By Kufreabasi Essien
This would have been a requiem, a dirge for the souls slaughtered on December 10, 2016, where they gathered to witness the consecration of Apostle Akan Weeks of Reigners Bible Church as Bishop. Up till now, the exact number of people who lost their lives in the mishap is still under controversy: www.BBC.com reported 100; the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reported 29; while the police confirmed 27 on Tuesday, December 13, 2016. But the streets and market places report figures ranging between 150 and 200.
Whatever number of casualties you choose to believe, one truth stands out: someone was responsible for their death. As “HARDBALL”, a column in the Nation Newspaper of December 12, 2016 puts it, “Buildings don’t just fall;” So who those responsible for this carnage? We cannot run away from this question. We cannot pass the buck to some imaginary forces of darkness as some would want to advocate. We cannot, for reasons of religious convictions, throw away possible empirical evidence that could lead to finding answers to the unanswered questions surrounding the collapse of the world-be cathedral. To fail to find and bring to book the culprits, no matter how highly placed, will be tantamount to disrespecting the memories of those departed souls, who were tortuously mangled to death by the engineering structures of the collapsed church.
Maybe you were not there at the scene of the incident, but I know you can imagine what it looked like. Imagine the cries of helpless women and children. Imagine the deep feeling of pains as metals smash the skulls and bones of the worshippers. Imagine how the choristers, whose voices once lifted spirits in worship now groaned and wept as they met their sudden and painful death.
Buildings don’t just fall. We need to know why this one fell, wasting lives and throwing the state and families into mourning.
We may not have to ask for answers for long as the state Governor, according to media reports, has ordered an investigation into the cause of the building collapse during a worship session. I know this will certainly lead to arrests; but the arrests should not be selective. No sacred cows should be kept. Simple commonsense questions must be answered. The people would want to know if the site of the building was delisted from being a disaster area and part of the ravine. Who approved the construction of the building? Who did the designs and structures? Where is the Environmental Impact Assessment of the project? The public would want to have answers to these questions and more.
Already, according to media report, it has been revealed that Reigners Bible Church International ignored the ‘Stop Work’ warning issued by the Uyo City Development Authority (UCCDA). If this is confirmed, I see no reason why the trustees of the church should not be arrested and tried for homicide, or at least, manslaughter.
A certain report published on 12/12/2016 at www.today.com by Dogulas Ukpong-Udoaka and titled “How Reigners Church Ignored ‘Stop Work’ order from UCCDA” quotes a source who pleaded anonymity as saying “On 16th July 2014, UCCDA marked the place again, but the Church Building Committee and contractors, out of impunity and pride went ahead to construct the church, accusing the agency of fighting God. Pastor Akan Weeks used his connection in government to suppress UCCDA, and went ahead to raise such magnificent edifice without approval from UCCDA and other relevant agencies.” If this news story is the true, now that the building turned into a killing machine, can Pastor Weeks still uphold that UCCDA was fighting God is seeking that he does the proper thing? And who are those in government that the used to suppress UCCDA Again, if this is found to be true, shall the Governor have the courage to order the arrest and prosecution of Apostle Akan Weeks? Or shall he (the governor) find a way of protecting the Man of God whom the public already see as being too close to the governor? I pray God will give our Governor the wisdom to handle issues in this trying moment. May be, who knows, that could be a possible reason why God saved his life in that fatal collapse.
The Reigners Bible Church tragedy is a painful colouration in the memories of the people. It serves as a huge sacrificial lesson and call for a better and tighter implementation of regulatory standards in our country. Now that this horrible but preventable event has been allowed to occur, government and her agencies should sit up. In fact, there should be an immediate assessment and audit of the health of all public buildings, especially churches, in the state. Affliction must not be allowed a second chance.
While ROSTRUM commiserate with families who lost their loved ones in the ill-fated consecration service, the show of concern and commitment to the provision of succor to the affected persons by Governor Udom Emmanuel is highly commendable. However, in memory of the departed souls, a requiem monument could be erected on the ground where they all fell. May their souls rest in peace.