge of Zone 9, Umuahia that supervises the South East, including Anambra.
On arrival, they went into an exclusive tactical meeting in the office of the Anambra Commissioner of police, Bala Nassarawa, with all the party chairmen and governorship candidates in the state, where the ruling All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA was upbraided for ungentlemanly conducts and acts against other political parties in the state.