By ‘Dotun Akintomide
Akwa Ibom State government has debunked news reports making the rounds that five fans died on Saturday while trying to gain access into the Godswill Akpabio Stadium, Uyo to watch the World Cup qualifying encounter between Nigeria and Zambia.
This follows earlier reports claiming that fans, who thronged the stadium to watch the match on Saturday, were allegedly attacked and crushed by soldiers at the gates of the stadium.
The attack was reported to have suddenly led to a huge fall of a crowd of people, leading to stampede where some lives may have been taken and many left with severe injuries.
Eyewitnesses alleged that gates and floor of the stadium were littered with blood of victims of the attack, while those in coma and other injured created a pathetic sight around the edifice.
The occurrence attracted a large number of men of the Nigeria Police force and Federal Road Safety Corps personnel who rushed to rescue some of the victims as well as rush the unconscious fans to nearly hospitals.
Personal belongings, including pair of shoes of victims were seen scattered around the section of the stadium.
However, in a press statement made available to The New Diplomat Akwa Ibom State, through its Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Charles Udoh admitted that there was stampede while fans who arrived the match venue after kick-off time were struggling to gain access into the stadium, but said no life was lost in the incident.
The state claimed that the stampede injured 9 persons who are currently receiving medical treatment.
While specifically referring to a report by a medium, the statement read: “I wish to categorically state that the said report is false and tainted with malice.
“There was a rush by spectators; who arrived the venue after the match had started, trying to gain entrance into the stadium which led to a few of them sustaining minor injuries.
“There were 9 people injured during the incident and all of them were taken to the hospital for treatment while no life was lost. This much was confirmed by the Akwa Ibom State Police Public Relations Officer and the Commissioner for Health.”
The statement further said that “Godswill Akpabio International Stadium is probably the best maintained sporting facility in Nigeria today and has no history of poor crowd control as maliciously posited in the report.”
“It is on record that Akwa Ibom State is reputed as being; not only a peaceful state but a safe and secure state with credible leadership which is one of the reasons why the state has; in the last 18 months, been listed by the National Bureau of Statistics as the 2nd largest Foreign Direct Investment Destination in Nigeria.
“We are dismayed that such a report; which has a high potency of painting a negative picture of not only Akwa Ibom but Nigeria as country, was published without verifying the facts. It is instructive to note that the Nigeria vs Zambia match was a FIFA organized match and mischievous insinuations as contained in the said report could easily lead to Nigeria being sanctioned.”