A church, King’s Assembly, has opened investigation into the death of 31 persons during its 2022 outreach at the Port Harcourt Polo Club, Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
The church said it was also doing contact tracing of families of the victims of the tragedy.
The assembly had yet to start the outreach titled, ‘Shop for Free’ on May 28 before a surging crowd at the entrance forced its way in as soon as the gate was thrown open, leading to the stampede.
In a statement signed by its Director of Administration, Chimeka Elem, the church said it was saddened by the stampede and condoled with the victims and their families.
The statement read in part, “The purpose of this non-denominational event was to share with the less privileged the gifts provided by our members, friends and partners.
“Unfortunately, lives were lost and several people sustained varying degrees of injury.
“Our medical team has been working with medical volunteers and the military hospital in Port Harcourt to provide emergency medical services to those affected in this incident.
“While the incident has been reported to the Nigeria Police Force, the church has commissioned a team of safety specialists to establish the immediate causes of the stampede to enable us to provide the authorities all required information in compliance with public safety laws.
“The King’s Assembly is a safety-conscious organisation and will always take the safety of our congregation seriously. Our Shop-for-Free programme was started in 2014 as our annual benevolence outreach, and our choice of the large venue, Polo Club, was to accommodate the projected attendance.
“This year’s turnout, build-up and the attendant circumstances were absolutely unanticipated.
“The crowd converged overnight long before the security teams for the event took formation. We are reviewing our public safety protocol and advance crowd management procedures to persistently ensure that our events are safe.”
Our correspondent, who visited the church, observed that service was held at the elite worship centre.
But a member of the church, who attended to our reporter, said instead of the usual three services, they were collapsed into two, adding that the pastor was distraught.
The source said, “The pastor did not even preach. He, like the rest of us, is grieving over what happened for the good works the church had set out to do, touching lives.
“We just prayed, did some singing and a minute of silence was observed in memory of the victims and we closed.”
An atmosphere of mourning could be felt, as some members were also seen discussing the incident.
The Port Harcourt Polo Club, venue of the stampede, was under lock and key.
It was learnt that the management shut the facility following the incident, though there had not been any official statement to this effect.
The club’s gate was closed, while some persons, including motorists who wanted to enter, were not allowed in.