Let me begin by notifying all that have been wondering if I am save that, so safe, healthy and hearty I am. Though many of you, despite having my contacts, refused to use them, but rather chose to wait until I mark myself safe on facebook. Truth is, I had prayed you wait forever.
As a matter of importance, my heart goes out to the families, friends and associates of those who lost their lives in the tragic incident that occurred in the late morning hours yesterday at the Reigners Bible Church, along Uyo Village Road, while service was ongoing for the consecration/enthronement of Apostle Akan Weeks.
Particularly, I use this medium to send out my heartfelt condolences to the family Mr Ernest Idem of the protocol unit of Governor Udom Emmanuel who was affected and who later died in the hospital. His case was most shocking to me, especially considering that we met earlier that same day, less than four (4) hours before the Incident.
Again, let me also thank God for my boss, Speaker Onofiok Luke of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, his wife and his entire staff, and of course, myself, being a member of staff. For the speaker, Apostle Akan Weeks is one man of God which the speaker holds high, and for this reason, so rarely fails to honour any invitation from him. In the last four (4) months, I have been in the speaker’s entourage to the Reigners Church about four times.
And I am sure with the governor in attendance, the Speaker would have been in that church seated before the arrival of the governor. Also, for his wife who I heard was asked by Mr Speaker to represent him at the function, and was preparing for the function when the tragedy struck. For the members of staff, I am thanking God for whoever would have been on duty with the speaker on that day, from his protocol aides and especially his Chief of Security Details and Orderly who are usually seated right behind him.
Now for myself, I recently applied for a two weeks absence from duty to attend to pressing academic needs which was to last till December 15th; but I recall getting home on the Friday preceding the tragic Saturday to confirm that the said Saturday was going to be a very idle one for me. While trying to figure out what to do to keep me busy through the day, I had placed a call through to the Chief of Staff to ask if Mr Speaker had returned or is expected the next morning so I could prepare for work. His response was in the negative.
Now assuming Mr Speaker had returned from his Lagos trip before the event, I certainly would have been at work and perhaps in front of the church as at the time of the incident with my phone and iPad looking for space behind the governor’s security details to take photo shots. Whatever would have been my fate, I have been avoiding any thought on it, but whatever took my boss to Ogun State from Lagos, instead of returning home, must have been divine.
Again for my friend, Samuel Ayara of AKBC. He was in his way to joining his camera-man colleague at the church when he met me on the way along Nwaniba by Sammies eatery. He stopped by and picked me, and without any meaningful topic, we spent over 30 minutes together when he was supposed to just drop me off and proceed to his destination. It was during this delay that the unfortunate incident took place and sadly, the colleague he was hurrying to join before meeting me was trapped by the falling rod and killed.
When we spoke later in the evening of same day and he told me this, my mind quickly led me back to circumstances that took me to Sammies… how I went out with a colleague who wanted me to direct him to a place at Shelter Afrique Estate and suddenly developed a running stomach on the way. As we were driving home, it got so serious that I considered it a high risk to insist on getting home. That was how I took Sammies for an option to have a first-aid relief before getting home.
I came down from the convenience and decided to see a secondary school mate who lives along Udo Ikpe (the road beside Sammies). I met him and spent a short while with him, and he was seeing me off to the road when I met Ayara. Whatever would have been his fate, I cannot tell, but only God deserves the glory in all. Back to the incident.
I had spent over five emotional hours at the scene watching the rescue team and security officials evacuate the bodies from start to finish. It was a terrible experience as more than twenty (20+) bodies were evacuated from the church site and driven away. And more emotional was watching mothers and siblings run after the vehicles that conveyed the bodies screaming in tears, even when the bodies were fully concealed in bags. Reason being that as long as they had their relatives in that church and were yet to ascertain their situation, there were chances the corpses could be theirs. It was indeed a black Saturday.
In all honesty, I am yet to recover from the shock. It was inconceivable how humans slept and awoke with hopes, and committed no crime except dressing up to church, only to have their hopes terminated through a tragic death; but in all, who can question God? He remains the omniscient Supreme Being who can declare the end from the beginning. This now reminds me of the words of Comrade Ini Ememobong Essien in 2010 while, then as President of NANS, addressing students who gathered to mourn one Comrade Utomobong Akpan (of blessed memory), a 300 level student of Computer Science in the University of Uyo… Comrade Ememobong had said that nothing takes God by surprise, as He knows of every incident long before it occurs. Therefore, in all of this, we can only pray eternal rest for the souls of the departed.
The incident of yesterday has attracted series of reactions and comments from persons within the public sphere. Constructive and destructive comments have taken up the public space. Different versions of the story have been heard from people who witnessed the incident, those who were privileged to visit the site after the incident and even those who were not even in the state and are yet to visit the state since the incident.
Even the scores of death caused by the incident is yet uncertain, as different versions have been conflicting-ly reported, from 200 to 150 to 100 to 50 and then, the 21 that was reported by the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) yesterday. This has only ended up confusing the public the more, as well as mislead and misguide them in their comments and reactions. And sadly, the news has continued to filter with more spinned versions emanating in the process. This, of course is expected, as communication experts had already made clear that no information passed from one recipient to another can remain the same. This, they claimed, is consequent upon the fact that the secondary dispatchers of the information will make distortions, not deliberately though, but due to external inferences.
As much as one may try to attribute these mostly misleading reports and reactions to circumstances attached to the human nature, especially in this part of the globe, truth remains that no one can, or ever will be able to convincingly deny the damaging consequences.
Most surprising and ridiculous is the fact that some people hurriedly attached spirituality and divinity to the situation, telling us about what was planted and uprooted by God. How sad, especially when you get to realise that some of these ones, if asked, will not recall the last time they sought the face of God through prayers. And how they got their own revelations now becomes a deeper mystery than the boundaries of the world.
Granted, lives has been lost, pains have been inflicted on families and friends. Survived victims too have their painful story to recount, especially those who may not have their physical abilities complete anymore. As humans, we have that natural touch of sympathy for our fellows in situations like this, but do we have to let our emotions override our sense of judgement? Do we have to cause more harm as solution to an already caused harm?
Before yesterday, I had never taken time to look at the structure of the collapsed church, though I (not too often though) pass through the road hosting the church. But getting closer to the scene and making enquiries, I was able to establish certain factors that could have caused the disaster. And good enough, a structural engineer who also came to see things for himself, made some comments that confirmed my thoughts.
As much as I recommend other arrests to be made subsequently, including the church building committee (if any was constituted) and the Apostle Akan Weeks himself, as they all may have played contributory roles in one way or the other, let me at this point commend Governor Udom Emmanuel for ordering the arrest of the contractor who took charge of the job. Here are my reasons for seeking his head first.
As a professional, there are certain standards built by every profession as regards the practice. These standards have in many years stood the test of time, while proving to be the right approaches to perfect and safe job delivery. In the medical, legal and other fields, these standards are there as a perfect guide, and the engineering profession, certainly, is not an exception.
While undergoing tutelage in the profession, I am sure he was not taught the kind of weight distribution that was done with the iron roofing rods. How can a professional of such level carry out even distribution of such weight with the intention of placing one end of a rod on a pillar, while the other end is suspended? What did he expect to hold the weight at the other end? His ancestors? And for how long can such suspense last? Whatever happened to the idea of an iron or concrete pillar at the central point to hold the rods, I do not want to research on, but then, even the concrete pillars that doubled as the church wall which the other end of the rod rested, was nothing to write home about, as they were so inferior and clearly did not meet the 28 days recommended span for such to dry, after being erected.
Now even if the job was being hurried by the church for whatever reason(s), was it not his place to uphold the standards of his profession by advising the church properly? Why would companies like Julius Berger be setting high standards to their jobs and insisting on them even while lobbying for a contract? I recall when former works commissioner, Engr Don Etim told me during an interview with him that Julius Berger will propose to a client on how their job is being done and the required resources to deliver. And where the client cannot or is not willing to pay for the cost, the company will rather withdraw, than accept to do a substandard job. Now that is professionalism.
For the church building committee and the pastor in-charge, their arrest should be the next development as regards this incident. They all should be investigated and whoever is found to have compromised for the purpose of acquring cheap labour or maximizing profit, should be prosecuted accordingly. To the government of the state and other authorities who will have this matter pass through their table, this is not a time to play politics or regard certain persons as sacred cows.
This is an issue involving mass death. As you read this, families are grieving and groaning in pains. Some have lost their breadwinner, while others have lost their hopes in the future. Dreams and aspirations have been terminated prematurely as a result of this incident, therefore, we in the public space are spreading our eyelids so wide open, and with a pillar to suspend them to ensure there will be no collapse. And we will always be on the spot to raise a deafening alarm whenever and wherever we suspect foul play by way of deliberate or otherwise attempt to grant softlanding to any party involved in this, when such is not deserving of it.
Now particularly to the should-have-been Bishop, I have been hearing this rumour of how you were secretly consecrated somewhere in Abak at a time when families were running to know the fate of their people who left home to attend your inconclusive consecration. While virtually everyone tends to sink unrepentantly into this rumour, I have maintained my stand on the other side. Not because I am believing you to be a saint, but my reason is simply that while no one from the opposite side, on the one hand, has been able to link me to their sources to ascertain the reliability, none of my sources, on the other hand, confirmed that to be true.
That is why I have been taking insults, abuses and curses on social media since last night in the course defending you. Be that as it may, I pray and so pray that this does not end up being true, because then, you will have me as a lead antagonist. Do not forget, the truth will always prevail, and again, we all know your bishopric status is pending, as the process was inconclusive. Therefore you remain the Apostle that you were until another formal consecration is organised and the process, concluded.
However, this we are not expected to hold anytime soon, as fixing the damage on your name and ministry is what we expect to take your focus in the next few years. Hence, you must not answer to the “bishop” title anywhere. So if you had by any chance woken up from sleep to find anyone consecrating you as bishop in any secret place, it is advisable you look for a cool, dry place in your home and store that very title for your personal use only. Should anyone mistakenly addresses you with it in public, you are expected to hurriedly call the person to order, lest, the public will demand explanations from you.
Furthermore, let me appeal to my friends and colleagues in the public space using the words of my brother and friend, Ubon Marcus who spoke my mind in a piece I read on his Facebook wall last night… “This has once again re-echoed the need for opinion leaders and people capable of influencing public opinion and subsequent reaction to exercise such ability with utmost caution and only make conclusions after thorough investigation while taking varied perspectives into consideration. Sadly, most people who fall into this category failed in this regard. We allowed our emotions to get the better part of us and made hasty conclusions.”
Finally, like he (Marcus) rightly concluded, this is a lesson we all must learn… learn to apply caution even while in moments of grief and fury… learn that since two wrongs have never made a right, no attempt(s) to force it can ever be productive… and finally, learn that as Christians, this is a time to seek the face of God and offer prayers to the afflicted, as well as surrender everything to God, rather than resort to passing outright judgments.
The incident was tragic and sad, terrible, shocking, devastating and whatever word you may use to describe it… but while desiring to have Akan Weeks stoned to death, remember that his head, along with the heads of his entire family members, that of the contractor and everyone constituting the church authority will neither reverse the situation nor bring one dead soul back to life. It is no one’s fault, just as it was not the making of any mortal that certain persons were lucky to escape without a scratch, while some others were fairly lucky to escape but slightly or badly injured, and the rest, unlucky to die.
God knows why everything went that way, just as he had powers to save everyone if He wanted to. All we can do at this point is pray for the departed souls, while also praying and buiding faith with God’s word that (such) affliction shall not rise a second time.
BY UBONG SAMPSON (08021419939) IS A PUBLIC AFFAIRS ANALYST.
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