5 November 2013

Nigeria: Anambra Stampede - CAN Bans Political Campaigns in Churches

The South-east chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) Monday reacted angrily to last week's Uke Adoration ground tragedy which claimed the lives of at least 28 people and injured many others in Anambra State and therefore banned all political campaigns in churches across the zone. It also urged the federal government to immediately set up a panel of inquiry to investigate the remote causes of the incident, dismissing the inquiry panel set up by the state Governor, Peter Obi, as amounting to the governor being a judge in his own case.

This is coming even as the All Progressives Congress (APC) also urged Obi and National Chairman of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Chief Victor Umeh, to accept responsibility for the unfortunate development.

Chairman of CAN in South-east and the Bishop of Enugu Anglican Diocese, Dr. Emmanuel Chukwuma, who spoke with jouernalist in Enugu said CAN was worried at the rate politicians have turned churches to campaign grounds insisting that it would no longer be condoned.

"It is my own duty as CAN chairman South-east to ban all politicians from attending our churches with their political teams for campaigns. The church should also steer clear of partisan politics because there are different kinds of people in the church that belong to different political parties.

"So it's wrong to come into the church and begin to talk about manifestos and begin to campaign. It is not going to be acceptable any more because it causes commotion and disrespect to one another.

"We appeal to priests, pastors, bishops, clergymen to please avoid politicians coming to use churches as campaign arena. This does not augur well for our spiritual growth.

"They should be very clear on who they want to rule the state and the wish of God should be upheld. So we hereby appeal to politicians to stay clear of our churches so that peace can reign and the people given allowance to vote candidates of their choice".

On its part, the APC expressed dismay over the incident that claimed lives, insisting that the Obi-led APGA should be held responsible.

In a statement issued by the South-east Zonal Publicity Secretary, Osita Okechukwu, the party commiserated with the families of the victims.

"We are challenging Obi and the National Chairman of APGA, Umeh, to candidly apologise to the families of the bereaved and the good people of the state for their political desperado, hence extension of their campaign to the holy adoration ground.

"We are outraged that instead of being remorseful and apologetic, Obi and Umeh are playing blame games with lives of innocent citizens. "Adoration ground is not a wedding service. Therefore if not for political desperado what necessitated Obi's campaign speech at the adoration ground?"

However, the Catholic Archbishop of the Onitsha Archdiocese and the Metropolitan See, Most Rev Valerian Maduka Okeke, has absolved Obi and APGA's gubernatorial candidate, Chief Willie Obiano, of all blames arising from the stampede that claimed lives at the Adoration Ground of St. Dominic Catholic Church, Uke, at the weekend.

Speaking during a pastoral visit to St. Mary's Catholic Church, Nnokwa Parish, at the weekend, Arch-Bishop Okeke dismissed the growing rumour that Governor Obi and Obiano's presence at the prayer night held to mark the celebration of the All Saints Day might have led to the stampede, pointing out that there was nothing political about Obi's presence at the celebration in Uke on the fateful night.

The Arch Bishop who laid the blame squarely on some desperate politicians in the state looking for another backdoor route to power also pinned the cause of the stampede to a false fire alarm raised by some mischief makers at the Adoration Ground.

He also revealed that the report he got on the tragic incident showed that Obi and his entourage left the venue at about 3.00 a.m while the false fire alarm that led to the stampede and death of the innocent citizens took place at about 5.30 to 6.00a.m.

However, the Senate President, Senator David Mark, while commiserating with the Catholic Archdiocese of Onitsha over the tragic stampede, said it was an unavoidable death. In a condolence message, the Senate President said reported accounts of the incident indicated that the death could have been avoided and prayed against the reoccurrence of such a dreadful incident among the Catholic community.

Meanwhile, Abia State Governor, Theodore Orji, has also condoled with the government and people of Anambra State over the incident.

In a letter of condolence to Obi signed by his chief press secretary, Mr. Charles Ajunwa, Governor Orji who said he was saddened by the untimely death of the worshippers, prayed for the quick recovery of the injured ones. The Abia State governor said both the government and the people of the state would continue to offer prayers for the families of those who lost their loved ones and those that suffered injuries. Also, Senator Andy Uba has expressed deep shock over the tragic event, even as he condoled with the families of the victims. . He noted that it is disheartening that people who left their homes to a place of worship without the premonition of death will meet their death in such a horrific, painful and senseless manner. I will like to enjoin all political players to have respect for the sanctity of human lives and people's right to worship their God in relative peace, devoid of interferences by politicians.

But a Non-Governmental organization-HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS' ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) has decried what it calls the senseless and insensitive dancing on the graves of the departed worshippers who perished in the stampede.

Besides, the Rights group has called for the setting up of an independent judicial commission of inquiry by the Anambra State government to unravel the remote and immediate circumstances surrounding the unfortunate incident, name and prosecute the indicted culprits devoid of political witch hunting and to pay proper financial compensation to surviving relatives of all the late 28 worshippers.

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