By Taiwo Ajala
It was meant to be a programme for salvation of souls, but it ended in sorrow, tears and blood.
At the end, no fewer than 31 persons were confirmed dead in the Rivers State New Generation Church programme stampede on Saturday, the state police command said.
The incident happened at the venue of an outreach programme put together by a church, known as Kings Assembly.
The church was said to have invited members of the public to partake in the event where gift items and food were promised to be shared to congregants as part of the church fourth year anniversary programme.
The venue of the programme, Polo Club in the Rivers State capital was over stretched leading to the fatal incident.
The programme was moved to the Polo Club to accommodate the envisaged large crowd.
Some of the invitees, Infantng gathered, started arriving on Friday evening, while others arrived as early as 6.30am on Saturday morning for an event that was supposed to start by 9am.
Trouble started when the crowd started pressing and eventually pushing down the small gate leading into the venue to enable them occupy good positions leading to a stampede.
A source said most of the victims were taken to the nearby military hospital in Port Harcourt
“As I speak with you, I have counted 21 corpse at the military hospital. I heard some were taken to a different facility.
“This is not the first time the church is holding this programme, but the crowd since yesterday (Friday) till this morning is much.
“It was said that gift items and free food would be served. It is very painful,” the source who pleaded anonymity stated.
The acting spokesperson of the state Police Command, Grace Iringe-Koko, who confirmed the incident, in a statement said that the church had organised the outreach to give out palliatives to the underprivileged in society before the unexpected occurred.
The statement reads in part:
“It is 31 persons that died. It was a stampede because a church was trying to give out palliatives.
“They were about to start the event by 9am or so. But some persons went there and broke into the place and went inside.
“So people started rushing in and there was a stampede.
“From the information we have, the church was trying to gift items and food to assist the underprivileged.
“Meanwhile, investigation has commenced to ascertain the remote and immediate causes of the incident,” Iringe-Koko, a Superintendent of Police, stated.