A stampede that led to the death of about 25 people in a church in Anambra state, Saturday, was caused by "false alarm", a senior church official has said.
Dozens of people were trampled at the Holy Ghost Adoration Ground in Uke, Idemili North local council of Anambra State, during a mad rush.
Over a hundred worshippers sustained various degrees of injuries, eye witnesses said.
In a press conference on Sunday, Valerian Okeke, the Catholic Archbishop of Onitsha Archdiocese, described the incident as "unfortunate."
The church also said that the stampede was not caused by sabotage. "In the early hours of Saturday, November 2, there was a stampede moments after prayers at Holy Ghost Adoration Centre, Uke," said Uche Ukor, a Reverend Father and Director of Social Communications, who represented the archbishop.
"The stampede, which occurred while people were going home, resulted in the loss of some lives. Some are still injured and receiving treatments 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," he added.
More than 50,000 people attended the church's vigil, held every first Friday of the month, presided over by Emmanuel Obinma, a Catholic priest popularly referred to as 'Ebube Muonso' (glory of the Holy Spirit).
It was gathered that the stampede occurred shortly after Peter Obi, the Anambra State governor; Willie Obiano, the gubernatorial candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA; and Victor Umeh, the party's National Chairman, left the ground.
Chris Ngige, the candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, blamed the stampede on the governor and his people. Both parties are constantly taking pot shots at each other ahead of the November 16 governorship elections.
"Reports reaching me have it that the APGA campaign train, last night went to the Adoration Ground at Ukeh and induced stampede as Obi's goons charged at worshippers who booed at them for campaigning at the holy ground," Dr. Ngige had said in a Facebook post hours after the incident.
However, the state government has set up a panel of enquiry to ascertain the remote and immediate cause of the stampede.
Responding to questions from journalists, the church said that it would not delve into whether the incident had political connotation.
"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," said Rev. Okeke.
"Save for the unprecedented crowd, the vigil started and ended normally. 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.
Rev. Okeke said investigations were ongoing, adding that efforts would be made to protect the lives of all worshippers at the centre.
The archbishop commended the volunteers and management and staff of the hospitals where the injured were receiving treatment.