On December 10, 2016, the State witnessed the greatest bloodbath ever in its history. Sadly, it is the one year anniversay of pains, anguish, agony for members of the family who lost their dear ones on that historic day.
It is 8760 hours of unresolved accusations and counter accusations.
It is 365 days of cynicism, mistrust and suspicion. It is 52 weeks of questions left unanswered. Yes, today marks a year after the Reigners Church mishap.
Several reports emerged over the numbers of death recorded. The State Government says 26 people died.
On December 15, 2016, Governor Udom Emmanuel inaugurated an eight-member Commission of Enquiry to investigate the circumstances that led to the collapse of the Reigners Bible Church building.
The Commission had Justice Umoekeyo Essang (Rtd), as Chairman, with Engr. James Utiaruk; Arc. Essien Nkanga; Assistant Commissioner of Police Damian Abibo; Prophet (Dr.) John Linus; Engr. Asuquo B. Okon; and Engr. James Amiang, as members, while Barr. (Mrs) Emem Victor Daniel of the Ministry of Justice, served as Secretary of the Commission.
Among the Commission’s terms of reference included, “to investigate and probe the immediate and remote cause of the collapse of the building and examine the role played by any person, institution or authorities and the consequences of such roles in the collapse of the church building.”
The commission was also charged “to identify any person, institution or authorities responsible either remotely or immediately in respect of the collapse of the church building; recommend appropriate sanctions and or actions against all persons found culpable in the said church building collapse;” and also “examine generally all circumstances surrounding the collapsed church building and recommend measures and actions to be taken by any person, institution or authority to guard against future occurrences.”
The commission was also tasked to “indict persons, organisations, groups or otherwise found culpable in the course of its inquiry and make appropriate recommendations to Government.”
The commission had three (3) weeks from the date of its first sitting to submit its interim report, and to “Make such further examinations or inquiry which may, in its opinions, give effect generally to the terms of reference herein or its report.”
The Commission had its first sitting on Wednesday 28th December 2016 and pushed towards it climax when it visited the site of the Collapsed building on 31st January 2016.
Among those who testified at the Commission of enquiry were: Akan Weeks, Founder of the Reigners Church; Prof. Etete Peters, Chief Medical Director of University of Uyo Teaching Hospital; Professor Charles Uko, Professor of Civil Engineering University of Uyo; Engr. Mfon Udoikpong, Chairman, Nigerian Society of Engineering; Engr. Joseph Inwang, Chief Inspector of COREN; Mr. Abimbola Oke, the architect who designed the plan for the Church; and Mr Anietie Augustine, architect who took charge of the building.
Evidences needed by the commission were obtained. In July, the Commission presented its report to Governor Udom Emmanuel.
The public was all ears to hear what caused the collapse and to know who or those indicted, and see them persecuted accordingly. When the committee was set up, there were scepticism that the State government will not act on recommendations made by the committee.
Will Governor Udom Emmanuel prove the public otherwise? On receiving the report, the State Governor had assured action. He said “the recommendations of this report will be taken seriously.
We will do everything to implement and prevent future occurrence of this tragedy.” He has not fulfilled that promise yet. It is almost six months since the Governor made that pledge.
Since that is not done, one may be eager to know the condition of the victims of the mishap. Have they been given proper care?
According to the Counsel that represented the victims of the Reigners Bible church mishap at the Commission of Enquiry, Barr Clifford Thomas, the victims have been abandoned and forgotten. He noted that the State Government have not shown interest in them.
He states “After the mishap, a lot of them died. The victims should have been given proper census. Few days after, several persons died. During the days the Commission were sitting, more persons died.
Those with minor injuries got healed, while those with major ones died and some are still suffering “. He however acknowledged government’s effort to pay over N200 million naira bill for victims who were treated at Ibom Specialist hospital but queried how much that effort helped or assisted the victims.
He raised concerns over organ harvest. He accused the State Government to have carried out autopsy of dead victims without the deceased family members being part of the process as demanded by law.
Thomas alleged that the health and economic situation of those who sustained major injuries have snowballed into a pitiable condition because they can neither pursue their means of livelihood nor have persons to foot their bills.
He adds ” We should be able to know those who suffered the injury and see how we can support them. A lot of them cannot foot their medical bills. A lot cannot even feed.”
Glaringly, the above condition of both the dead and surviving victims need urgent action. But in case the report is still not presented, what avenues are available to be explored?
The legal luminary reveals that already a petition has been sent to the Attorney General of the Federation over the issue. But will that be enough for the report to be made public?
” We will have to approach the court by way of Freedom of Information for government to release not the white paper but the Commission to be mandated to make the report public “. the Barrister reveals his plans.
Will the State Government then allow its citizenry take up its responsibility to seek for justice to the victims of the mishap? What may have caused the delay in the presentation of the report?
Contacted, the Commissioner for Information, Akwa Ibom State, Mr Charles Udoh notes that the State Government is on course to present the report.
According to him, ” The report is a voluminous document. His Excellency has directed that the report be reviewed and represented. We are still in that process . The Governor is not supposed to read the entire document. There must be a smaller group that have to review that”.
What then about the victims? Have they been given proper care while awaiting the report and its implementation? The Commissioner said “government has treated everybody who was a victim. I was a victim and I was treated.
Everyone who reported at Ibom Specialist hospital was treated”. He however assured that when the reviewed report is out, it will be announced.
Nevertheless, from all that has happened, it has become glaring that many Akwa Ibom people share the sentiments of Clifford Thomas that within the one year anniversary of the mishap, ” there has been a lot of cover up and the people are uncomfortable with it since the people who died had the right to live”.
Moreover, it must have been a situation like this that spurred William Penn to warn that “to delay justice is injustice”.
One year is gone. Akwa Ibom people and indeed the world await to see how justice will be done in this sad and unfortunate case. Yes, it is the prayer of all that the Commission’s report not also collapse as its content is expected to help in dispensing justice if implemented.
By Ekemini Simon