A HUGE rally to push President Muhammadu Buhari’s bid for a second term ended yesterday on a tragic note in Rivers State – 14 persons died in a stampede.
Many were injured and rushed to the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital (UPTH), which is close to the Adokiye Amiesimaka Stadium, venue of the rally.
President Buhari, who got to the stadium at 2:32 p.m., rounded off his speech at 3:16 p.m., but most APC members and supporters had started leaving the main bowl before the national anthem was sung to end the event.
It was learnt that when the crowd was leaving the stadium through the gate marked: “Pedestrians Only”, policemen opened only one side of the big gate, which was not enough for the surging sea of heads.
When our reporter got to the scene at 4:50 p.m., three aged women and a middle-aged man were seen lying dead. A man, who was revived after fainting, blamed it all on ‘overzealous’ policemen who, according to him, did not leave the two sides of the gate open.
Two UPTH ambulances moved injured persons and the bodies to the Federal Teaching Hospital.
When contacted at 7:12 p.m., UPTH spokesman Kem Daniel-Elebiga confirmed that 14 persons were brought to the hospital dead. Three were being attended to at the casualty unit, more were being rushed in, he said.
Police spokesman Nnamdi Omoni, a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), said Police Commissioner Usman Belel had ordered an investigation into the stampede. Anybody found culpable is to be arrested and prosecuted.
“The Area Commander, who led the police team, informed me that he saw four bodies and four injured persons, who were moved to UPTH in two ambulances belonging to the hospital (UPTH). For now, I am not aware of higher casualty figure, but the thorough investigation ordered by Rivers State Commissioner of Police will reveal further details,” DSP Omoni said.
But the UPTH spokesman insisted that 14 persons were brought in dead to the hospital.
On Monday, the presidential candidate of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, and many members of the party were at the stadium. APC leaders said holding their rally the next day was to use their brooms, the symbol of the party, to sweep away the PDP, its candidates and members.
This is the President’s second visit to the state since May 29, 2015 when he mounted the saddle. His first visit was when he inaugurated the International Terminal of Port Harcourt International Airport in Omagwa.
At yesterday’s rally were the National Chairman of APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole; the Director-General of the Buhari/Osinbajo Re-election Campaign Organisation, Rotimi Amaechi, a former Rivers State Governor; ex-Senate Minority Leader Godswill Akpabio; Rivers governorship candidate of APC Tonye Cole and his running mate, Chief Victor Giadom as well as the state chairman of APC, Ojukaye Flag-Amachree; among other leaders of the party.
Buhari promised to remain steadfast and consistent in fighting corruption; stressing that Nigeria is one and would remain one. “I will not preside over a government that will cheat or abuse trust of Nigerians”, he said.
The President went on: “I stand here to express my most sincere gratitude to you for being here since early this (yesterday) morning. Thank you very much indeed. I am also here to congratulate you for your restraint. It is absolutely clear and I am very pleased that you are responding to whatever the leadership of APC agrees to do within this political system.
“I am very very disturbed by the decision (of the court) that we (APC’s candidates in Rivers) are not allowed to participate in some of the processes. I have no doubt I got elected, but I have to respect the institutions that I inherited. I assure you and I recommend that you should be patient and resolute. We are going to assure that justice is done in this country.
“When we came in, in 2015, you knew the condition we found this country. The people of the Northeast are the witnesses of the improvement affected in the security of the country. In the economy, God has blessed us. In the last three rainy seasons, government made fertiliser available at half the price it used to be. People went back to the farm, they did not regret it and we have virtually achieved food security. The hundreds and millions of dollars we used to spend on rice, we save it now for infrastructure.
“About fighting corruption, we are going to remain steadfast and consistent. I like to ask you for your patience and understanding. The fundamental thing is that Nigeria is one and it will remain one. And we will do justice to all and sundry. It is our duty. I assure you that I will not preside over a government that will cheat and abuse the trust of Nigerians. I will be accountable to God and to you for my performance as the President of this country.
“I like you to please bear with me that I am going to be steadfast. I am going to see that you are respected. You have one vote, I have one vote, as the President of this country. What I will do, I will make sure, through the armed forces and law enforcement agencies that Nigerians are respected, they are allowed to vote for those they like across the parties, in whatever constituency. So, please have faith that I am going to be fair to all. I will not allow anybody or any institution to intimidate any constituency in this country. I thank you very much and I respect your loyalty.”
Oshiomhole appreciated APC members for their steadfastness.
He said: “Let me begin by appreciating the fighting spirit of the APC people and the APC supporters in Rivers State. I am extremely impressed that in spite of all the efforts to demoralise you, to weaken your spirit, to create doubt and to compel you to wallow in self pity, you are here this (yesterday) afternoon on your feet, as if nothing has happened, to make the statement that you are not weakened by the forces of enemy, whether from within or without. I salute your fighting spirit and I salute your vision.
“These are tempting moments when men of little hearts will give up, as if this is the end of the world. When I stepped into the stadium and saw this crowd, I said what would it have been, if we were here much earlier or better still, if what we had in Abuja today (yesterday) was not the case, but let me say to you, the attitude that you have displayed this (yesterday) afternoon is the appropriate one.
“Those who may be happy, who may be smiling that they will become what they do not deserve, they will find that the downfall of a man is not the end of his life. I have seen those who seemed to smile too early in the morning, they end up crying much later in the night.”
Amaechi, however, declared that he and other APC members in Rivers would battle Governor Nyesom Wike of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the last.
The minister said: “Whatever PDP does in Rivers State, we are equal to the task. I am not going to Abuja again. We have a governor (Wike) who will try to negotiate with us that he will support us for presidency, but we should give him governor. He is afraid. We will battle him to the last. I have not spoken like this before. On Saturday (February 16), they should get ready. We are ready for them. They used federal and state institutions against us. They killed APC people and cut off their necks everyday. The right to choose our leaders to stop the killings, they got a state high court judge to give judgment.
“Eighty per cent of those who have made successes in Rivers State politics passed through me. Wike was my chief of staff. I made him chairman of council (Obio/Akpor). I nominated him as a minister. When he saw Goodluck (former President Jonathan), he betrayed me. He betrayed serially everybody he met, including Senators. After you finish helping them, after praying for them, they go and betray you for a pot of porridge. Saturday is our day.”
To Akpabio, the crowd was clear evidence that APC was waxing stronger in the state.
The former governor of Akwa Ibom State urged Rivers people and other Nigerians to massively vote for President Buhari to “take Nigeria to the next level”.
Cole, co-founder of the Sahara Group, described Rivers APC as “strong, alive and would not die”.
Flag-Amachree reiterated that there was a deliberate conspiracy to disenfranchise APC’s candidates and the electorate from participating in the elections. The people will not agree, he said.