As Palliatives Become Death Traps

From food bags to body bags, four tragic incidents of stampede that claimed lives during food distributions have raised concerns about the organisers’ preparedness, Wale Igbintade writes

Just when many Nigerians thought that lessons had been learnt from previous tragedies during the distribution of palliatives, nine individuals tragically lost their lives in a stampede at the residence of Senator Aliyu Magatakarda Wamakko, representing Sokoto North, during the distribution of Sallah palliatives.

Sources said as soon as news went around the city that Sallah palliatives would be distributed to people at Wamakko’s residence in the Gawon Nama area, a huge crowd surged, resulting in a stampede that killed nine people and left 30 others injured.

First to rebuke the senator who is also a former governor of the state was the state chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which called on security agencies in the state to probe the incident.

According to a statement signed by the Publicity Secretary of the PDP in the state, Hassan Sahabi Sanyinnawal, the party expressed sympathy over the lives lost. “We wish to express deep sadness over the incident and extend our heartfelt sympathies to the families of the no fewer than 10 people, who passed away while praying for the recovery of victims who sustained injuries at the scene of the regrettable occurrence.”

While the party said the incident was not the first that happened at the same place, it attributed it to “poor arrangements, without regard to the safety of human lives,” and called on security agencies to launch a thorough investigation into the matter, to forestall the ugly incident in the future.

“Our party believes that the people deserve genuine dividends of democracy that will take them out of poverty, rather than the occasional spraying of cash on the street and dehumanising exercise of sharing cheap items at the cost of their safety,” the statement stated.

Since the removal of petrol subsidy and the floating of the naira by President Bola Tinubu upon his assumption of office on May 29, 2023, poverty has become a scourge threatening the survival of many Nigerians.

The effects of these include the sporadic protests and looting of food items in many states of the federation. 

As the economic hardship continues to linger, many Nigerians who have been pushed to the wall by the skyrocketing prices of commodities, are left with no option but to throng the palliative distribution centres put in place by government officials or other stakeholders.

One of the ways the federal and state governments as well as organisations and well-meaning Nigerians thought they could address the situation and calm frayed nerves is the distribution of free food items and other palliatives.

Unfortunately, this policy, not well-thought out, has been bogged down in many cities by a lack of efficient organisation which has led to stampedes in the distribution venues and loss of lives. 

For instance, on February 23, 2024, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) embarked on the distribution of 25kg bags of foreign parboiled rice to indigent Nigerians at its zonal headquarters at Harvey Road, Yaba, Lagos. The bags of rice, seized from smugglers, initially sold for N10,000, a sharp discount from its market price of N35,000.

But when the service observed that even at the discounted rate, people could not afford the bags of rice, it decided to distribute them free. This made people troop out en masse and force their way into the customs facility and those who fell in the process were trampled, while others fainted.

On March 20 in Nasarawa State, two undergraduates of the state university in Keffi died and 17 others, mostly females, were injured while scrambling to collect 7.5 kilogramme bags of rice during food distribution by the state government.

Accompanying the 7.5 kilogramme bags of rice was the sum of N5,000 for each student. For students to die in the process showed the level of poverty and hardship inflicted on Nigerians by the country’s ruling political class.

In a similar tragedy, at least seven persons died in a stampede at the annual Zakat distribution organised by AYM Shafa Foundation in Bauchi on Friday, March 24.

The victims were mostly women and children who came out en masse to the Shafa Holdings head office located along Bauchi-Jos Road to collect N10,000 as Zakat from the foundation.

The exercise turned tragic after the crowd became uncontrollable as the scramble to get the token before it ran out became fierce. Amid the confusion, the police operatives who were stationed at the venue to provide security and control the crowd, fired tear gas canisters, sparking panic and pandemonium at the venue. In the end, seven females, with ages ranging from eight to 53, were trampled to death, while others sustained injuries.

Dr. Ibrahim Disina, one of the leaders of the AYM Shafa Foundation, said the incident was an act ordained by the Almighty, not a deliberate attempt to endanger the lives of the poor. He, however, admitted that the exercise would be reviewed to forestall future similar occurrences.

In May 2022, at least 31 persons had died in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital following a stampede at the venue of  ‘Shop for Free’, a programme organised by a church, The King’s Assembly. There was a large crowd at the venue of the event, which was expected to offer free food items to attendees. The crowd pushed through the barricade in defiance of the organisers, which resulted in a stampede.

Many Nigerians are appalled that people are dying repeatedly from avoidable incidents like these. 

While Nigerians need to learn the wisdom of patience and orderliness, they do not have to lose their lives due to palliatives. This is why others who want to embark on such an exercise should learn from previous incidents and put measures in place to avoid any sad outcomes in the place of distributing goodies.

Observers have advocated that organisations that wish to engage in such distribution of charity should collaborate with other organisations trained specifically in such things, like the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and their state arms. Even private security guards and local authorities should be incorporated into the process since they have the respect of the people.

They also demand that security agents should also be equipped and well-trained in crowd control. Most times, the ill-handling of crowds leads to things getting out of hand.

It is improper to attribute organisational ineptitude to the will of God. Those whose negligence leads to avoidable deaths should be made to face the law.

Related Articles