The recent tragic collapse of the auditorium of the Reigners Bible Church, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, was one building collapse too many. The structure crashed down at a special service for the ordination of the church’s founder, Akan Weeks, as a bishop on December 10. Twenty nine worshippers were officially reported to have died during the incident, while the state governor, Udom Emmanuel, who also graced the occasion, escaped death by the whiskers. Many of the worshippers suffered varying degrees of injury.
Sadly, this tragedy is not without a precedent. Two years ago, the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN), a Christian denominational church with wide international appeal in the Ikotun suburb of Lagos, suffered a similar fate when its Guest House extension collapsed under the weight of additional floors put on it that were allegedly not part of the original approved building plan. Over 100 people, including many South African nationals, died on that occasion, bringing opprobrium and embarrassment to the country. More than one year after, that matter is still mired in controversy and legal rigmaroles.
It is embarrassing that we are having a recurrence of such an unfortunate incident. The needless loss of lives in this incident is appalling.
In the aftermath of the tragic event, the church leader, Weeks, has postponed his ordination indefinitely, while an investigation of the collapse is ongoing. As a first reaction, Governor Emmanuel has ordered the immediate arrest of the building contractor. While we welcome this directive, it clearly does not go far enough.
A thorough investigation should be undertaken with a view to determining culpability and severely punishing those who, by acts of commission or omission, contributed to the collapse of the building.
For us, the building contractors and state building approving authorities have many questions to answer. Who approved the construction of the building and certified it fit for occupation, and for the occasion? How was the certification procured? Did it follow due process? If it did not, who bent the rule? Why was the due process circumvented?
At the heart of the building infractions in the country are corruption and tardiness. The system deliberately creates loopholes for officials to benefit from. This has become a way of life, as complacency and indiscipline have crept in. This is why, after the usual rituals of condemnations and calls for investigations after buildings crash, very little else happens.
Will the outcome be different this time? We strongly urge so. The building contractor should be quizzed and made to account for its failure. It appears that the right building materials were not used and that due processes were not followed. In spite of these obvious lapses, who gave the go-ahead for the building to be used on the day? There is the possibility, too, that the capacity of the building was over-stretched, given the huge turnout at the service.
We mourn the loss of lives and commiserate with the government and people of Akwa Ibom State in particular, and Christendom in general, on this sad incident. As the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), the apex Christian body in the country, has counseled, “the idea of holding worship services inside buildings under construction should be discouraged to avoid a repeat of the avoidable tragedy”. This advice should pertain to the use of all uncompleted buildings in the country. All buildings intended for public use should be fully completed and formally certified as suitable for use before they are made open to members of the public
Let there be a thorough and conclusive probe of this incident. Those who are responsible for it should be tried and punished so that Nigerians can learn the necessary lessons from the incident and avert a recurrence of such a tragedy.