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Nigeria Church collapse reignites questions about safety

People are seen behind the fence of the collapsed Reigners Bible Church in Uyo, Nigeria December 11, 2016 REUTERS/Stringer EDITORIAL USE ONLY.

Rescuers continued the search for survivors of a collapsed Church building in the south of Nigeria on Monday, as the death toll climbed to 160. Hundreds of worshippers, including Governor Udom Emmanuel, were inside the Reigners Bible Church in Uyo, the capital city of the southern Akwa Ibom State, when its roof caved in on Saturday.

"After offering, the building from the centre started cracking, and in less than a minute the whole building collapsed," one eye-witness told RFI.

Hundreds of worshippers, including Governor Udom Emmanuel, were inside the Reigners Bible Church in Uyo, the capital city of the southern Akwa Ibom State, when its roof caved in on Saturday. At least 160 people are believed to have been killed.

"My heart goes out to all the families that have lost a loved one and those that are injured, and currently receiving treatment in the hospitals. It's a very unfortunate thing to have happened,"  Albert Uko, a pastor and national legal adviser to the Christian Association of Nigeria, told RFI.

The building was still under construction at the time.

"Even if you're not an architect or engineer, you know that a building that has not been tested or completed would collapse anyway," Joseph Ochieno, a political analyst and writer added.

Accident waiting to happen

Buildings collapse regularly in Nigeria because of lack of adequate public services, with contractors bribing inspectors to ignore botched jobs or absent building permits.

"Construction materials would be substandard, it's not unusual for cases of cement which are supposed to be 100 bags of cement, contractors instead use 50, 60 or 70 and share the spoils of the others," highlights Ochieno.

For Albert Uko, this kind of shoddy work is what brought down another famous church in the Nigerian capital Lagos two years ago.

"That of Lagos that happened, it was also due to lack of strict adherence to engineering standards, because they were trying to put up many floors on the building, whose foundation could not sustain, and so it had to cave in.”

In 2014, 116 people, mainly South Africans, died when their guest house at the Synagogue Church of All Nations in Lagos, also collapsed.

The Church owner - TB Joshua, a popular preacher - has since been accused of criminal negligence and involuntary manslaughter, together with two structural engineers.

“That of Uyo, the iron girders were quite heavy, and such that the concrete blocks could not really hold it. From every indication, there was obviously some cutting of corners in the construction work," adds Albert Uko.


Worshippers told reporters that construction workers had been rushing to finish the Reigners Bible Church in time for Saturday's ceremony to ordain founder Akan Weeks as a bishop.

He’s refused to answer our calls for an interview, and according to sources on the ground has been advised against answering questions from the press.

Yet he may soon have to answer to the government, with local authorities in Akwa Ibom State calling for an inquiry. Calls are also growing for the contractor and Weeks, who preached that God will make his followers rich, to be interrogated.

Fame game

For Ochieno, Weeks was after fame: "The bishop, who's the founder of this Church, wants to impress his congregation, driven by money, and fame, rather than faith, and many of the people who died would have been people who are going to seek solace before Christmas."

Does he blame religion? Not only, "if the state is unable to provide people with basic services: hospitals and education, people opt for God, or some God of a sort as an alternative source of solace."

Udom Emmanuel, the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, who managed to escape, says he "shares the agony of the moment", while president Muhammadu Buhari, says he commiserates with the families of the victims. For many however, these words, will likely be perceived as too little, too late.