‘GOD IS HAPPY WITH US’
Akwa Ibom Basilica, an International Worship Centre, is something else, writes Anietie Usen
This building is sophisticated. Maybe that is a mild way to put it. Some visitors say it is avant-garde, trailblazing and even futuristic. According to the Germans experts from Julius Berger, painstakingly overseeing the detailed construction of this International Worship Centre (ICWC), in Uyo, the serene and pleasant capital of Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria, this building is the first of its kind in the world.
To locals who are trooping daily to catch a glimpse of the unique structure, it is a marvel. For Udom Emmanuel, Governor of Akwa Ibom State and visioner of the project, it is building only fit for God. When he stopped over to inspect the project that is nearing completion last week, the joy expressed on his face indicated his ambitious task of building one of the most iconic interdenominational worship centres in the world, was fast becoming a reality. “People see a building. That’s not what I see. What I see is the Altar of the Almighty God, which I am raising for my people and for generations yet unborn,” Governor Emmanuel said.
Many visitors lining the streets around the building, as the governor inspected it, argued that the worship center is shaped like a jumbo jet plane. Others say it is the shape of a blue whale, the largest living mammal in the world. Yet there were locals who call it an ark of covenant. Incidentally, the interdenominational worship center is located in Afaha Ibesikpo, the home of a legendary priest, Rev. Jonathan Udo Ekong, the patriarch of Lutheran Church to Nigeria, the father of Professor Donald E. U. Ekong, the founding vice chancellor of the University of Gambia, founding vice chancellor of the University of Port Harcourt and founding vice chancellor of the University of Cross River State, now University of Uyo.
To lay hold on designers who could translate his concept of the worship center into reality, Governor Emmanuel went beyond natives to the uttermost parts of the earth as it were. After many months of search and trials, an all-Indian architectural designers and expert consulting firm called Kalayojan, were able to successfully interpret the governor’s concepts with the help of state-of-the art technologies. “We were highly privileged to have been offered and be associated with the design of one of the biggest and most beautiful worship centres of the Christian faith worldwide”, Kalayojan boasted on its website.
The advantage Kalayojan had was that its core team leaders, spearheaded by Architects Sanjay Porwal, Abhilasha Joshi, Pathik Joshi and Kshama Rane, were already exposed to some of the largest Worship Centres in the world such as the Notre Dame at Paris St. Paul’s Cathedral, London; St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City; The Duomo, Milan; Hagia Sophia, Istanbul and the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. In spite of that, this designing team relocated their base to Uyo for six months to study the living conditions, terrain, geological and climatic conditions of the city including the site, before the design began.
Designing the worship center was just a fraction of the challenge. Finding a builder of such complicated design and complex structure became a different ball game altogether. When Julius Berger Nigeria was contacted, they did not jump at it as expected. Instead they took the design to their Wiesbaden-based international headquarters in Germany for a closer study and analysis with cutting edge technologies available. It took another six months before Julius Berger said yes. That was when contracts were signed and work began in earnest, soon after the Pope of Nigerian Pentecostals, Pastor Enoch Adeboye of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), prayed and laid the foundation of the building on January 21, 2018. Concrete construction was day and night.
“The engineering is very challenging and constructed to the best international standards…The roof and roof members had to be produced in Europe and shipped to Nigeria…so we are roofing now as you can see…It is a matter of great pride to us and the State”, Juergen Fischer, Regional Manager of Julius Berger Nigeria, said. He was speaking along the line with Sanjay Porwal, the Principal Architect of Kalayojan who described the job as “a world class project of unprecedented scale and complexity…that is a matter of great pride for us Indian developers and construction industry”.
At the center of this architectural wonder is a virtual cross. Every other component of the structure is connected to and derives its strength from the cross, in such a way that the cross is enveloped in a flowing rounded transformation in appearance. Other tourist attraction and components of the worship center that visitors would go for include the Entry Point, Podium, Auditorium, Atrium, Canopy, Concourse, Church & Chapel, the Chancel, Altar & Choir Space, Priest & VIP Area as well as the Museum and gallery for exhibition of local and international art forms related to Christianity. There are also prayer rooms, a clinic, snack shops and water fountains.
Expectations are high for the formal opening of the worship center by the end of the year. Hopes are that the ICWC would not only serve a religious purpose but add to the growing reputation of the State as a destination of choice in Nigeria. Akwa Ibom is a 99 percent Christian State. It is deep in the Bible Belt of Nigeria and is often called the North Carolina of Nigeria. State government functions such as the anniversary of its creation are usually preceded by religious worship. Whenever the oil rich State encounters any political or socio-economic crisis, the usual resort is to summon what Dr. Udeme Udofia, an Associate Professor in the University of Calabar called a Solemn Assembly, “where all natives come out in droves to a central location to humble themselves and cry unto God for help”. These occasions, according to Dr. Udofia are usually carried out, on playgrounds, stadia, various churches and in some cases uncompleted buildings. Thus the justification for the ICWC. To Pastor Bassey Sanders of Qua Iboe Church: “This is a project that is very much desired by all. It is a unity ground for all Akwa Ibom churches, including fathers, sons and daughters of faith”. These and other reasons legitimize the building of this central interdenominational worship center.
Yet Governor Emmanuel is not short of critics who accuse him of misplaced priority
and waste of more than N10billion on a 5,000 seater religious hall, when many have no jobs in the State. “I’m not a sadist, anti-government or anti-Christian but I think this is one of the misplaced priorities we keep having in this country. No government should spend public funds building worship centres whether church or mosque”, Okon Jackson said in response to Governor Emmanuel’s Facebook post on the project. A deeply committed Christian, Emmanuel has fended off his critics by saying that the State government has only facilitated the project while the bulk of the funding is sourced from corporate organizations, NGOs and wealthy individuals.
Captain Iniobong Ekong, a retired army officer and Emmanuel’s commissioner of lands, who is supervising the project, makes no apologies about the cost of the project. “What are they saying? Are they saying that N10billion is too much for God in a country that one public officer has been recently charged to court for allegedly stealing N109billion…It was King David who said that he would not offer to God what cost him nothing…Udom Emmanuel is a king like David. The international worship center is very close to his heart and his heart is very close to God…”, Ekong said.
Other supporters of the ICWC have drawn the attention of critics to other worship centers in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, which are constant targets of spiritual and social pilgrimages, not to mention its foreign exchange content.
Akwa Ibom’s full name, according to natives, is Akwa Abasi Ibom State, which means God Almighty State. These peaceful and hospitable people therefore pride themselves as the only State in Nigeria named after God. If so, said Governor Emmanuel: “there must be something to show for it”. The governor is certain he has done a good job for his people in terms of industrial and infrastructural deveIopment, including the 21-storey Dakada Towers, the tallest and smartest building in South-South Nigeria, which is next door to the international worship center. “I am sure God is happy with us, and through this worship centre will bless Akwa Ibom people more, even to generations yet unborn”, governor Emmanuel said.