Civil liberties and human rights community in Akwa Ibom State has disputed the number of casualties presented by Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Dominic Ukpong who testified on Friday before the Commission of Inquiry sitting in Uyo to investigate the circumstances surrounding Reigners Bible Church building collapse.
Dr. Ukpong, while being cross-examined by the counsel to the estate of the dead and injured, Barr. Clifford Thomas, said that the total number of dead victims obtained from all hospitals and made available to him stands at 28. He defended this figure against number of casualties offered by alternative sources saying the correct figure could only come from experts not the public.
“The public is not necessarily the experts when it comes to health matters. When there is mass casualties, somebody in the public who has not been trained in medics, who looks at what happens would easily see many people unconscious. The unconscious patients being carried appear to him like the dead. That is exactly what it is. The unconscious can recover on the road to hospital; can recover in the hospital; can recover ten, fifteen, twenty days after the incident. But to the public, thinks those unconscious persons are dead when they see the way they are carried. This has accounted for, significantly, to the number that they gave.
“The authentic, correct person to give the correct figure is the person trained to be able to certify and determined the person who is dead.”
Speaking to newsmen shortly after Friday’s sitting, the head of civil liberties and human rights community in the state, Barr. Clifford Thomas, expressed disappointment over Health Commissioner’s attempt to cover up the actual number of casualties.
“My worry is that the Commissioner for Health appears to be doing damage control on behalf of the State Government, and there have been a lot of inconsistencies even though we have also made preliminary investigations by going to some of those health facilities. We discovered the figure he (health commissioner) gave is quite different from the figure that was on ground. At St. Luke’s Hospital in Anua, for instance, several dead and injured persons were taken there based on the information we got. But the figure of the Commissioner for Health is conflicting with that status.”
Thomas also expressed his suspicion on the manner hospital managements conspire to hide the actual number of those affected in the Reigners church incident.
“We went to St. Luke’s Hospital in Anua and the Chief Medical Officer (CMD) ran away. He refused to listen to us. It was the hospital’s administrator, a certain Father Bassey that came to receive us. We spent more than two hours waiting for the CMD who promised us he was coming in fifteen minutes time. He didn’t come back because he knew he had something to hide.
“We went to Domingo Inyang’s Hospital. When the man realized that we are on the fact-finding mission, he also shut himself away from seeing us but insisted on speaking with us through intercom. And with it, he lied again that he did not receive any dead bodies. That he had four persons who had major problems including a certain government official whom he couldn’t remember, who had a deep cut on his head. He (Domingo Inyang) said he had commenced the treatment of these four persons until the Commissioner for Health instructed him to discontinue treatment and send those people to Ibom Specialist Hospital. But the Commissioner for Health today told us something different, that no patient was taken to Domingo Inyang Specialist Hospital.
“We are not bothered. We are going to report to some authorities outside this state and this country. What we are doing will be forwarded to World Health Organization (WHO) and a couple of international agencies for them to see whether this state actually deserves to be assisted when they are lying about figures and the health status in regards to what happened.
However, the Chief Medical Officer of St. Luke’s Hospital, Anua, and Chief Domingo Inyang have been summoned to appear before the Commission of Inquiry after application of the civil society was granted on Friday.
Meanwhile, the Commission of Inquiry continues its sitting today as Arc. Abimbola Oke, who allegedly made the architectural designs of Reigners church building testifies.