It was a Black Saturday as the weekly adoration crusade usually organised by Rev. Father Emmanuel Obinma of the Holy Ghost Adoration Ministry for prayers, healing and spiritual retreat at Uke, Idemili North Council Area of Anambra State turned tragic in the early hours of Saturday.
No fewer than 25 persons were reported dead and many others injured following a stampede that erupted during the crusade. Anambra State Governor Peter Obi who was accompanied to the crusade by 10 others, including the All Progressive Grand Alliance National Chairman Victor Umeh and APGA governorship candidate Willie Obiano among others would have been caught in the stampede if not for the fact that the team left at 3.30 am shortly before the close of the crusade at about 5:08 am. About 25 persons were confirmed dead by 3 pm yesterday.
Eyewitnesses said trouble started shortly after the event when the congregation was leaving as a group of people started shouting "Fire' Fire, Fire," which immediately sent people scampering for safety. Some, however, believe the commotion was deliberately organised by some people who felt Governor Obi was still at the crusade, even though he had already left the venue quietly.
The casualties were said to be many because the number of crusaders, according to sources, got to around 100,000 because the day was All Saints' Day and the first day of the month which so many people usually take advantage of to pray for the new month. Following the sad development, Obi immediately cancelled all his engagements, including campiagn flag-off at Nsugbe, live radio programme at Silverbird, flag-off of road projects, inspection of the ongoing shopping mall at Onitsha and ongoing stadium at Awka, the state capital.
The governor was the first person to visit the Adoration Ground with security agents immediately he got wind of the stampede. The two Deputy Inspector Generals of Police visiting the state, P I Leha and Kachi Udeogu, accompanied by the state's Commissioner of Police, Bala Nassarawa, also visited the scene of the accident.
Speaking with journalists, Obi said he attended the vigil on the invitation of the Rev. Father in charge of the adoration, Rev. Obimma. "I noticed something unusual; when I wanted to speak, a group of people started shouting somebody's name. I had to curtail them and said we are here to worship. I was here with a team of about ten people. I have my immediate senior sister who is a reverend sister. At the time I left everything was normal, there was no incident," Obi said.
On those allegedly shouting fire, fire, he said, "I don't think there was fire. Nobody saw any vehicle that got burnt. I have always said that people should try and live a decent life, do things properly. I have been to other crusade before. I stay up to five hours. That was how long I stayed at this one before I left."
Asked whether he suspected any foul play, he said "if people have started shouting fire, where is the fire? People had done similar thing before (at Adoration Ground in Enugu) and people lost their lives. We can't continue like this. It's unfair. " Udeogu said: "There was no security measure that was neglected. From what I heard, the incident took place when people were going away. Normally if you want to secure a place, you secure the perimeters of the worship centre but you can't police the road. Initially, I thought it was a cathedral with limited access to exit if there was an emergency, but you can see from here that if there is an emergency, people will melt away, there is no restraint here.
"But like the governor had said, we shall fish out those who were shouting fire, fire when there was no fire. Certainly those that were involved, we would unearth them. People will talk and we will hear."
At the Borromeo Hospital, Onitsha, most of the injured victims who were rushed there had recovered. From there, the governor visited the Crown Hospital, Nkpor to see the injured, most of whom had also left by then. He directed the names of all those injured to be compiled for him.
Meanwhile, Obi has said a panel of enquiry will be set up immediately to ascertain the immediate and remote causes of the incident. Obiano has also condoled the families of those who lost loved ones in the stampede.
In a statement by his Media Assistant James Eze, the APGA candidate described the incident as "unfortunate and depressing," wondering why politics in the state should degenerate to a level where worshippers no longer feel safe to worship in a sacred place as an Adoration Ground."