The head, Town Planning Department, of the Uyo City Capital Development Authority, Effiong Akpan, has blamed the government of Akwa Ibom for not releasing funds for the demolition of Reigners Bible Church, Uyo.
The Church building collapsed on December 10, 2016 during the ordination of its founder, Akan Weeks, killing at least 26 worshippers and injuring several others.
Mr. Akpan made the disclosure on Friday in Uyo while testifying before the Commission of Inquiry set up by the state government to investigate the cause of the collapse of the structure.
Mr. Akpan told the commission 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.
He added that the land and the entire area where the church was built had since 2002 been mapped out by the government as conservation area.
Mr. Akpan said the area lies on the hilly side of Uyo ravine which is prone to landslide.
He said 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 that on May 4, 2015, UCCDA applied for funds from the government to procure cranes, excavators, bulldozers and security coverage to demolish the structure.
He explained that though the governor approved the money, the then Accountant-General of the state refused to release the funds.
Mr. 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 born 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.
“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 His Excellency but we never access the money.
“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.
He added that the owners of the Church threatened to liaise with the government to dismiss any of the authority’s employees who made attempt to embarass workers on the church site.
Reacting to Mr. Akpan’s testimony, Ini Ekpo, counsel to Mr. Weeks, the founder of Reigners’ Bible Church, accused the Akwa Ibom government of not releasing the funds needed by UCCDA to demolish the church.
He told journalists 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 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,” Mr. Ekpo added.
The commission adjourned sitting to reconvene on January 9 for further hearing.