By Our Reporter
Fresh facts have emerged that the collapsed Reigners’ Bible Church building in Akwa Ibom State, was constructed via approval given in principle by Uyo Capital City Development Authority (UCCDA).
Principal witness and founder of the Church, Apostle Akan Weeks made the disclosure Monday, while testifying at the Commission of Inquiry sitting in Uyo.
He told the Commission that, he obtained approval from Mr. Etido Ekerete Udoh, an agent to UCCDA to commence construction work after he had lodged his application for approval with the agency since October 5, 2011.
But the Secretary, UCCDA, Mr. Effiong Akpan, during cross examination last Friday informed the panel that, the Church refused to heed several stop work orders issued to it from 2013 to 2016 by the state government since the state government declared the area since 2000 as a reserved forest due to sliding and active erosion.
According to him, “We marked ‘X’ on March 6, 2013, it was removed by painting on the ‘X’; we did the same on July 16, 2014; March 1, 2016; July 20, 2016, and August 16, 2016. They ignored all these by covering the marks with paints. We later issued 21 days ultimatum to remove the property failing which the authority would remove the structure and bill offset by the developer.”
Mr. Effiong disclosed that, on May 4, 2015 the agency had applied for funds from the state government to enable UCCDA, procure equipment and security coverage to demolish the structure but was constrained from demolishing the structure due to non-release of funds.
Apostle Weeks said:“As at 2015 when I started the development and building at the site, I was given approval by Uyo Capital City Development Authority in principle after submitting all the necessary documents as well as paying the sum of N300, 000.”
He disclosed further that, the contract for the installation of the collapsed roof was given to Whitesteel Integrated Services, after the tenders were approved the Governing Board of the Church.
Apostle Weeks who claimed ignorance of government’s order not to build in the area said to be threatened by sliding insisted that, he was not aware of the publication in the Pioneer Newspaper of December 2000.
When cross examined by counsel to the Commission, Mr. Friday Itim he maintained that, though he actually carried out soil test before the construction work began in 2015, he never told anybody to remove the support beams that held the roof.
It would be recalled that, several worshipers died on December 10 last year while many others were wounded, when the roof of the Church building caved in during the enthronement service of the founder, Apostle Akan Weeks as bishop.
Gov. Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State was present at the programme but miraculously escaped death when the structure collapsed.
Rev. Weeks, testifying further on Tuesday, described the incident as an accident, saying that, his intention was not to build a house and bring people to die.
The Reverend, who opened up on a number of issues during cross examinations by the counsel to the Civil Liberties Organization and Human Rights Community, Mr. Clifford Thomas also said that some of the victims had been buried.
It would be recalled that, the state government had earlier declared 26 as the number of deaths recorded during the incident and that, the dead bodies which were preserved at the University of Uyo Teaching Hospital (UUTH) morgue would be release to bereaved families for burial after investigations as well as the sittings of the probe panel are concluded.
The embattled Pastor, who testified as principal witness on Tuesday at the Commission of Inquiry said, though he could not ascertain the death figures affirmed, “I am aware that some of the victims had been buried.”
According to him, “after the incident, I personally visited some of the bereaved families with members of my Church to pray for them and, we gave the affected families monies for their coffins to be bought.
“I also visited the injured in the hospitals to pray and give them money. What happened on December 10, 2016 was a sad event. I expected people to sympathize with me. My heart goes to the deceased and those injured.
‘‘My intension was not to build a house and bring people to die. I look at it as an accident,” adding that, his escape during the collapse of the church was an act of God.