A stampede at a religious charity event in southern Nigeria on Saturday left 31 dead and seven injured, a shocking development from a program organizers said was meant to ‘offer hope’ to those in need need.
Police spokeswoman Grace Iringe-Koko said the stampede at the program organized by the Kings Assembly Pentecostal Church in Rivers State involved many people seeking help.
Many of the victims came to an annual “Shop for Free” charity program organized by the church. Such occurrences are common in Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, where more than 80 million people live in poverty, according to government statistics.
Saturday’s charity program was due to start at 9 a.m., but dozens arrived as early as 5 a.m. to secure their place in the queue, Iringe-Koko said. Somehow they forced the locked door open, she said, adding that the seven injured were “responding to treatment”.
Videos from the scene showed the clothes, shoes and other items destined for the beneficiaries. Dozens of locals then swarmed the scene, mourning the dead and offering all possible help to rescuers. Doctors and paramedics treated the injured as they lay in the open field.
A witness who only identified himself as Daniel said “there were so many children” among the dead. Five of the children who died were from a mother, he told the AP, adding that a pregnant woman also lost her life.
Some church members were attacked and injured by relatives of the victims after the stampede, according to witness Christopher Eze. The church declined to comment on the situation.
The Shop for Free event has been suspended while authorities investigate how the stampede happened.
Nigeria has seen similar jostling in the past. Twenty-four people died during a crowded religious gathering in southeastern Anambra state in 2013, while at least 16 people were killed in 2014 when a crowd spiraled out of control during selection for government jobs in the nation’s capital, Abuja.