Opinion: Hold Peter Obi responsible for the 28 people who died in Anambra stampede

by Rotimi Fasan

Governor Peter Obi with Rev Fr. Emmanuel Obinma before the tragic stampedeDeath at political rallies, which was what happened at the Adoration Ground crusade, is commonplace thing in Nigeria. The least organisers of such rallies could do is make contingency arrangements for the safety of their partisans, including possible sabotage by opposition elements. Failure to do this, I repeat, amounts to criminal negligence on the part of the organisers which include Mr. Obi.

These are political times in Anambra State and any comments critical of politicians and the parties they belong in are likely to be controversial and read from partisan standpoints. There is, however, nothing inevitable about such readings which are in fact no more than a reflection of the dismal nature of our politics.

And we cannot, for fear of controversy or being seen as partisan, fail to remark on what seems a worrying tendency among Nigerian politicians and public officials to take responsibility for their misjudgements, whether intentional or not.

This disgraceful behaviour of our public persons was again on display in the reaction of Mr. Peter Obi, outgoing governor of AnambraState, to the deaths of worshippers who died in the stampede that occurred at the Adoration Ground, Uke, in Idemili North Local Council. No less than 28 people lost their lives, stampeded to death in, of all places, a religious camp.

The deceased were trampled upon by other worshippers running away from- what really? Whatever it was led to the stampede must have seemed life-threatening enough for those around to have rushed to their death, herded in one direction like the Gadarene Swine.

This is the most unlikely place to die if our people could for once behave like human beings to say nothing of responsible ones.

As usual the cause of the deaths and injuries has been clouded in controversy and is now a blame- game between partisans of the All Progressives Grand Alliance and the All Progressives Congress, two of the leading parties billed to lock horns in the state’s governorship election.

The common theme running through accounts of the tragedy is that Mr. Obi had attended the crusade that took place at the Adoration Ground with his self-appointed successor to the APGA seat, Mr. Willie Obiano.

The contentious point however is when the stampede that led to the tragedy occurred, what and/or who caused it. One account claimed that one or some of the security aides of Mr. Obi had shot teargas into the air or crowd. Perhaps the worshippers mistook the tear gas blasts for gunshots and instinctively took to their heels.

Which would not be unusual reaction in a country where armed robbers routinely attack places of worship, and a region notorious for kidnapping. And would it be strange that a security aide of a politician, even a governor, would use their weapon in a crowded place? Not at all- at least not in Nigeria.

This indeed is common practice with our trigger-happy police and military operatives who, as escorts to politicians and other public officials, are known to shoot guns with live ammunition into the air simply to find their way out of crowded traffic. The frightful pandemonium that follows such irresponsible use of arm is never the business of our kill-and-go officers of the law.

It’s therefore plausible and safe to speculate that Mr. Obi’s security aides could have engaged their weapons in the manner described in early accounts of the tragedy, not the afterthoughts that have since drowned them out. Assuming Mr. Obi had left the venue of the religious event that brought him to the Ground by the time the stampede occurred, the fact still is that he was at the Ground with his anointed candidate for the office he is vacating.

Which exposes the hypocrisy of his entire visit as a political campaign masked in religious plume. Otherwise, let him say how often he had attended that or other vigils in the period before election.

The incontrovertible fact that people had been canvassed and posters of politicians had been displayed lends credence to this point. This makes him as well as his hosts culpable in the deaths of the 28.

This is the fact that should neither be discounted nor swept under the carpet as Mr. Obi’s fact-finding committee goes about its   task of finding the ‘immediate and remote’ causes of the stampede.

Out of respect for members of the panel Mr. Obi has set up, I wouldn’t want to describe them as lackeys of the governor. But there is hardly any doubt that they’ve been sent on a fool’s errand. Nothing meaningful is likely to come out of their fact-finding body as the remote if not the immediate cause of the tragedy is clear to everyone able to think it through, namely: the hypocritical conduct of turning a religious event into a political one.

And Mr. Obi couldn’t have done this without the connivance of the priests at the Adoration Ground. Which leaves one to ask if they carried their congregants along in their subterfuge.

While they may be free to endorse political parties and candidates of their choice, such action should be done with the full awareness of their members who have a right of personal choice. But to do this under false pretences and without adequate arrangement for the safety of those who would be present amounts to criminal negligence.

Death at political rallies, which was what happened at the Adoration Ground crusade, is commonplace thing in Nigeria. The least organisers of such rallies could do is make contingency arrangements for the safety of their partisans, including possible sabotage by opposition elements. Failure to do this, I repeat, amounts to criminal negligence on the part of the organisers which include Mr. Obi.

Mr. Obi’s presence at the Ground with the candidate of his party makes clear his intention was to campaign.  He ought to be more responsible in his political conduct rather than always being ready to pass the buck. He did the same thing a couple of months ago when the controversy surrounding the relocation/deportation of persons said to be of AnambraState origin was at its height.

Obi played the political mute all through that episode, neither confirming nor denying claims that he was aware of the movement of those hapless Nigerians back to Anambra. He did this even when the whole controversy tipped over into an ethnic battle between the Yoruba and the Igbo.

He was apparently preparing the ground (Ground?) for the political battle ahead with the APC. Did Mr. Obi receive a letter of the planned relocation? Was he ever in communication with the LagosState government which provided proof of such communication?

Not one word came from Mr. Governor. This is a sly and dishonest attitude unbecoming of a public figure and certainly someone who wants to replicate himself in Government House, Awka.

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Read this article in the Vanguard Newspapers
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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