Reigners Church Collapse: One Year After
It was a moving scene – a spectacle of horror, sorrow and tears. It had all the trappings of a blockbuster hardcore movie from the stable of a Hollywood bestseller.
We may not have seen Armageddon, but this incident bore marks of it all.
Dressed to the nines, zestful worshippers trooped into Reigners Bible Church International, Uyo that fateful day. It was not a Sunday service. It was Saturday and the event was the Bishopric enthronement of Apostle Akan Weeks, founder of the church.
Personalities for the occasion were drawn from the political class to a coterie of Bishops, pastors and the likes who all came to witness and call down bishopric anointing and blessings on Apostle Akan Weeks. Governor Udom Emmanuel led top government functionaries to the event. It was a special day by every.
Prior to the D-day, gaily dressed damsels, armed with well carved and scented flyers distributed same with glee in the streets of Uyo. They were strategically positioned to carry out this very important assignment. Media hype and blitz for the all important enthronement was second to none. In strategic locations in Uyo, imposing signboards bearing the picture of Akan Weeks already clad in a bishop’s cassock assaulted our eyesights. Not a few people wondered how that was achieved.
Expectation was high as the day drew near. It’s one of those one looks forward to with bated breathe. At any rate, another bishop was to be added into our ever increasing rank of bishops. We need them badly! Don’t we?
Now, wait for it.
Just as the church speakers blared with music, choristers, attired in their best bib and tucker, dishing out melodious tunes mellifluously, worshippers tapping their foots in sheer joy, wriggling and shuffling their waists rhythmically, their heads nodding to beats and music – the ambience becoming electric, calamity struck. The half-baked structure caved in on worshippers with riotous rage! Bedlam. The disaster was cosmic in proportion. When the grisly dust settled, hundreds lay dead. The official casualty figure from government later read 27 or so it seems.
Instead of “Reigning” joy and miracles, Reigners Church, on this momentous occasion, rained blood and sorrow.
At the scene of the hurricane-like collapse, mangled bodies littered. Their dismembered remains was a horrific sight to behold. Tears flowed freely as sympathisers besieged the church in deluge. Some had their hearts in their palms as they frantically made their way into the church. With news of the collapse having gone viral like a gossip that emanates from women hair saloon, majority of those who raced to the scene of horror did so to be sure that non of their family members was involved. As they waded through the thick crowd that had gathered, some emerged therefrom with teary eyes sunken with pains and misery. Someone or persons known to them had perished!
One did not know who to console and who to leave out. Those wailing were legion. The site of the disaster turned a Mecca. Even as the heavens opened with rain pouring down in torrents, all roads leading to the church was in a busy mood as anxiety-stricken sympathisers defied the rain in order to see firsthand what had happened. With no commercial bus or the ubiquitous tricycle (Keke) in sight to take people to the site of the catastrophe, many became Usain Bolt. They sprinted to the scene in the rain as if it were a racing match. Those driving in from Wellington Bassey Way were not allowed in by security operatives who were stationed at the junction. There was bedlam hence it was only fitting that vehicles were not allowed to enter Uyo Village Rd again. Human traffic was bursting at the seams.
In the ensuing melee, Governor Emmanuel, who had escaped by a whisker returned to the church moments after being ferried off the scene of horror. Udom, himself a Deacon of Qua Iboe Church, joined in the rescue operations. Startled and still buried in shock, the banker turned politician personally supervised rescue operations and evacuation of victims. To be sure, a statement from his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Ekerete Udoh read in part: “His Excellency, the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr Udom Emmanuel was present at the church service during the incident and thereafter personally supervised rescue operations and evacuation of the injured to the hospital.”
From whichever prism one views the incident of December 10, 2016, the inalienable fact remains that it was a dark Saturday in Akwa Ibom State. No sane human being will desire such death for his staunch enemy. Well, except such a fellow has another colour of blood running through his veins other than red.
Enraged by the disaster, the state government set up a Panel of Enquiry to investigate the remote cause of the collapse. Unravel any conspiracy, tardiness on those that either approved the structure to be erected or those involved in the building – the engineer, architect and others. The commission had Justice Umoekeyo Essang (retd) as Chairman, and Emem Victor Daniel of the Ministry of Justice as Secretary. It was an eight-man panel.
The Commission of Enquiry was mandated to, among other things, 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 as well as the consequences of such roles in the collapse of the church building.
The panel was also charged, “to identify any person, institution or authorities responsible, either remotely or directly, 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.”
While the Commission had submitted its report 8 months after it was set up, nothing has been heard of the report to date. Nobody has been indicted or prosecuted. The public remains in the dark as regards what caused the collapse.
Reports that the collapsed church was slapped with a “stop work order” by Uyo Capital City Development (UCCDA) twice before it caved in has not been investigated and the truth revealed. Or has it? If yes, is it true? Has UCCDA spoken? What did they say? Who ordered that the building be continued in spite of warnings about the sloppiness of the site, the poor topography and the fact that it was designated as government Conservation Zone?
Governor Udom, on receiving the report had promised to swing into action. “I want to thank you for this great job that you have done and to assure you once again that, the recommendations of this report will be taken seriously. We will do everything to implement and prevent future occurrence of this tragedy.”
Not a few people are also worried if families of those who lost their lives were compensated. If yes, how were they compensated? How many families benefitted from it? Curiously too, the site of the collapse is still as it were on December 10 last year. One had thought that the metals, rods of death and blocks of misery would have been evacuated by now at least to help obliterate whatever happened that day of doom. Sadly, one is surprised to see the fallen structures lying as if the disaster struck yesterday. Is anybody planning to erect another church there?
Since the rumour that Apostle Akan Weeks was still made Bishop at a secret location in Uyo same day, (a claim he vehemently denied) the fair-skinned preacher has gone underground. At a point this year, a picture was circulated on social media to the effect that Apostle Akan Weeks had a church programme in Ghana. We don’t know if the programme held. Since then, not a few people believe he has relocated to Ghana with rumours having made the round that he had established a church there. Is he really in Ghana? How about his flocks back home? Did they follow him, or has he deserted them and vice versa? Is there a scintilla of truth to the widely held opinion that the Reigners’ Church founder’s close affinity with Governor Emmanuel may be the reason the report has yet to be made public? We may never know, but as we remember that better-forgotten day, the people are keeping their ears to the ground. They want to know what has happened to the report submitted to the government by the Commission of Enquiry.
Agreed, the report will not bring any of the victims back to life, but we’ll be spitting on their graves by keeping mute after all the promises of “getting to the roots” of the matter. The world is waiting and watching to see what will happen to the report and how this matter will be concluded. Will the report have been dumped in the shelf this long if a top government functionary was among the dead?
And of course, it won’t be out of place if one seeks to know the whereabouts of Bishop…, sorry, error there…, Apostle Akan Weeks. Where is he?
May those who lost their lives in the disaster continue to rest in the Lord!
By Kenneth Jude, Jude is 2016/2017 AKS NUJ Best Columnist of the Year.