False Alarm Caused Anambra Stampede — Cleric

Holy Ghost Adoration Ground

A typical crowd at the Holy Ghost Adoration Ground

The Catholic Archbishop of Onitsha Diocese, in the eastern Nigerian state of Anambra, Most Rev. Valerian Okeke, has attributed the stampede at Holy Ghost Adoration Centre, Uke, Idemili South Local Council Area , to “false alarm”.

Okeke said at a news conference on Sunday that the stampede was not caused by sabotage and that that the church was not suspecting any sabotage, “it is an unfortunate incident”.

Represented by Rev. Fr. Uche Ukor, the Director of Social Communications, Okeke also denied reports that the stampede was caused by a snake that came out from somewhere.

“In the early hours of Saturday, 2 November, there was a stampede moments after prayers at Holy Ghost Adoration Centre, Uke, in Idemili South Local Government Area of Anambra State.

“The stampede, which occurred while people were going home, resulted in the loss of some lives. Some are still injured and receiving treatment in some hospitals.

“The stampede was reportedly caused by a false alarm raised by somebody in the crowd along one of the narrow roads out of the town.

“The crowd was so much that people wanting to leave all at the same time made it very difficult for people to find enough space to move.

“Vigil was usually held at the centre on every first Friday of the month.

A typical crowd at the Holy Ghost Adoration Ground
A typical crowd at the Holy Ghost Adoration Ground

“The crowd at the centre was unprecedented on this first Friday of November probably because it was the Solemnity of All Saints a holy day of obligation for Catholic faithful.

“Save for the unprecedented crowd, the vigil started and ended normally,” he said, and expressed sadness over the ugly incident.

“My heart goes out to the families and friends of those who lost their lives in the incident.

“I promise my closeness to them and all the faithful of the Holy Ghost Adoration Centre, Uke, and especially the Spiritual Director, Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Obimma, who is hard hit by the ugly incident,” he said.

Okeke said investigations were ongoing, adding that efforts would be made to protect the lives of all worshippers at the centre.

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On whether the incident had a political connotation, Okeke said the church would not delve into politics or speak for any politician.

He, however, confirmed that Senator Chris Ngige, never attended the programme.

The archbishop commended the volunteers and management and staff of the hospitals where the injured were receiving treatment.

Meanwhile, a group, International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law, on Sunday urged the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to ban political rallies and campaigns in worship centres.

This is contained in a statement jointly signed and issued in Onitsha, Anambra State, by the group’s Chairman and its Head of Publicity Desk, Mr Emeka Umeagbalasi and Justus Ijeoma respectively.

It stated that the appeal was against the back-drop of the stampede at Holy Ghost Adoration Centre, Uke, in Idemili South Local Government Area, on Saturday.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that at least 25 people lost their lives and over 50 persons sustained various degree of injuries as a result of the incident.

The statement alleged that the stampede was caused by supporters of various political parties at the worship centre.

“Though the fatal stampede has been linked to ‘frying oil flames’, but other intervening forces such as political sabotage may not be ruled out.”

The group, therefore, advised INEC to ban all forms of political campaigns “in or close to worship centres”, in order to clearly separate politics from religion.

It also advised the Church to be wary of allowing politicians to use their premises for campaigns, adding, “ban should also be placed on their mass of supporters, who at times turn mischievous”.

It sympathised with the families of those that died as a result of the incident and prayed God to grant them the fortitude to bear the loss.