Friday 10th December 2021 makes complete five years since Reigners Church mishap took place. There is no surprise about the permanent silence on the sad incidence, no surprise at all.

Sometimes one could wonder if Akwa Ibom State Government under Mr. Udom Emmanuel is mechanically configured against bearing human sympathy when considered how Reigners church tragedy is forgotten after five years without conscience. If the living witnesses would cast back their mind to the tragic Saturday afternoon of December 10, 2016, they may feel some jolt of dismay given the apathetic way Governor Udom Emmanuel is handling the matter involving human lives, and human deaths. When recollecting the dreadful scenes of the mangled bodies, pools of blood; the heartrending death grunts; the miserable sight of dying children; the wailings of women; the horrible, and pitiful sight of victims solemnly taken away from the scene of the wreckage, one could have expected the governor to be swift in providing remedies to the victims of the tragedy, especially, as he was there to witness everything first hand. He could have been a victim. But if he was, would the Reigners matter be treated with kid gloves?

One may not understand the gravity of December 10, 2016 incident until they get the grasp of the ravages the affected persons are living with for about five years now. Since the hastily reticulated, strange contraption called roof at Reigners caved in, things are no longer the same for many. Besides heavy claims on human lives, ways and pattern of lives of many people have been altered in a very terrible way; they have endured enough; their eyes have been scalded with tears shed for loved ones that lose their lives; and yet silence seems to permanently take the place of sympathy.

            To say the truth with all sense of fairness, a lot of people that went to the failed occasion of bishopric enthronement did not just go there because they love Akan Weeks’s face, rather they were attracted to that Golgotha of death at Uyo Village road courtesy of the presence of the state governor, Mr. Udom Emmanuel. Of course it is natural for people to flock around their leader at any function.  The governor, himself, had led a sizable cavalcade of top government functionaries to the event to make it thick. Public attention was swayed to the Reigners Bible Church on December 10, 2016. The venue became a platform where the who-is-who in the society would congregate; where old ties with the power class would be rekindled. It was a suitable place where old friendship could be re-strengthened with the governor. The roof fell, lives ended, several got wounded, the calamity reign, but where is the governor’s empathy?

As would be vividly recalled, Governor Udom Emmanuel who almost perished with the collapsing beam of the Reigners church, surprisingly, forgot within a week about the calamitous event that threw the state and the country into dark mood of mourning. He and his government went on with glee to stage an expensive, classy carol night on Saturday 17th December 2016, parading array of gospel music star acts in the likes of Julius Nglass, Sammie Okposo, Steve Crown, Buchi, Kayamba African Orchestra including internationally acclaimed preacher, Archbishop Nicholas Duncan-Williams. That was the height of ambivalence: last week your state was mourning, and next week you gather people to celebrate with hilarity as if nothing had happened, while the victims and their families still gnash their teeth, struggling in despair. Had Governor Udom Emmanuel, God forbid, fell among the casualties, would the state still go on ahead to celebrate as if nothing happened?

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First, at the wake of the collapse, Governor Emmanuel responded by setting up a seven-man Commission of Inquiry led by Justice Umoekeyo Essang (rtd) to investigate the circumstances that led to the collapse of the church building including the attendant loss of lives with the view to forestall the reoccurrence of similar tragedy in the future. In spite of this, concerned members of the public could not help being disappointed in the aftermath of the misfortune owing to growing suspicion of cover-ups orchestrated by certain elements in the authority. Even after the Commission came up with the report in June 2017, the silence and seeming reluctance of Mr. Udom Emmanuel to act quickly and decisively on the report was indicative that he lacks the interest to implement the findings of the commission.

The Governor may be locked in the cloistered world of power, and that may be one reason he may not know the exasperating pain the affected persons are passing through since December 10, 2016. Timely response would have assuaged their pains. The Commission of Inquiry did well to recommend to the state government the setting up of a Trust Fund for the dependants of the deceased and the injured persons. But the government had jibbed at such recommendation. Instead, unenthusiastically accepted the recommendation to pay the sum of N1,000,000.00 to the dependants or administrators of the estate of the deceased based on the record that was with the Ministry of Health at the time of the incident. But the story had ended there.

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It is therefore left for the livings to see the end of this melodrama. When Governor Udom Emmanuel, perhaps bowing to human rights pressure, finally decided to act on the report, he did so in a way that further intensified already built up suspicion that he is on the side of the General Overseer of the Reigners Bible Church, Apostle (Dr.) Akan Weeks. His government produced a Whitepaper with no signature appended on it. This cast heavy doubt on the Governor’s willingness to go any further with the whole Reigners affairs. After all, since the public needed governor’s reaction, he responded by giving them the tokenism of a whitepaper. What else should they expect? Implementation of the findings? Well, the public can only watch to find out what the hen wants to do with the palm kernel.

The Commission of Inquiry, in its findings, discovered “adequate proofs of undue interference in some critical aspects during the construction of the building by Apostle (Dr.) Akan Weeks to an extent that he ordered for the removal of the temporary support system (Central Scaffold) supporting the drum of the steel roof and deletion of the basement floor during construction against all professional advice.” Adding to this, the report says the construction of the church building was rushed with impunity to have the event take place in an uncompleted building site.

            The Commission also found that Apostle (Dr.) Akan Weeks had “illegally built the church on government land without seeking for and obtaining approvals. All known pre-approval processes from Uyo Capital City Development Authority, UCCDA, were disregarded by Akan Weeks.” In this way, the investigative panel found that Apostle (Dr.) Akan Weeks was culpable for his failure to observe the basic procedures for building including his undue interference in the construction process, and therefore recommended that Ministry of Justice should take appropriate court action against him. But the state government is keeping unfair silence on the actions and inactions of the General Overseer of the Reigners Bible Church.

Though the sins of Papa G.O. could be forgiven, but what would happen if other provisions of the report are implemented? Why is it still in the deep freezer since July 2017 after the Commission of Inquiry chaired by Justice Umoekeyo Essang delivered the report to Governor Udom Emmanuel at the executive chambers of the Government House? The state government should know that each day that rolls by is not just swiveling to the cloud of history, but represent the elongation of the suffering of the Reigners victims. It is the mellifluous sound of justice that would calm the hearts of the weeping victims.

            The implementation of provisions of the report has waited too long. When water stays long in the mouth, it becomes spittle. Although the terms of reference of the Commission of Inquiry carefully elided the issue of compensation, it would make the victims and their families know that they are not condescended to. Despicable negligence by the government of Udom Emmanuel could continue to deepen the gloom of the Reigners victims.

©UbongAbasi Ise