A stampede on Saturday at a church charity event in southern Nigeria left 31 people dead, police said, a shocking development at an event that organisers said aimed to “offer hope” to the needy.
The stampede at the event organised by the Kings Assembly pentecostal church in Rivers state involved many people who were seeking help, said police spokeswoman Grace Iringe-Koko.
Many of the victims were attending an annual “Shop for Free” charity programme organised by the church.
Such events are common in Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, where more than 80 million people live in poverty, according to government statistics.
Saturday’s charity programme was supposed to begin at 9am but dozens arrived as early as 5am to secure their place in the line, Ms Iringe-Koko said.
Somehow they broke open the locked gate, she said, adding that seven people were injured but were “responding to treatment”.
One witness who only identified himself as Daniel said “there were so many children” among the dead. Five of the dead children were from one 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.
Videos from the scene showed the clothing and shoes meant for the beneficiaries. Doctors and emergency workers treated some of the injured as they lay in the open field.
The “Shop for Free” event was suspended while authorities investigated how the stampede happened.