A’Ibom church tragedy: I’ll never set my foot in that

Four months after a panel of inquiry was instituted to probe the remote and immediate causes of the collapse of Uyo-based Reigners Bible Church and issued a report on how to avoid a recurrence, it is yet to publish its findings. This is eliciting insinuations from some concerned church members and members of the public, that the victims have been abandoned. CHIJIOKE IREMEKA and NSIKAK EKANEM report

The scriptural saying: “Count it all joy when you fall into diverse trials,” is not a scripture for Uyobased petty businesswoman, Iniem Akpan, a chorister at the Reigners Bible Church, Uyo, after she cheated death when the church’s scaffolding roof collapsed, killing a number of worshipers and injuring several others.

Akpan, who witnessed the catastrophe first hand, said she will never step her foot into the church again, after God preserved her life in the December 10, 2016 incident where the state governor, Emmanuel Udom was lucky to escape unscathed although many of his aides were injured.

The incident occurred during the Bishopric consecration of the founder and leader of the Reigners Bible Church, Bishop Akan Weeks.

Akpan, who is a student of the University of Uyo, vowed never to go back to the church as her survival is for a purpose.

“I give God the glory and adoration that I was not a victim. Many of the worshipers who lost their lives have been forgotten since the panel of inquiry set up to probe the tragedy, despite given a deadline of three weeks, is yet to publish its report, four months after the incident.

The survivor confessed that she is scared of being attacked by unknown persons, and as such, she wouldn’t want to talk much on the incident.

She disclosed that a majority of the dead were members of the choir as they were seated at the position where the main scaffolding joint came down.

“We lost more choristers than the number made public by the police because the scaffolding crashed directly on my members. I will never set my foot in that church again.

My survival was a miracle that still baffles me till date,” she said. She told Sunday Telegraph: “As an eye witness, I can confirm to you that over 100 worshipers died.”

Pa Israel Johnson, a retired civil servant, said he has been with Bishop Weeks as a friend and non-member of the church right from his youthful days.

He noted that, the man of God had his own share of blame over the collapsed church building, but certainly not as bad as it was portrayed by the authorities.

Meanwhile, during Sunday Telegraph’s visit to the church, which had long shifted its venue of worship to the Uyo Local Government Secretariat, it was noticed that the number of worshipers had reduced.

Aduk Effiong, another chorister who sustained injuries in the incident, attributed the reduced number of members to the sad event, dismissing, as lies and insinuation in certain quarters, that many of the choristers were killed in the incident.

Aduk, who is in her early 20s, said some of those who worked on the church’s construction site, including members of the church, lied against Bishop Weeks during their appearance at the panel of inquiry in order to shift the attention of the Commission and the public from their culpability. She urged the public to shun the lies against the Man of God.

It can be recall that the Reigners Bible Church, located along Uyo Village Road, was filled to capacity last December for the consecration of Pastor Akan Week as a bishop, when the church building caved in.

On that Saturday, the octagon-shaped church auditorium, sized about 5,143.190 square metres on a land measuring 14, 792.177 square metres, collapsed while consecration of Bishop Weeks was ongoing. Several persons were reported dead, while hundreds sustained various degrees of injuries.

Figures given by the police in the media were staggering. But for the records, the government has since listed that only 26 lives were lost in the incident.

Mr. Udom Emmanuel, the Akwa Ibom State governor, who escaped death by the whisker instantly beat the resultant trauma to join hands with other members of the rescue team to supervise the rescue operation.

Sequel to this, an eight-man commission of inquiry headed by retired Justice Umoekeyo Essang with Mrs. Emem Daniel, a lawyer in the state Ministry of Justice as secretary, was inaugurated by the governor on December 15, 2016.

The panel also had three engineers – Messrs James Utiaruk, Asuquo Okon and James Amiang and an architect, Otu Umoren and Assistant Commissioner of Police, Damian Abibo, and John Linus, a prophet as members.

The six-point terms of reference handed the panel borders on the investigation of the causes of the incident, making recommendations on those found culpable and advising on measures to stop a re-occurrence.

The Nigeria Police had immediately initiated an investigation into the collapse structure.

Seven persons, including Bishop Weeks, involved in handling various aspects of the construction of the collapsed structure were invited to the state Police Command headquarters at Ikot Akpan Abia for questioning.

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