BEFORE THE FIRST ANNIVERSARY OF REIGNERS CHURCH COLLAPSE By Ofonime Honesty
I pen this piece with a broken heart. A heart of sorrow and lamentation. A heart shattered beyond repairs. A heart that yearns for justice in an unjust society. From the nooks of my tender heart I pour this out, not with the intent to trigger raw emotions, but to retell a sad tale for posterity’s sake.
December 10, 2016, began like every other day.
It was a Saturday –the day before Sunday. That notwithstanding, somewhere in a city christened Uyo located in Nigeria’s Southern region, a gargantuan church event was held. The Bishopric Enthronement of Bishop Akan Weeks of Reigners Bible Church was underway.
Prior to the day, the electronic media, newspapers, billboards and other means of mass communication were relentlessly used to hype the event. The Church members too did not relent. Armed with glossy flyers, they stormed the streets distributing same copiously. Thousands were invited. Even the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, invited members of his cabinet and friends.
While many were engrossed in the Bishopric Enthronement orgasm, an undercover guest, the grim reaper, sneaked into town. The prolific harvester went straight to Reigners Bible Church and filled his basket. No one could stop him. He was too clever to have caught everyone napping. He made the roof of the uncompleted edifice to cave in, snuffing lives out of many. The event ended abruptly. Blood soaked the altar. Reigners Bible Church aka City of Answers became a City of Questions.
Dear reader, where were you on that fateful day? Somewhere at Wellington Bassey Way en route venue of a scheduled appointment, yours truly saw a speeding Hilux Van loaded with corpses. Blood was dripping. Pronto, he was told by someone that a Church had collapsed. In the ensuing confusion, Wellington Bassey Way and Uyo Village Road suffered traffic gridlock.
Under ferocious rain, yours truly joined many to run to the venue. Almighty God, may my eyes never see a repeat of what I saw that day! Mangled corpses littered the scene. Virtually everyone volunteered to save lives. However, a handful of Police officers concentrated on seizing mobile phones and cameras.
Within split seconds, a lady was pulled out. She was gasping for breath. In a bid to resuscitate her, people fanned her intensely. I joined the fray by converting my newspaper into a fan. Our efforts amounted to nothing as she gave up the ghost right before us, and was later thrown into an ambulance like a log of wood by a Red Cross personnel.
That was someone’s daughter. That was someone’s sister. Perhaps, she was someone’s mother. All hopes ended just like that. Fathers lost their lives. Mothers too and even children. The youth died aplenty. They died in despicable conditions. They all died avoidable deaths.
Yes, their demise was avoidable. For a start, common sense should tell any person that it is risky to erect such gargantuan edifice in a swampy area. Uyo Village Road is a ravine area washed by erosion, river and stream. In fact, the Church, a river and a stream are neighbours. I know the terrain like my name.
At the Commission of Inquiry set up by government, we were told how the Uyo Capital City Development Agency (UCCDA) had marked ‘stop work’ severally on the building, only for the General Overseer Mr. Akan Weeks to allegedly bNribe the agency with N100,000. We were told how Mr. Weeks, in a bid to create additional space to accommodate guests at the event, reportedly ordered the removal of the central scaffold which the roof hitherto rested on. We were also told by UCCDA that the state government did not provide funds, security and equipments for demolition of structures on Uyo Village Road.
The survivors have told us how they’ve been abandoned. Their situation notwithstanding, Weeks Lawyer, Ini Ekpo, did not mince words when he declared that his client is also a victim, and deserves to be compensated too.
On his part, Mr. Weeks dropped a bombshell by claiming that he was already consecrated a Bishop in 2015 by Assembly of Charismatic Bishops and that the December 10, 2016 event was for enthronement. The declaration came after he went live on Radio to tell everyone that he was no longer interested in becoming a Bishop.
Now, quite appalling is the fact that nearly a year after the incident, the public is yet to be briefed on the report of the Commission of Inquiry set up to investigate causes of the incident, make recommendation on those found culpable and advise on measures to stop reoccurrence.
The prolonged silence on such weighty issue is suspicious. The voice of silence speaks louder. I can hear the departed crying for justice. I can hear Karma protesting vigorously to be allowed to wade in. I can see a massive cover-up. A cover-up which has already exposed the flaws embedded in the socio-political and religious setup. They won’t take any decisive action on the issue because while people’s children died, theirs were abroad cocooned in looted luxury.
And this is happening because we live in a lawless entity. Those directly or indirectly responsible for the occurrence shouldn’t still be in our midst if ours is a sane society. Instead, here they are beating their chests proudly and massaging their over-bloated ego. They are shielded by a system which implicates itself.
I need not flog the dead horse further but permit me to reiterate that our political leaders whom we entrust the responsibility of safeguard our lives have kept mute on the issue. Religious leaders too having since traded the word of God for lucre have failed us and God. With their sweet tongue, they lure many into captivity and early graves.
And as the first anniversary of the mishap draws near, somebody should help me tell Bishop Weeks that Jesus Christ wasn’t a Bishop. In fact, a Bishop with blood stains on his altar is an abomination in God’s sight. I am not passing a verdict on Mr. Weeks but his body language is that of a man who is driven by an insatiable desire to become very influential. When last did his church raise funds for evangelism and charity? All we hear are Ph.D (Prosperity, Healing and Deliverance) Summits. You can see, churches have lost focus. That is why the imaginary being called devil is taking advantage. I am not against prosperity, healing and deliverance but let these church leaders first of all heal and deliver themselves from double standards.
At a time like this, let every sane person reflect on the December 10, 2016 mishap. It is too gory to be forgotten.
However, let no one be compelled to take any action. Any action has to be voluntary. Karma is an impartial judge, let’s await her judgment if other means of seeking justice fail.
(Ofonime Honesty writes from Uyo, Akwa Ibom State. email@example.com