By, PATRICK TITUS, Uyo
Survivors of the Reigners Bible Church collapse in Uyo have accused the Akwa Ibom State Government of abandoning them in their pains, saying they are planning to take government to Court over non-implementation of the Government White Paper.
The tragedic incident which occurred in December 2016, during the Episcopal Ordination of the Church’s Founder, Apostle Akan Weeks as Arch Bishop, had claimed no fewer than 100 lives both children and adults who attended the ceremony.
Governor Udom Emmanuel who in his first term, was barely two years in office as the Governor, and who attended the event as a special guest of honour, cheated death by a narrow escape.
Investigating into the incident, Governor Emmanuel had later set up a Commission of Inquiry to unravel among other things, the remote cause(s) of the collapse building and come up with its findings and recommendations.
The Commission, which was headed by a retired High Court Judge, Justice Umoekoyo Essang came out with a White Paper on April 2018 but there years after, the statement was yet to implement the letters of the White Paper.
Following the failure by government to implement the White Paper years after, some victims of the incident are currently recounted their woes, alleging being abandoned by the state government, whom they said had earlier promised to give adequate attention to their problems arising from the tragedic incident.
Unfortunately some of them who sustained life threatening injuries have said they are ready to seek redress in court over government’s insincerity over the incident and their subsequent abandonment.
One of them, Mr Akan Akpanuwah, who now walks with the aid of a walking stick, said the government abandoned him after an initial payment for his medical bills, adding that he was alive and able to walk with an aid due to the financial support from family, friends and Church members.
Akpanuwah, who suffered hip bone and ankle dislocation among other injuries during the incident, said he has so far spent N6.5 million for treatment, including four major surgeries.
“From what I gathered, because government dealth directly with my doctor, they paid part of my hospital bill which was about N6.5 million. I learnt they paid about N3 million. My Church, family and friends footed a greater part of the bill.
“The N6.5 million is just what I paid for the four major surgeries that have been done on my leg. I was in the hospital for over a year and each night was N10,000. I knew what I have spent. I was completely smashed. My whole body was paralyzed.
“The incident happened on December 10, 2016 and I first regained consciousness on January 1, 2017. I could not carry my body, my ankle was completely detached, my hip joint was pulled out, my ribs were cracked. I never thought I would survive, but thank God for life, I was revived in a certain private clinic in Uyo for 3 weeks.
“When I was taken to University of Uyo (UUTH) on a stretcher, the Head of Orthopedic, Dr Notish said he could not handle my case. I was taken to a private hospital in Ikot Ekpene where a certain Dr Essien, a 75 year old American trained doctor salvaged me,” he stated.
Akpanuwah, a businessman who said he lost all he had just to pay his medical bills, revealed that he still need to undergo other surgeries because his ribs were affected in the accident.
Thanking God that he was still alive, the businessman said some victims have been incapacitated for life, owing to government neglect, adding that he would seek redress in court once he was medically fit.
He said, “I have lost all I ever had as a young man. I still need surgeries because I still have iron in my ankle, hip; my ribs need attention. So many people who did not die during the incident are dead because of lack and negligent on the part of government. They are supposed to cater for our welfare.
“I’m only being lucky. Some of the victims are permanently incapacitated, so they need care. When I go to court, which I intend to, that is when they will know that we need care”.
Akpanuwah frowned at the state government action, exonerating Apostle Akan Weeks from blame, and called for the White Paper on the matter to be made public.
“From what I learnt, government is hiding the White Paper which is not supposed to be a hidden document. I am planning to go to court on the matter but my Lawyer said I should hold on until I recover fully. He has assured me that if the case is taken to court, the White Paper will be produced.
“Because of government’s interest, they are hiding the White Paper and only published the part that favoured them because of that, the man (Akan Weeks) has not shown any remorse. I am told the White Paper really indicted him.
“He is the one who told the workers to remove the pillars that held the beam of the building against the advice of an Engineer. He has not shown remorse or empathy in anyway. I will take him to court,” he insisted.
Another victim who chose to remain unnamed said he was disappointed with the way the government handled the victims, saying government was playing politics with the lives of the victims.
He said the state government mainly spent money on the medical bills of government officials that were affected in the collapse, and abandoned other victims.
“I was reluctant to speak on the issue due to total disappointment on the government. The state government is playing politics with the lives of those victims (we the survivors), because, we see no reason the state government abandoned some of us in the hospitals.
“Government only paid attention to some of those government functionaries who were also affected in the tragedy.
“Our state government was not sincere and may have been the reason why the Governor has refused to publish the White Paper on the incident which recommendations could have helped cushion the effect; losses and pains we the victims went through.
“From that time and now, I have spent more than N3million on hospital bills and drugs to maintain myself. However, I thank God I am alive today to give this account; government has not done well, go and tell them,” he stated.
Reacting to the failure of government to publish the White Paper on the incident, the National Coordinator, Akwa Ibom Human Rights Community and lawyer who represented the victims, Clifford Thomas Esq., said the outcome of the Commission of Enquiry was a sad reminder of the failure of government to guarantee the welfare of its people.
Thomas stated that four years after the tragic incident which claimed about 100 lives and left many injured, the government has failed to give succour to many of those affected.
He explained that the N3.5 million that was raised to support the victims was through voluntary donations from the public, adding that some of the victims with serious injuries were later sent out of the government hospital, Ibom Multi-Specialist, where they were treated by the hospital management.
He said unfortunately, those affected had to resort to traditional methods to treat themselves, saying they were too poor and afraid to challenge the government for exonerating Apostle Akan Weeks, whom he claimed was responsible for the tragedy.
“We want the government to review the report of that commission. Let the government reach out to the people.
“Akwa Ibom Human Rights Community is calling for the review of the report of the Commission of enquiry into the Reigners Bible Church collapse to accommodate those who died, those who were left behind and those who were injured,” he maintained.
Also speaking on the matter, Chairman, Civil Liberties Organisation in Akwa Ibom State, Mr Franklyn Isong said the government was biased in the White paper released by the Commission of enquiry.
“Let me Inform you that the White Paper was issued but government hide the report and excused Akan Weeks. Government rather indicated the engineers who carried out the construction of the building.
“As far as the CLO is concerned, Apostle Akan Weeks is the owner of the structure and the place was marked for demolition by the Uyo Capital City Development Authority (UCCDA).
“Apostle Weeks covered up the demolition marking and continue to build on that building. That place was a swampy area and was not fit for such project. But when the White Paper Reports was released, government absolved Apostle Weeks.
“The Panel reports came out very clearly that Apostle Akan Weeks is the owner of the building. He engaged the engineers who gave him professional advice alleging some structural defects on the building.
“But he said they should go ahead, build on that building, and even put up pillars in the middle of the building as a support, which the engineers advised that they should be removed. This, the engineers said during the Panel sitting. When the reports came out, government excused and absolved Apostle Akan Weeks of any indictment but invented something and indicted only the engineers.
“Justice Umoekoyo Essang’s led Panel of Inquiry did a thorough job. He came out with a clean report but the reports did not mention the number of people who died, which is what we were asking for because there was issue on the figure of people that died. Some said 400, others 300 people,” he explained.
Reacting to the call for review of the report, the Commissioner of Information and Strategy, Mr Ini Ememobong said that the government was yet to get any request for a review.
“The White Paper is government’s position on the report. So If they are seeking a review, are they seeking a review of the report or the white paper? These are technical and administrative issues.
“We are not aware of any request for review of either the report or white paper because you cannot seek for a review of the white paper.
“The White Paper is the position on the report, while the report is the foundation, and the white paper is the building ontop the foundation. As far as I am aware, we have not been notified of any request for a review,” he said.
On if the government would respond to any request in that regard, the Commissioner said, “We must look at the administrative procedure involved. For a White Paper to come out, it followed a procedure. For those seeking, we must check what the administrative procedure is,” he explained.