Reigners Bible Church Collapse: AljazirahNigeria investigation reveals shocking outcomes

Reigners Bible Church Collapse: AljazirahNigeria investigation reveals shocking outcomes
  • Commission of Inquiry reports were swept under the carpet
  • No institution indicted or found culpable

By Abel Benjamin, Uyo

The report of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the December 10th, 2016 Reigners Bible Church Building Collapse in Uyo the Akwa Ibom State capital which killed scores of worshippers and injured many others was recently submitted to Governor Udom Emmanuel, who had expressed his readiness to implement the recommendations contained in the report, AljazirahNigeria findings has revealed

The Governor, many Commissioners, and aides were in the church on that faithful day during the Bishopric Ordination of the Church’s founder, Apostle Akan Weeks when it collapsed.

The Governor escaped unhurt, and so were most of his cabinet members, although few of them sustained injuries, AljazirahNigeria recalls.

A commission of inquiry was immediately set up by Governor Udom to unravel the mystery surrounding Church building collapse, while charging the commission members to do a thorough job of unravelling the immediate and remote causes of the incident and make recommendations to government.

The seven-member panel has Hon, Justice Umoekeyo Essang Rrtd, as the Chairman. Mrs. Emem Victor Daniel of the Ministry of Justice, Uyo, served as the Secretary, while the members include: Engr. James Utiaruk, Arc. Essien Nkanga, ACP Abibo, Prophet John Linus, Engr. Asuquo Okon and Engr. James Amiang.

Specifically, the commission was saddled with the responsibility to “investigate and probe the immediate and remote causes of the collapse building; and to also examine the roles played by any person, institutions and authorities, as well as establishing the consequences of such roles”.

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Also, the commission was set up to identify and indict any person, institutions and authorities found culpable either remotely or immediately and appropriate sanctions, including ascertaining all the circumstances surrounding the collapse structure and make recommendations.

Upon the commencement of their assignment, the commission called for memorandum from members of the public and that it would rely on the good and undisputable evidence made available to it by reputable associations, experts and individuals who have credible and useful information.

The Chairman, Essang, said the associations include: Engineers, Architects, Builders, Surveyors and Soil Scientists, while individuals are also encouraged to come forward and offer oral evidence with or without memorandum.

However, so many intrigues, blames, claims and counter claims, accusations, secrecy, fears of complicity and conspiracy, among other things have been widespread across the state since the church collapsed and the commission commenced and ended their work. Different unquenchable inquisitions also resulted.

Throughout the duration of the commission’s work, there have been isinuations in several quarters that the whole thing is enshrouded in obscurity, while many people have accused the government of shielding the Church’s founder Apostle Weeks and could sweep the report under the carpet. Some of the families of the victims were also kept in the dark, not knowing what was going on and what the outcome of everything would be or whether they could get any kind of compensation from the appropriate quarter(s).

Prior to the submission of the report by the commission, Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), Akwa Ibom State chapter, which represented the victims (the dead and the injured) at the inquiry, urged the government to make the report public, alleging compromise on the side of government and the commission.

The CLO Chairman in the state, Comrade Clifford Thomas, faulted the Justice Essang-led commission, saying the commission never followed the due process before the proceedings ended.

“The commission should not wind down without proper records of proceedings. The commission must come up with the records of proceedings for lawyers who appeared in the commission to address them before submitting it to government,” he said.

Thomas pointed out that the methodology for the collation of the deaths and the injured was faulty and that there was no mention of the children in the collation of the victims, adding that such omission shouldn’t be made when children formed good numbers of the dead in the tragedy.

“We are representing the human rights community in Akwa Ibom, we are waiting for the report, and if we are not satisfied with what they are going to put out, we will have no other option than to release our own report and pass same to other human rights organizations in and outside Nigeria.

“We would not hesitate to take the matter to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), to seek justice for the dead, especially considering the fact that several dead persons and the injured were not properly compensated,” he said.

According to Thomas, there have been many complaints from bereaved families who accused the Church and government of not living up to expectations in providing succour to the victims, stressing that the Church is deliberately trying to suppress information regarding the actual number of persons that died in the incident.

Meanwhile, Governor Udom has expressed appreciation to members of the commission for accepting to serve and the painstaking effort in carrying out their responsibilities, saying that they have showed much commitment to the service of the people.

The Governor, however, lamented that many people have politicised the tragedy, hence the unnecessary criticisms, blames and accusations.

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“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 would be taken seriously. We would do everything to implement and prevent future recurrence of this tragedy. May this affliction never occur the second time.Insinuations by some persons who tried to politicise the tragedy is condemnable.

“Things of this nature should go beyond politics. When the incident occurred, it did not select members of a political party, neither did it only affect a particular denomination, race or colour. It was a tragedy that affected all. It is unfortunate therefore that people decided to politicise a tragedy of this nature,” he said.

Since the submission of the report however, it has neither been made public or any palpable implementation done, and so inner suspicions and ambiguity still abounds.

Speaking on the matter, the Chairman of the Akwa Ibom State Correspondent Chapel of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, Dennis Udoma, told AljazirahNigeria that till now the report of the commission and everything pertaining it is enshrouded in secrecy.

He called on the Government to make the commission report open so that the families of the deceased can get some sense of hope and relieve, stressing that there is the need for the government to compensate the victims since it has already pledged to assist.

Udoma frowned at the situation whereby many people are mostly celebrating the survival of the Governor in the tragedy till date to the overshadowing of the other victims who needs help, stressing that now is the time for the people, the government and other stakeholders to shift attention towards the others.

“Why making the report of the Reigners Bible Church collapse by the commission of inquiry a secret document? It out to be made open to the public so that everyone can know what it contains; the findings, recommendations and compensation plans. Making the report open will relieve the victims and the families of the deceased and give them some sense of hope. After submitting the report nothing has been heard, and it ought not be so. The report should be a public document from the beginning to the end, and so should the implementation of the report be open for all to see and know what is happening and what the government is doing.

“Till date, many people, government functionaries and other stakeholders are mostly celebrating the survival of the Governor in the tragedy and it is overshadowing other things that needed to be done. The Governor has survived…he has survived, and we are all grateful to God for that. But now is the time to look towards the others and come to their aid, that is the victims and related casualties,” he said.

In the meantime, AljazirahNigeria gathered that there are still unclaimed corpses of the tragedy in the mortuary.

The hospital source who craved for anonymity said the corpses included those from within and outside the state who attended the church event before the building collapsed on them.