By Comrade Aloysius Attah
It was on a Friday, the 1ST Nov. 2013, time was 8:45 pm. As a devoted Roman Catholic by the grace of God, I had attended mass in the morning to mark the All Saints Day. I was supposed to be in Nsukka to witness and cover the Stigmatic signs often happening to Sister Martina Offorka, a mystic nun residing at Enugu – Ezike who sheds blood mysteriously with pains all over her body during Easter and All Saints period. I had done a story about her before in the Sunday Sun newspaper and wanted to do a follow up but because my wife and I had earlier agreed to attend the Holy Ghost Adoration night vigil, I had to shelve the Nsukka trip.
I once attended the Uke Adoration Thursday morning programme in the past and knowing how difficult it was for me to find a parking space for my car; I acted on the same impulse to tell my wife that we are attending the night programme without the children which she concurred.
And so, we set out. Tell tale signs of what to expect that night hit me when on taking the Ideani tarred road; we saw long stretch of vehicles. Negotiating the road leading to St. Dominic’s Catholic Church, Uke premises, we couldn’t drive an inch again as the entire road was filled up. We had to park immediately and joined other vehicles on double parking as directed by some stewards on duty. Henceforth, all other vehicles coming in had to park along the Ideani road and everybody trekked down to the adoration ground. There was serious human traffic not to talk of the gridlock already formed by the vehicles.
We trekked for about 30 minutes until we entered the adoration ground only to be confronted with a sea of human heads. Lights provided at the venue shone so brightly and the crowd therein was so unprecedented. The only place I’ve ever seen such large number of people in the past was at Fr. Mbaka adoration ground, Enugu and Shiloh convention of the Winners Chapel in Ota, Ogun state.
Though we carried our own chairs from the house, finding a space to perch was such a Herculean task. We finally attached ourselves in a little space through the assistance of an unknown Good Samaritan who offered to adjust for us, hers different from others who howled at us when we approached them with a similar request.
By this time, the presiding priest, Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Obimma a.k.a
Ebube Muonso was at the stage calling on the worshippers to support the adoration project with donations. This was done in between sharing of testimonies. Soon thereafter, around some minutes past ten, the mass of the night started. As the priest was still at the opening stage of the mass, I looked side ways and guess whom I saw walking close to my side as our eye contacts met – It was Governor Peter Obi walking majestically , quietly and unannounced as a local steward was leading the way for them to proceed to the altar side. Coming in tow behind Peter was Willie Obiano, the APGA Guber candidate and others like Chief Victor Umeh, Obi’s media assistant, Barr. Valentine Obienyem, Ifeanyi Ibezi , Chief Joe Martins Uzodike and few others I can’t recollect now. What struck me first was that they entered without noise and fanfare and without any single armed security on their trail.
It was after the mass that Fr. Obimma announced Obi’s presence and called on him to make a speech. Obi mounted the stage alone without Obiano or any other aides. He also did not make any reference to Obiano as he spoke briefly. He said that he did not come to the adoration ground for politics but rather to thank God for the gift of the church through Fr. Obimma. He reminded the congregation that his brother is a catholic priest while his sister is also a Reverend Sister. He made a pledge of N5million as part of his bazaar support to the center coming up the next Thursday and for the rehabilitation of facilities at the adoration ground and also promised to asphalt roads leading to the adoration ground with drainage and erosion control facilities. He said he would have loved to attend the bazaar if not that he was traveling outside the country with President Jonathan within the same period. He also told Fr. Obimma to send a list of 20 indigent worshippers at the adoration ground to him to be sponsored on a pilgrimage at the holy land in the next two weeks.
What I noticed was that immediately Obi mounted the stage to talk, some worshippers who positioned themselves within the front row suddenly brandished posters of Ngige and Ifeanyi Ubah and started waving them to Obi’s face. Obi who did not betray any emotion ignored them and continued his speech. There was no single supporter of Obiano there and nobody raised APGA logo or posters there thereby justifying Obi’s assertion that he did not come for campaign. It was Fr. Obimma that eventually reprimanded those Ngige and Ubah supporters and told everybody to comport themselves. He said that he has resolved not to turn the adoration ground into a political gathering and also declared that God has shown him who will be the next governor of the state. Fr. Obimma said that he was shocked when he received the revelation on the anointed governor now in waiting after Obi and reminded the people on the need to pray for a violence free and successful election. He thereafter called out the President General of Uke community who extolled Obi’s virtues and later presented an award to the governor. Fr. Obimma later told Obi to kneel down and asked all the priests in attendance to raise their hands and pray for the governor.
Soon after, the adoration to the Blessed Sacrament and other prayers commenced in earnest for the night. At about 3:30am, Obi and his group also filed out quietly leaving the arena through the same route they came.
Fr. Obimma continued in the programme and prayed for the people till around 5 am when majority of the priests who came to assist him in the vigil began to leave quietly back to their parishes because of the Nov. 2 All Souls day mass which they will celebrate in their various parishes too.
Before the formal closing of the programme around 5: 20am, Fr. Obimma admonished the worshippers to ensure that they attend the All Souls mass in their various parishes when they return. He also prayed for safe journey on all the participants. Before his final blessings, many have started leaving in droves leading to another rush.
When my wife suggested we join the queue immediately, I instinctively told her that we don’t need to rush after all, even if we succeed in pushing our way out of the crowd, we shall still remain stuck when we get to the car since we shall encounter another serious traffic there. And so we waited till around 6 am before stepping out of the adoration podium.
On trying to join the line of people filing out of the main access road out of the place, we encountered the worst gridlock ever seen in history. People were pushing and shoving. Some were battling to maintain composure even with their plastic chairs and wooden benches. Women battled for their own and for the safety of their children clutched in their hands and some tied on their backs.
People were getting choked up and I sensed that there may be a stampede the next moment and signaled to my wife that we must get out of the queue without further delay. Trying to wriggle out of the tight scene was like a war front but I managed to use the ‘last’ strength in me to push and pulled my wife out of the scene and we stood aside to allow the ‘Russians’ to continue their rush.
Not up to 5 minutes after, my worst fears was confirmed. Few meters away from my presence, the pushing and shoving turned into great fall and stampede. A woman frying akara by the road side in the compacted road was said to have shouted for people to beware of the oil fire. That the road was sloppy and the ground wet compounded the whole situation. Many tripped over and fell, others rolled on the ground while many stepped on people’s heads and bellies. The next thing was suffocation and exhaustion, injuries and bruises.
While casualties were many, rescue operations were stalled by vehicular and human traffic. The stewards on duty had to jump fences to smuggle the affected people back to the podium for resuscitation and first aid.
Of particular commendation are the nurses, local workers and men of the Red Cross Society who worked tirelessly to save lives. Some of the victims were carried on stretchers, others strapped on the backs while some were carried on the head like dead bodies being conveyed after fighting in a war front.
It was such a pathetic sight that women and children not affected wailed uncontrollably including my wife.
While resuscitation was ongoing, the prayer warriors also embarked on intensive prayer warfare with Fr. Obimma leading the pack. People like us also provided emergency phone numbers of the police and Road safety corps while assisting in rescuing the affected.
As the day progressed and the reality dawned that many will not survive the accident, some mischievous people began to make snide remarks.
Some said “Look at what Peter Obi has caused us; Ngige came in the day why did he come in the night”? “They have come to use our blood to win this election” and so many other unprintable things.
As I listened to these unfounded remarks, my mind began to wander that wicked and desperate politicians were at work. A reliable source had earlier told me that Dr. Chris Ngige and his political allies in APC planted an informant in Obi and APGA government’s camp who gives them reliable information on the governor and APGA campaign train activities. That in most instances, Ngige tries to beat the governor by first of all visiting any place the governor scheduled to visit ahead of time and make political statements to rubbish the governor’s image or most times, he will wait till the actual time of the governor’s visit, storm the venue when Obi will be making a remark and eventually cause a stir and distraction with cheers of Onwa! Onwa! from the rented crowd . I never believed this until events were to prove my source right.
While we were still at the adoration ground trying to save lives, the same source alerted me that Obi will see fire from this incident going by the propaganda machine APC and Ngige will make out of his coincidental visit and the tragedy that happened. I was therefore shocked to the marrow when on reaching home around 12pm, the story was all over the internet that the stampede and deaths were caused by Obi’s thugs and security who fired shots and tear gas on the worshippers in anger because Obi was booed at the adoration ground. Haba! Are they trying to tell us that Obi’s security details that never entered or got close to the adoration ground could come into the same arena by dawn when Obi had left with them by 3:30 am?
Even our fellow Awka based journalists (correspondents) who have never hidden their loyalty to Ngige though they freely participate in collecting any ‘jenwu’ and ‘gbalamu’ dropped from the governor’s camp decided to wickedly anchor their story on this falsehood without bothering to cross check facts or visit the scene of the incident.
Nothing can be more wicked and inhuman than this kind of malicious politicking and journalism. Till now, I’m still wondering and searching to find out how Obi could be held responsible for this calamity either directly or vicariously. Between Obi who dropped his security details along Ideani road and trekked for more than 30 minutes to and fro the adoration ground and Ngige who allegedly planted his supporters at the adoration ground for sinister motives, who is responsible and who should be held liable?
The desperation of some politicians in Anambra State has got to be addressed and curtailed. There will only emerge one governor at a time after the Nov. 16 2013 elections in Anambra state and I don’t think the race to the Awka government house is worth dying or killing for.
Our catechism doctrine taught us that one can also commit murder not only by physical killing with guns, weapons or poisoning but also by character assassination and verbal missiles. It is quite painful that instead of people having real sympathy for the dead and the bereaved, they turn around to feast on such tragic incident to score cheap political points. The wrath of God is coming and it will be disastrous.
We thank the Metropolitan Archbishop of Onitsha, Most Rev. Valerian Maduka Okeke for getting first hand information from the Spiritual Director of the ministry, Rev. Fr. Obimma and issuing a statement immediately clarifying issues about the unfortunate incident.
We condole with the families of the affected and the Spiritual Director for this unexpected challenge and call for effective crowd control measures that will avert this kind of incident in the future.
Governor Obi should also be commended for the prompt response and empathy shown to the victims as he immediately cancelled all other engagements for the day and visited the scene and all the hospitals where the victims were taken to.
Efforts should be made to identify all the affected families, with the adoration ministry and the state government playing lead roles in their burial, funeral and other expenses for the survivors.
Eternal rests grant the dead oh lord and may your perpetual light shine upon them forever, amen.
(Comrade Attah, Chairman, Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) writes from Onitsha, Anambra state. Email : firstname.lastname@example.org)