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How security agents caused Rivers stampede, by witnesses

WITNESSES at the presidential panel of inquiry into the causes of the last weekend stampede at the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) rally in Port Harcourt, Rivers State have blamed security operatives from the presidency for the tragic incident in which about 12 persons lost their lives.
Meanwhile, the Delta State government has pledged to cater for the educational and material needs of the children of Mrs. Victoria Okodaso, one of those who died in the stampede at the PDP presidential rally.
The promise came as Edo State Governor Adams Oshiomhole sent a letter of condolence to President Goodluck Jonathan over the unfortunate incident, which occurred at the Port Harcourt Stadium.
A Deputy Commissioner of Police, Mrs. Desire Diseye Nsirimi and the Manager of the Liberation Stadium, Port Harcourt, Mr. Nmehielle James yesterday told the presidential panel that State Security Service (SSS) operatives from Abuja padlocked four out of the five exits at the venue of the rally. Nsirimi said she was in charge of security at the main bowl of the stadium before the security operatives from the presidency shoved her aside.
And as the Assistant Inspector General of Police in charge of Zone 6, Mohammed Abubakar-led panel entered its second day of sitting yesterday, it has remained difficult to ascertain the exact cause of the stampede as none of the security men purportedly attached to the presidency who were said to be in charge of the main gate was present to testify before the panel.
Nsirimi told the panel that based on directives from security operatives from the presidency, she had to order the withdrawal of all mainly armed mobile policemen drawn from Port Harcourt, Ogoni, Calabar and Akwa-Ibom from the main bowl of the stadium to enable Abuja take charge.
Just as President Goodluck Jonathan was rounding off his speech at the Port Harcourt Liberation Stadium, hundreds of PDP supporters drawn from all the states in the South-South geopolitical zone started rushing out of the stadium while some others were trying to make their way in, when the stampede occurred.
The Guardian gathered that the stampede was worsened by gun shots fired by security personnel at the gate who were trying to disperse the crowd which had besieged the main gate which was the only one out of five that was open.
James told the panel during a visit to the stadium yesterday that SSS from Abuja, chased him and other workers out of their offices in the complex, took over the five gates and changed the padlocks.
James, who is an Assistant Director, Rivers State Stadium Authority, explained that after the stampede and the pressure that followed, the security men from Abuja later opened two more gates.
A Chief Superintendent of Police, Presley Joshak, explained that the police were rendered helpless as far as security matters were concerned, because they had to relinquish all security responsibilities within the stadium to the security officials attached to the president.
Joshak said Rivers State has 13,000 policemen and 300 patrol vehicles, with 3,550 officers and men deployed at the stadium, but expressed surprise that the gates were not manned by policemen detailed to do so, instead the gates were taken over by security personnel from Abuja.
A police trooper, Constable Kingsley Jeremiah who was stationed initially at the main gate to assist in crowd control, explained that himself and his colleagues from Rivers State had effectively discharged their responsibility until security operatives from the presidency ordered them to leave the post as soon as the presidential convoy arrived.
Jeremiah explained that he returned to the gate following a distress call from the Elekahia Divisional Police Officer, Sogbeda Douphine West, that he should use his horse to block a section of the main gate so that some victims of the stampede could be rescued.
In order to ascertain the exact number of causalities and persons injured, AIG Abubakar, whose panel visited the scene of the tragic incident, has directed the Commissioner of Police in charge of Medical in the South-South zone to visit the hospitals where the victims were rushed to and give the panel feedback today.
According to a statement, Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan, who announced the Delta State government’s promise when he paid the family of the deceased a condolence visit in Ughelli, said the government will also take responsibility for the burial of the deceased.  “The state government will assist the children until they stand on their own. I know that the woman was the bread winner of the family and we will make sure that she did not die in vain,” the governor said.
In the letter to President Jonathan, Edo State Governor Oshiomhole said: “Our hearts are with you and the loved ones of the victims at this difficult moment. We can appreciate how pained and troubled you have been over the loss of these Nigerians, many of who were obviously party supporters that came to receive you.”
Conveying the grief on the incident on behalf of the people and government of Edo State, Oshiomhole prayed for “the repose of the souls of the departed and for our Heavenly Father to give you and their families the fortitude to bear the pains”.
Also commiserating with the Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi, Oshiomhole said: “As the host of the South-South presidential rally, we can appreciate how pained and troubled you have been over the loss of these Nigerians.”

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Posted by on Feb 15 2011. Filed under Rivers, State News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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