Uke Stampede: Who Murdered The Innocents?

Opinion

By Tony Icheku

Following the massacre of  over 28 souls at Holy Ghost Adoration Ministry, Uke, in Idemili North Local Government Area, Anambra State on November 2, 2013, various twisted, contradictory tales are being concocted to explain what happened.

One source of information, Governor Peter Obi had been at pains to make sure certain conclusions are reached over the incident. Beyond his own utterances, working assiduously behind the shadow is his Senior Special Assistant, Media, Valentine Obienyem, who, using all means of communication within his reach wished to lead the public towards certain direction to unveil the culprits who instigated the Uke Stampede.

Beyond Gov. Obi and Obienyem, two other  sources could also be milked to re-create how these innocent worshippers were murdered in cold blood.

We would begin from the Senior Special Assistant on Media to Anambra State Governor Peter Obi, Valentine Obienyem who first alerted the world that his principal was leaving Uke around the time the innocent worshippers were being sent to their early grave.

To really understand Obienyem and his mindset, we must refer to two persons who had been victims of his craft: One of them Ayo Akinola, of  Ifeanyi Ubah Election Campaign Organisation says:  “Obienyem’s article of faith is founded on the belief that … propaganda is good which leads to success, and that is bad which fails to achieve the desired result, … For Val Obienyem facts do not matter, he edifies falsehood and denigrates truth.’’

Another victim, Okey Ndibe, a newspaper columnist says: “Governor Peter Obi of Anambra and Valentine Obienyem, the man who runs Mr. Obi’s sordid propaganda machine, are merchants of lies. In fact, Mr. Obienyem, the governor’s Man Friday, is a depraved manufacturer of falsehood.’’

It is important to establish this character trait of Obienyem so follow his thought process and understand his propaganda manipulations on the Uke stampede. Obienyem  first  announced to the world  that Gov. Obi had visited Uke and he did so exactly by 4.52am, Saturday on his Facebook wall where he wrote:

“APGA leadership, including Gov. Obi, Victor Umeh, Willie Obiano just left Uke now, where they participated in the Holy Ghost Adoration Vigil by Fr. Ebebe Muonso.

“The crowd was so much as one had never witnessed before. The excitement of the Gov’s presence was so high that it took minutes for the Governor to start addressing them.

“Why the vigil? Well we have made a choice between attending a vigil or visiting Okija shrine.’’

From this post, we could establish that Gov. Obi and his team  left Uke  at 4.52, reading from the emphasis of Obienyem’s post:   ‘APGA leadership, including Gov. Obi, Victor Umeh, Willie Obiano just left Uke now….’

Perhaps Obienyem made his post from a hand held device, as the convoy was leaving the vicinity. If that is the case, why is Gov. Obi desperate to prove that he left Uke by 3 a.m. rather than 4.52am when he actually left the place?  4.52a.m. is closer to 5a.m. when it is generally supposed the incident happened, than 3a.m.

It would be recalled that on Saturday morning, Mr. Obi had told reporters that he spent five hours at Uke, that he came 10pm and left 3am. When he issued his press statement on Sunday, he fixed the 5 hours between 10am to 3pm. As Gov. Obi was leaving Uke around 4.52am,  was that when his  overzealous security aides  and APGA party thugs allowed  the governors’ convoy few minutes to take off  before unleashing mayhem, shooting teargas  on the innocent worshippers who had earlier heckled their boss?

We now examine the information  Gov. Obi himself provided,  this   had to do with the number of people who came with him to Uke. In his statement to the public, he tried  to establish the fact that they were only ten persons in the team, a  fact which had already been stated  in various newspaper reports on Sunday  by reporters who were not present at Uke. Who fed the journalists the story that there were only ten persons with Gov. Obi and of what significance is it to the massacre?

Gov. Obi had been  emphatic that he went with only about ten persons.  However commonsense says otherwise. The insecurity situation in Anambra especially incidents of kidnappings and assassinations is so rampant that wealthy  private persons  go around with not less than two armed security guards.

Considering the security precautions for the campaign period,  it is most unlikely Gov. Obi and the National Chairman of APGA, Umeh  and its governorship candidate for the November 16 governorship election, Obiano  merely strolled at midnight into the Uke Adoration Grounds by themselves as gullible public are being made to believe.

Like the emperors they are, anytime governors step out for a public function, they do so with a train of palace loyalists and followers. Let’s assume that for this midnight outing, Gov. Obi went without the train of followers, but he could not have been without at least a minimum of five persons including  his ADC, his orderly, chief detail,  two State Security Service, SSS officers,  a protocol officer, and possibly an Aide.  So on this night, Gov. Obi had these six persons with him, plus one or two hangers-on who like leeches  glue  themselves to those in authority.

In his statement he added that his sister was with them, the APGA National Chairman,  Umeh, with his own PA and security.

Others who had been confirmed present includes, APGA governorship candidate for the November 16, 2013 election, Willie Obiano, his PA and security; Callistus Illozumba, the Commissioner for Works; Joe Martins-Uzodike, the Commissioner for Information,  and Director-General of Willie Obiano Campaign Organisation; Okey Udeh, former deputy governor and a certain Ifeanyi Ibezim.

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One can therefore safely submit Gov. Obi did not arrive Uke, with about ten people, but with roughly double that number. And they were all in full APGA regalia and uniforms.

Now, a vigil is characteristically attended  by  the despondent, the sick, people seeking divine intervention in one or other areas of their life. It is best left to the imagination how the mood at the grounds would have been influenced by the entrance of Gov. Obi and his team. It is not uncommon that one or two party loyalists would have hailed him ‘Okwute’ his praise name.

Why is it important the number of persons be established? It is a puzzle that needs to be unravelled as at least three newspaper reports attempted to stress this point which Gov. Obi in his statement latched on.  Is Gov. Obi attempting to mask the fact that he came to the prayer ground with the full entourage of Obiano’s campaign apparatus?

We turn to another incident that occurred at the Uke. Heckling! Our third source of information, the  journalists which would have been most reliable proved biased in their reports. The majority of the reporters strangely omitted the fact that Gov. Obi was heckled. On Channels Television, on Saturday night, Gov. Obi admitted that he was heckled by some worshippers who chanted the name of a “certain politician, and this must stop,” he said on Channels.

In his statement the next day Sunday, he elaborated and confirmed that he was heckled for about twenty minutes, by the worshippers, who chanted the ‘Ngige is the one we will follow’ severally,  before the  officiating priest, Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Obinma restored order and he now spoke.

What exactly happened here? The APC governorship candidate has a chieftaincy title – ‘Onwanetiliora of  Alor’. Shortened to ‘Onwa’. It is  common in Anambra State, that when a dignitary walks into a function he is hailed by his chieftaincy or other praise names. Gov. Obi himself, though he has no chieftaincy title, is often hailed ‘Okwute’, which is  a transliteration of ‘Peter, the Rock’ as in the Bible.

Uke is in Idemili North LGA, which is part of Anambra Central Senatorial District which Ngige represents and where Hon Charles Odedo of the APC also represents in the House of Representatives. The place could be considered an APC stronghold, therefore when Gov. Obi attempted to campaign for his candidate, probably, Ngige sympathizers must have protested by chanting ‘Ngige is the one we will follow’.

Did these sympathizers come with brooms and placards? Certainly not! If they did, the APGA  team which had with them a video camera man would have captured it and it would have been showed by now on television. Gov. Obi himself confirmed that when he spoke it was on tape, so one can safely say there were neither brooms nor placards of pictures of Ngige displayed by anyone while he spoke.

There is no doubt that there is a connect between the heckling of Gov. Obi and the stampede that later occurred.

Indeed the rivalry between APC and APGA as the November 16 date draws nearer  is developing into bad blood between members of the two camps. And it has become a common occurrence for APC loyalists to begin chanting ‘Ngige we will follow’’ or ‘Onwa, Onwa’  whenever Gov. Obi and Obiano make an unscheduled appearance to campaign.

Several times and in several places, the duo of  Gov. Obi and Obiano were  booed and rejected with chants of Ngige or Onwa. It happened  at Onitsha Main Market and at Eke-Awka Main Market.

They were equally heckled  at the Onitsha Prisons during the birthday celebrations of the Archbishop of Onitsha Diocese, Most Rev.  Valerian Okeke and at a church in  Mbaukwu during the burial of the mother of the Anglican Archbishop.

More questions. Did this latest heckling for about 20 minutes at Uke become one too many?  Did Gov. Obi react with the fury of a rejected woman? Did his overzealous security aides seek to teach the worshippers a lesson for booing their principal  once too many? Did cover of darkness give the much waited opportunity to deal with the headstrong APC loyalists.

Now to link the explanation between departure of Gov. Obi and timing of the stampede, we turn to the fourth source of information the press statement signed by Rev. Fr. Uche Pius Ukor, of the Directorate of Social Communication, Catholic Archdiocese of Onitsha. A paragraph in the statement localised the stampede thus: ‘’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. This happened in just one of the roads out of the town.’’

Is it not possible that the governor’s security men, and some APGA thugs deliberately caused the stampede as the governor was leaving the venue? Gunshots and teargas were probably fired into the crowd in the opposite direction from  where Gov. Obi  was leaving and  causing the worshippers to panic.

The nexus between the stampede and the departure of Gov. Obi from Uke could be traced to reports in the newspapers. It has been established for certain that several reporters in Awka quoted from one source, a version of the incident written by Obienyem and passed on to the reporters  to build their story. And perhaps in the rush to beat deadline they quoted that source word for word, notably  in a sentence which sought to stress the fact that Gov. Obi left Uke before the incident.

That sentence found exactly the same in  several newspapers reads:  “It is believed that the commotion was deliberately orchestrated by some people who learnt that Governor Peter Obi would visit the place. But the governor had quietly left the venue before the incident happened.”

This source from which the reporters built their story could only emanate from Obienyem, the SSA who from his activities in the social media had been pointing fingers at some other persons. It is quite obvious Obienyem  and his principal have something to hide, and their strategy appears to be to cast the first stone by pushing the blame on Ngige  and APC. Only time would tell if they can sustain a propaganda built on false premise.

•Icheku is a journalist and public commentator