31 persons die in Port Harcourt Church stampede, many injured
• Wike Mourns Victims, Expresses Condolences To Bereaved Families
The Rivers State Police Command, yesterday, confirmed that 31 persons lost their lives during a stampede at the venue of the yearly shop-for-free programme organised by a new generation church.
The acting Police Spokesperson, Grace Iringe-Koko, confirmed the number in a telephone conversation, adding that many sustained various degrees of injuries.
Meanwhile, the Rivers State governor, Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, has expressed grief over the loss of lives in the unfortunate incident.
Wike, who is disheartened by the tragedy, mourned the victims and expressed profound condolences to the bereaved families.
A statement by his Special Assistant (Media), Kelvin Ebiri, read: “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 to rest in perfect peace. And to the injured, I wish them a speedy recovery.”
Wike said the government would constitute a probe panel to investigate the incident and give details of what transpired.
The tragedy occurred when an overwhelming crowd arrived the programme venue between 1.00a.m. to 3.00a.m. They forced open the entrance gate to the Polo Club venue, located at Government Reserved Area (GRA) in Port Harcourt.
The Guardian learnt that as soon as the gate was open, the crowd rushed into the premises and immediately, the stampede occurred. Scores were feared dead, while others sustained various degrees of injuries.
The church had invited the people to come for free food at 9.00a.m. but some residents decided to go earlier than scheduled.
Meanwhile, a father who lost his five-year-old son, Samuel Orji Eke, blamed the church for not putting logistics in place to control the crowd. Orji-Eke, who was grieving his son’s death, sought justice for his son.
He said: “My son was five years old. Around 6:30 a.m., I attended the church programme with my three children. I was holding my son and carrying my six-month-old daughter in my arm. My wife carried another child. When we got there, the gate was locked. The crowd was not much. People were prevented from entering. It was in that process that the stampede occurred.
“We had entered the gate properly when people started to fall . They marched me and broke my hand and my son slipped off. He was trampled upon and he died.”
The programme is a yearly event of Kings’ Assembly in Port Harcourt, where foods and other items are usually given to residents free.
Another witness, Mr. Ita Okon, said: “ I heard a church invited some people to come and take food. The crowd was massive. Why would people be crowded like that at 3.00a.m. just to get free food?
“Due to hungry in the land, people felt that they needed to go early to secure positions. One woman died with her child. It is really sad… ”
A visit by The Guardian to the Military Hospital, Port Harcourt, Rivers State University Teaching Hospital, revealed that some bodies were deposited at the morgue while some victims were receiving treatments at the emergency units of the clinics.
The State Police Commissioner, Friday Eboka, was said to have visited the scene.