By Chioma Onuegbu & Harris-Okon Emmanuel
Uyo—VICTIMS of Reigners Bible Church building collapse, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, have expressed mixed reactions to the white paper released by the state government on Monday which exonerated the General Overseer of the church, Apostle Akan Weeks.
One of the victims, Mr. Akan Akpanuwa and businessman from Nkim Itam village in Itu LGA of the state, who reacted angrily based on what was published in the newspapers, wondered why government rejected the indictment of Akan Weeks by the commission of inquiry.
Akpanuwa said: “From the brief extract I read in newspaper, I see that the commission of inquiry set up by the state government indicted the pastor, but I am surprised why the governor exonerated him.
“I think the appropriate body to indict or exonerate people from the Reigners building collapse is the commission of inquiry that was set up by the state government and I believe their integrity was tested before they were assigned to carry out that responsibility. So I expected that the recommendations of the commission should have been taken seriously.
“I was in the hospital (Alma Clinic) for 11 months going through series of surgical operations. My hip bone was pulled out completely, so I went through surgery for another bone to be fixed. Also my ankle bone was totally damaged and about three major operations have been carried out on the ankle, but you can see that the wound on my leg is still not healed due to lack of funds to continue treatment.
“ The doctor that was managing my case told me that the state government, through the Commissioner for Health, paid less than 50 percent of my hospital bill. I paid part of the bill for my surgery. The state government paid less than 50 percent of the bill and I still have outstanding bill to pay.”
Also Processor Chris Ekong of the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Uyo, who lost his brother in the building collapse said he would comment on the matter later, as he will soon issue a statement where he will state his position on the white paper released by government .
However, a member of Reigners Bible church who also lost her sister and a close relative and spoke to Vanguard in confidence on Asutan Street Uyo, said her family members had already left everything in the hands of God.
But reacting yesterday, the state Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Uwemedimo Nwoko, assured Akwa Ibom people, including victims of the collapsed Reigners Bible Church, that the state government will prosecute all those whose activities led to the collapse of the church building.
Nwoko who promised to liaise with the police authority in the state to ensure a thorough investigation of those indicted by the report of the commission to ensure that justice was done in line with due process, appealed to Akwa Ibom people to remain calm and patient.
Also, some members of the church who spoke with Vanguard, expressed joy that the whole saga had come to an end following the clean bill of health given to their General Overseer by the state government, saying that he should not be held liable for the incident.
A member of the church, Oto-Obong, who sustained injury during the tragic incident said: “We are still keeping quiet to see how the whole thing will go. As a member of the church, we can’t really say much.”
Another victim of the church collapse, who spoke on condition of anonymity said: “I am fine. The injury has gone and I am back on my feet. The building collapse was not the fault of the pastor as such the blame should not be on him. He was not the engineers. The thing happened in churches and only God knows why it happened.”
Meanwhile, a lawyer and human right activist, Inibehe Effiong, expressed dismay over the rejection of the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry which nailed the pastor.
The lawyer had dragged the government to court under the Freedom of Information Act to compel it to release the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry and the white paper on the matter.
Effiong said “I read the white paper released by the state government and I am not surprised by the decision. It is a bit embarrassing that the government of Akwa Ibom has not treated the matter with the seriousness it deserves.
“Government constituted the Commission of Inquiry following public pressure. According to the government, the essence was for the Commission to come out with the facts of what led to the collapse of the church building and make appropriate recommendations to the government.
“After intensive deliberation, public hearing and receiving testimonies and evidences from members of the public and interested parties, Uyo Capital Development Authority, the Commission as part of its findings indicted the founder of the church and the reasons for the indictment were clearly stated as seen from the white paper.
“The government is rejecting the recommendation that Akan Week should be referred to the Ministry of Justice for prosecution, claiming that facts available to government show that Akan relied on advice he received from professionals.
“In summary that can’t be correct, because no professional advised him not to receive government permit and necessary approval before embarking on the construction. It is a criminal offence. Failure to obtain the necessary government permit and approval before embarking on the project is a criminal offence.
“The Commission also found out that he interfered with the project by reviewing some of the components of the structure that support it and he did that against professional advice.
“It is sad that the government has rejected the recommendations of the Commission relating to the principal culprit. And if no action is taken against Akan Week, there is no justification to take action against any other person indicted in the report. Week refused to even apologise out of his arrogance and that is not the kind of person that should be shielded by the government.”