Several weeks before the Polo Field disaster occurred, Kings Assembly Church had sent out public invitations for people desiring to participate in the 2022 Shop-For-Free seminar to be at the Polo Field venue of the event. Church members were encouraged to invite their neighbours, friends and families to attend the seminar.
A day before the incident, church workers and events managers set up canopies, seats and stages for the event at Polo Field.
As early as 5 am on the on the D-Day thousands of people had begun to converged on the neighbourhood of the event. People came from as far as Bayelsa, Abia, Imo and Akwa Ibom States to be part of it. But the gate to the venue was closed to them.
Trouble began when the pedestrian gate was opened a little after 6am and the people waiting on the sides rushed to gain entry. As the struggle to enter intensified, the people in front were pushed down and trampled upon. More people pushed forward from behind trampling on those in front.
By the time sympathizers opened the main gate many people were dead already and many others were gasping for breath. Help came much later and many of the victims were evacuated to the nearby Military Hospital, where again not much help came because very few doctors were available to attend to them. Hospital personnel handed victims hospital cards and forms to fill and by full daylight several dozens of corpses were seen lying on the military hospital field with hospital files placed on them.
Some families were able to evacuate the corpses of their relations before the police came and stopped further evacuation of corpses. The rest were deposited in the hospital’s mortuary to help the police with their investigations.
Authorities of the military hospital, who admitted that they had compiled the details of the incident declined disclosing the details to National Point. They referred further enquiries to the State Criminal Investigation Department of the Nigeria Police Force.
A few weeks later, the National Emergency Management Agency NEMA visited the state and made donations of relief materials to victims of the stampede that could be reached.
The tragedy brought to the fore the loopholes in the emergency management system in Port Harcourt. Despite having a station at the Federal Secretariat complex, the Federal Fire Service could not respond to the Polo Field stampede which was just a few hundred meters away from its station.
Similarly, the Rivers State Fire Service, located about five kilometers away near Boro Park, did not respond to distress calls from Polo field. Though the law setting up NEMA provided for state emergency management agencies to also be set up to manage emergencies, Rivers State had none at the time of the incident.
There was no commissioner for special duties, the ministries in charge of emergencies in the state when the stampede occurred. But a ministry official told National Point that personnel of the department always got involved in rescue and emergency operations when they occurred.