A week after the collapse of Reigners’ Bible Church, aka City of Answer, along Uyo Village Road, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, the incident has remained a ferry tale with multi dimensions.
Just as the number of deaths is subject of speculations, the cause of the collapse is a mystery from the citizens of the state capital.
Reigners’ Bible Church collapsed December 10 during a function in the mainbowl of the sprawling building, when the general overseer of the church, Apostle Akan Weeks, was to be consecrated a bishop.
Located in a swamping, slopping bank of a river, and sand filled with fresh looking red sand, the church was still guarded by the Police, who prevented people from entring the premises, when The Street Journal visited within the week.
Nevertheless, the place has become a mecca of sort with people still thronging in to catch a glimpse of the collapsed site.
In attendance at the ceremony in what was a high profile event were the Governor of the Akwa Ibom State, Deacon Udo Emmanuel, commissioners, members of the state House of Assembly, governor’s aides, dignitaries from near and far, church members, and students of the both the state Polytechnic and University of Uyo, whose campuses are just a stonethrow from the church.
However, in what was to be a joyous and carnival of history, events turned tragic. The iron corrugated roof suddenly caved in at the centre, and collapsed on the worshippers mid way into the consecration ceremony.
The walls of the building were still intact, which perhaps accounted for the safety of those at the high table, while the casualty figure is high from the congregation.
The dead. Most of the dead were students from the University of Uyo and Uyo City Polytechnic, who were members of the church.
Four Commissioners and seven Special Assistans were said to have been injured while a protocol officer in the governor’s entourage, Ernest Idem, lost his life trying to save the Governor.
Although the Akwa Ibom State government gave a figure of 27 Dead and 37 injured, many who spoke to The Street Journal in Uyo, felt there was a cover up. They said the government was not telling the truth, that a church with a sitting capacity of over 10,000, and filled to the brim before the collapse, the number of deaths quoted by the government was far from the truth.
“How can they say that only 27 people died when children only were more than that”, Efiok Inabong asked rhetorically.
“The government is lying for reasons best known to them. Why will they be telling us lies when those who witnessed the collapse said hospitals around the church were overflowing with dead bodies. Many of the hospitals were rejecting dead bodies because their facilities were overstretched”, he said.
A nurse, who works with the Ibom Specialist Hospital, and was involved in the treatment of some of the victims, speaking under condition of anonymity, said the dead would certainly be higher than what the figure government gave considering the number of victims rushed to the hospital.
Although, the hospital does not offer mortuary services, her friends who work in nearby private hospitals had to reject dead bodies when they were not able to cope, she noted.
Solomon Uzo Osakwe, Contract Manager of Ibom Specialist Hospital, where the injured were later moved to from the adjoining hospitals, told The Street Journal that the hospital does not operate mortuary services.
He said only two out of those referred to the hospital died.
According to him, “the situation we have is that this a referral and a specialist hospital.
“We don’t have overview of the number of those who died. When it happened many were first rushed to other hospitals before the government ordered that all the victims should be brought here and Uyo Teaching Hospital for proper co-ordination.
” I think only one or two died here after we did all we could do to save their lives failed. So, for us we can not say how many died in other hospitals”, he said.
At the Uyo Teaching Hospital the management was not forth coming on the number of dead bodies in its mortuary. .
The Corporate Affairs Manager, who refused to disclose his name referred the reporter to the Chief Medical Director of the hospitals. At the office of the Chief Medical Director, the Secretary said he was not in the office thereafter referred the reporter back to the Corporate Affairs, who he said is in better position to speak on the matter.
A mortuary attendant, who spoke to this paper, craving anonymity, said the dead are far more than what is being displayed by the government of Governor Emmanuel.
He said the figure is irreconcilable with the actual number of people who lost their lives during the accident.
“It’s a lie, there many dead bodies here. There children and adults mangled bodies. I don’t know why they are saying it is only 27”, he said.
Visits to some of the surrounding hospitals, where the victims were first rushed to before the Governor ordered that both the dead and injured be taken to the Uyo Teaching Hospital and Ibom Specialist Hospital, all declined to speak on the number of deaths
Some that volunteered information said they have been asked not to speak on the issue as only the government has the right to do so.
At Lifecare Clinic, Priemier Hospital, St. Luke, Annuaisifon Hospitals, among others, the story was the same.
But some who spoke in camera wondered why the state government was hiding the truth from the people. According to one of them, “Will telling the people the actual number of deaths cause any problem? They should go ahead and tell the people the number of those who died”, he said. Certainly, they all agreed, 27 Dead cannot stand as it is much more higher than that.
Curiously, officials of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) were reported to be prevented from counting the dead bodies by the state government without explanation.
It was gathered that hard as they tried to know the actual number of those killed in the tragedy, they were kept in the dark.
The Associate Press (AP) had reported at least 160 people died, using the count at one mortuary by the director of the state biggest hospital, University of Uyo Teaching Hospital.
The Director, Peter Etete had earlier told AF that mortuaries in the city were fill to the brim but was to recount later after the government gave a figure of 27.
He could not be reached for comment on the discrepancies of figures.
For now the number of those who died in the collapsed building will remain a subject of speculations until the government decides to release the true figure or Commission of Inquiry set up to determine the true figure.
Cause of collapse. The roof supplier and managing director of White Steel Intergrated Services, Idorenyin White, refuted the claims that the roof of the building caused the collapse.
White, who handled the iron roofing of the church exonerated himself of any blame, saying the site engineer and supervisor ignored the advice he gave him, when he noticed some defects on the building.
According to White, a day before the consecration, he told the construction committee of the church that the scaffold that was inside the church should not be removed.
“But nobody listened to me as the church has engineers
“On Friday, a day before the consecration, the building had an issue. I called the site manager and showed him that the building had a problem and he saw it.. He said after the programme on Saturday the building would be reinforced.
“They brought experienced engineers to come and look at it. I told members of the construction committee that the scaffold should not be removed but there was a lot of quarrel between me and them because of my observation.
“Even another engineer said that the scaffold should not be removed until everything might have been completed because the construction was still ongoing. So, the roof was heavier than the construction which was 50 per cent completed.
“The cause is not from me”, he said.
He said the collapse was caused by the civil work.
But the site engineer and supervisor, Aniete Augustine, refuted White’s allegations, saying the problem was not the structure but the roof.
He said he never directed that the scaffold be pulled from the suspended roof.
He noted: “It is not the wall that had defect, even as the roof fell, the wall was still there. It is the roof that caused the problem. I was not the one that approved the roof. It was another engineer that brought a team of engineers to examine the entire work, the design, and the kind of roof that will fit the building. I don’t know whether the roof construction was designed according to specification because I was not the one who approved of it”
It was however gathered that the pole that held the centre of the roof that caved in was pulled out on the instructions of the general overseer. A dependable source tod this paper, that Weeks had told members of the building committee to remove the pole to allow for arrangement of seats.
Another possible cause of the collapse according to findings by this paper, was the natural frequency of the building was at that moment compromised. That is, the physical activities like dancing, chanting, singing and speakers may have let off a decibel of sound waves (vibration) that led to the collapse.
According to an engineer, who didn’t want his name in print, said in the design, there was no check on wind load. Because the building was not properly anchored and the structural members were not sufficient, the roof fell as a matter of lacking stability.
Meanwhile, checks at Uyo Capital City Development Authority (UCCDA) revealed that ‘stop work’ order was twice placed on the construction of the building.
According to a source, when officials of UCCDA visited the site it was discovered that it did not get the approval of the authorities. The church was advised to stop work.
“But out of pride and impunity, the church went ahead with the construction. The pastor even accused the agency of fighting God. Pastor Weeks used his connection in government to suppress UCCDA and went ahead to raise the building without approval from the relevant authorities”
Another question that the citizens of Uyo are trying to decipher is why the Governor Emmanuel decided to shun activities in his church, the Qua Iboe Church, Ukpenekary, Ibeno, where he is a Deacon, for the one at Reigners.
According a member of the church, there was a national conference which took place at the headquarters of the church in Uyo that very day, where the Governor was to be a guest. He neither sent representatives nor made attempt to attend.
It was the same church he rushed to on Sunday, a day after the collapse of Reigners’ Bible Church, to offer Thanksgiving, said the source.
….By Felix Omoh-Asun