PORT HARCOURT, Feb 14 – President Goodluck Jonathan on Sunday cancelled planned campaign rallies in two northern states after a stampede killed 12 people at an election meeting he addressed the day before.
Police said Sunday that a 12th victim had died in hospital following the stampede at a sports stadium in the southern oil hub of Port Harcourt.
Jonathan\’s office said he had cancelled rallies in the northern states of Borno and Yobe, which had been scheduled for Monday, "to honour the victims".
It also said there would be no rally on Tuesday to mark the birthday of Prophet Muhammad.
"One person died in the hospital today. This brings to 12 the number of casualities from yesterday\’s incident," Rivers State police spokeswoman Rita Abbey told AFP.
Abbey said investigations were ongoing Sunday to determine "the actual cause of the tragedy."
The stampede happened shortly after Johathan addressed a surging crowd of party supporters in the stadium.
A witness said a police officer shot into the air as crowd members surged out of the 20,000-seat stadium.
But the gunshots, apparently aimed at controlling the crowd, created panic, with the main gate appearing locked and rally-goers attempting to leave through a narrow passageway.
A number of people were trampled in the rush, some witnesses said, and others said exits to the stadium appeared locked.
Local media said the death toll could be as high as 20.
Saturday\’s rally was something of a homecoming for Jonathan, who is from neighbouring Bayelsa state.
He is the strong favourite in the election, with the PDP having won every presidential vote since Nigeria returned to civilian rule in 1999.
The president said he had ordered an investigation into the cause of the frenzied rush "that led to the unfortunate loss of some lives."
Jonathan, who is the first president from the Niger Delta region in the country\’s south, said in a statement issued after the tragedy that he was "sad, and heavily weighed down by this incident," which he added was "unfortunate and regrettable".
Chris Amadi, a ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) member from Rivers State, of which Port Harcourt is the capital, said he saw more than 10 people trampled on Saturday.
"I personally saw many people ran over by the crowd. In fact, I saw the bodies of three women being carried into an open pick-up van by the… (emergency management agency) officials," he said.
Jonathan kicked off his campaign on Monday ahead of the April 9 election and set off on a cross-country tour. Heavy security has been in place, with Nigeria hit by a surge of violence in recent weeks.
He emerged as the PDP candidate last month, upsetting an internal party arrangement that sees power rotated between the north and south every two terms.
The violence has included bomb attacks in the central city of Jos and the capital Abuja. There have also been attacks at political rallies in recent months, though none has occurred at Jonathan\’s campaign gatherings.
However, he faces pressure to hold a credible vote after a series of violent and badly flawed elections in Africa\’s most populous nation.
The April 9 presidential election will be followed by elections for state governors, on April 16.