By Francis Ndubuisi in Abuja and Okon Bassey in Uyo
The Akwa Ibom State Government has declared a two-day mourning over the collapse of a church building that killed about 50 people and wounded hundreds of others.
The massive building of the Reigners Bible Church International, which was still under construction, collapsed during Archbishopric ordination of its founder, Akan Weeks, as Bishop last Saturday.
The state Governor, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, who attended the service as the special guest of honour with other top government officials, escaped death while some of his aides sustained injuries.
In a broadcast to the people of the state yesterday, Emmanuel described the incident as unprecedented in the history of the state, saying: “The unfortunate incident has caused sorrow and tears and a very big pain in the heart.”
With the mood of the state, the governor declared yesterday and today as mourning days in honour of the dead and those injured by the collapsed building.
He directed that all flags be flown at half mast within the state, saying the two-day mourning period would be rounded off with a solemn assembly at the State Government Banquet Hall, Uyo by 4 pm today.
Emmanuel said the state government would bear the medical cost of all the injured, commending the medical team for their contribution to save the lives of those who were critically injured.
“Government will therefore set up a high powered panel of inquiry to ascertain the immediate and remote causes leading to the collapse of the building with a view to forestalling the recurrence of the incident and bring to book persons found to have compromise professional standards in the construction of the building,” he said.
In Abuja, the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, also expressed deep sadness over the incident.
In a message to Emmanuel and the people of the state, the minister said appropriate words failed him in expressing his very deep sorrow for the loss.
In the message, which was conveyed by his Special Adviser on Media, Mr. Akpandem James, the minister said he was greatly saddened by the news of the incident where scores of worshippers and guests were killed and tens of others injured.
“My thoughts and prayers go to the Akwa Ibom State Governor, His Excellency, Deacon Udom Emmanuel, whom providence had spared in the disaster, the families of the victims of the disaster, and all the people of the state,” he said, adding: “My sympathy also goes to the pastorate and members of the Reigners Bible Church along Uyo Village Road. It is my fervent prayer that the Almighty comforts all those affected and helps to soothe their pains and heal their wounds.”
Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, also sent soothing words to the victims and the injured yesterday.
“It is so sad that this incident claimed precious lives of innocent worshippers and injured scores of others,” Saraki said in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicly, Yusuph Olaniyonu, in Abuja, adding: “This was certainly an avoidable occurrence, the more reason relevant state and federal authorities should urgently launch an investigation to unravel the mechanical, environmental and human factors responsible for the incident.”
Also reacting, the Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Mr. Onofiok Luke, prayed God to comfort the bereaved families, the state and asked the people to gather in love, prayer and intercede over the situation.
Meanwhile, the authority of University of Uyo Teaching Hospital (UUTH) has refuted media reports claiming that 200 persons died.
A statement yesterday by the hospital signed by the Chief Medical Director, Prof. Etete Peters, described the report as untrue, saying the hospital would not have released such figure of death when the casualty rate in the disaster was not computed.
However, the state Commissioner of Police, Mr. Murtala Mani, said yesterday that 27 persons had been confirmed dead while 37 persons were injured.
Also commiserating with the families of the victims, the commissioner representing Akwa Ibom State on the Board of Niger Delta Development Commission, Mr. Samuel Frank, described the incident as shocking and an unprecedented tragedy.
A statement by his Special Assistant on Media, Mr. Dan Etokidem, sympathised with the families of all departed ones and prayed for speedy recovery of those that sustained injuries.