By Cletus Ukpong
It’s exactly one year since a church building collapsed in Akwa Ibom State, killing 27 people, and injuring 37 on December 10, 2016.
Some additional number of people died much later from the injuries sustained during the incident.
The Reigners Bible Church, Uyo, which was under construction, caved in during a ceremony to consecrate the church founder, Akan Weeks, as a bishop.
The Akwa Ibom Governor, Udom Emmanuel, who was a special guest at the ceremony, narrowly escaped unhurt.
The state government hasn’t made any statement on the first anniversary of the incident.
Irked by what they described as the government “insensitivity” to the victims, the human rights community in the state has renewed their call for the urgent release of the report of the judicial commission of inquiry set up by the state government to investigate the incident.
The commission, headed by a retired judge, Umoekoyo Essang, submitted its report in July to the state government.
Inibehe Effiong, a Lagos-based lawyer and human rights campaigner, said that the government’s response to the Uyo church collapse has been “very unfortunate”.
“It clearly shows that government has interest in not doing justice in the matter because like we have maintained consistently, the founder of the church is known to be a personal friend of the governor,” Mr. Effiong told PREMIUM TIMES, Sunday.
“The government, from the information we had, even contributed to the building of the church. All these clearly show conflict of interest.
“This is why, for example, rather than ordering for the prosecution of those who were culpable, the government had to set up a judicial commission of inquiry. And several months after the panel submitted its report, the government has refused to make the report public,” Mr. Effiong said.
He accused the government of refusing to pay the medical bills of the victims and also abandoning the families of those who lost their lives in the incident.
Mr. Effiong said the people were worried about the way the case was being treated by the government.
“Importantly, it should be noted that at the commission of inquiry, which I had the opportunity of participating, it was clearly shown by the government agency, the Uyo Capital City Development Authority, that orders were issued by that authority to the church to discontinue the building construction, but they went ahead. The founder of the church defied the order and went ahead with the construction,” he said.
Franklyn Isong, a journalist and public affair analyst who has been campaigning for the release of the commission’s report, also accused the state government of having an interest in the matter.
Mr. Isong said the families of the victims have the option of taking the government to court over the matter. He suggested that December 10 be set aside to honour the victims.
The state Commissioner for Information, Charles Udoh, was among the lucky survivors of the church collapse.
Mr. Udoh on Sunday took to Facebook to praise God for saving his life. He posted a photo of himself with the deep cut he sustained in the church collapse.
“This time last year, I walked out of the rubbles of a ‘torrential rain of heavy angular iron plates and metal sheets’ alive!” he wrote.
“I am in no way better than those who lost their lives in the tragedy but God spared my life alongside others. We are only pencils in the hands of the creator; we are only actors playing out the script of the Almighty God. Father Lord, may your purpose in our lives be fulfilled!”
When PREMIUM TIMES contacted the Commissioner for Justice, Uwemedimo Nwoko, he gave assurance that the commission’s report would soon be released.
“The report was submitted to the government and then in line with the due process of law the government set up an administrative committee to study the report and make recommendations for the issuance of a white paper,” Mr. Nwoko said on Sunday.
“That has been done and the report of that committee has been submitted to the government, the Gazette would soon be made public,” he said.