The of the Town Planning Department, Uyo City Capital Development Authority (UCCDA), Mr. Effiong Akpan, has blamed the Akwa Ibom State government for not releasing funds for the demolition of Reigners Bible Church, Uyo.
The church building collapsed on December 10, last year during the ordination of its founder, Apostle Akan Weeks, leading to the death of some worshippers, while several others sustained injuries.
According to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), Akpan said in Uyo yesterday while testifying before the Commission of Inquiry set up by the state government to investigate the cause of the collapse of the structure that the church building had been marked for demolition five different times.
He said that UCCDA had once demolished the structure at foundation level and warned the developer to desist from erecting any structure on the site, adding that the land and the entire area where the church was built had since 2002 been mapped out by the government as conservation area.
Akpan noted that the area lies on the hilly side of Uyo ravine, which is prone to landslide, saying all the churches and event centres built along that axis of the road were illegal, as the soil could not hold any structure.
He said on May 4, 2015, UCCDA applied for funds from the government to procure cranes, excavators, bulldozers and security coverage to demolish the structure, explaining that though the governor approved the funds, the then accountant general of the state refused to release the funds.
Akpan said: “We marked ‘X’ on the structure on March 6, 2013, it was covered by paint. We did the same on July 16, 2014; March 1, 2016; July 20, 2016, and Aug 16, 2016.
“The developer ignored all the markings by covering them with paint. “We later issued 21 days ultimatum to remove the property, failing which the authority will remove the structure and cost borne by the developer.
“The developer used heavy pillars for the construction. After the expiration of the notice, we did not have the capacity to remove the heavy pillars and roofing used for the construction, as we needed cranes, excavators, bulldozers, money, security coverage and vehicles to carry out the demolition.
“On May 4, 2015, we requested for funds and security coverage for the demolition. The money was approved by the governor, but we never accessed the money, as the then accountant general did not release the money for us to embark on the demolition.”
He said that UCCDA needed the security coverage, as its employees were molested when they came to the site earlier to demolish the structure, adding that that the owners of the church threatened to liaise with the government to dismiss any of the authority employees who made attempt to embarrass workers on the church site.
Reacting to Akpan’s testimony, Mr. Ini Ekpo, counsel to Weeks, accused the state government of not releasing the funds needed by UCCDA to demolish the church.He told newsmen that if the government had released the funds, the building would have been demolished and lives would have been saved.
“UCCDA gave the developer of Reigners’ Bible Church 21 days to demolish the building, but after 21 days, government did not facilitate the demolition.“UCCDA has clearly said if they it had the money, the building would have been demolished and lives would have been saved.
“Since the government did not provide the funds to facilitate the demolition, if negligence is found anywhere, then government will not go scot-free,” Ekpo added.The commission has adjourned sitting to reconvene on Monday, January 9 for further hearing.