SaharaReporters’ investigation of yesterday's stampede at the Liberation Stadium in Port Harcourt in which scores of Nigerians were killed implicate members of Goodluck Jonathan's presidential guard, who took control of the area 24 hours before his political rally.
This much is clear even as Mr. Jonathan, as his office indicated yesterday, has sent a team of police officers to investigate the cause of the stampede. That team arrived in Port Harcourt this morning to begin work, but there are doubts they really intend to unravel the real culprits involved within the presidential guard as they already left for Abuja with the president earlier in the day.
The Nigerian government has officially declared 11 people dead, but our investigations show that over 20 people were killed in the stampede, which began when people began leaving the stadium during Jonathan's speech at the event on Saturday.
Police sources told SaharaReporters that the large crowds were leaving at a time Jonathan was giving his speech but the overzealous presidential guards refused to let them do so in order to avoid the kind of embarrassment Mr. Jonathan faced in Kaduna the previous day. On that occasion, large crowds left the rally when he was giving his speech.
Our source said that as the restless crowd surged forward in defiance, the armed presidential guards at the main gate of the stadium became overwhelmed. But determined to keep the crowd in the stadium, one of them unleashed a volley of gunshots. The stampede started as the crowd panicked.
Soon after SaharaReporters broke the news, aides to Mr. Jonathan contacted us to deny the shooting part of the report, trying to downplay the role of members of the presidential guards in causing the stampede.
According to a source in the presidential security team, when the president of Nigeria plans to visit any state for an event of any kind, the presidential guards typically take over the security of the area, especially now that threats of militant attacks against the president have increased dramatically following the October 1st bombing in Abuja, which claimed several lives.
A political analyst blamed Jonathan’s security for their overzealousness, querying why it was necessary to have prevented people from leaving the stadium when they wanted to do so. A well-informed source had told SaharaReporters that the crowd at the stadium on Saturday was mostly hired by state governors from several states in the South-South region rather than people who wanted to hear Jonathan speak. He said that the state governors of Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Cross Rives, Bayelsa and others had their various crowds in different parts of the stadium.
The Jonathan government is trying to suppress the number of dead people so as to avoid the disaster created by his security, but many families are still going around looking for their loved ones.
The government’s scramble to suppress the truth about the deaths in Port Harcourt today seems to have received the cooperation the mainstream press.
For instance, online versions of The Guardian, which has a full bureau in the city, reported on its front page the government’s “shock and sadness” at the deaths, although it did not report the story itself.
Signs that Jonathan faces daunting pressures over its campaigns in the northern parts manifested earlier today when his office put off the presidential rally in Borno and Yobe states scheduled for Monday. A press release issued by presidential spokesperson, Ima Niboro, claimed that the presidential campaign in those states was cancelled to honor the victims of the stampede in Port Harcourt last Saturday.