The governor of Akwa Ibom State, Udom Emmanuel, has countered a witness account that his aide died while saving him from the collapsed church in Uyo.
The state is mourning the collapse of the Reigners Bible Church building, along Uyo Village Road, which led to scores of deaths and injuries.
Governor Emmanuel said 26 people lost their lives, while the police had earlier put the figure at 27.
Ubong Mboho, an evangelist, who was inside the collapsed building, told PREMIUM TIMES, Sunday, that he saw the governor’s aide, Ernest Idem, push Mr. Emmanuel away from the falling iron beams.
“He (Mr. Idem) was standing close to the governor. I saw him push the governor away from danger when the building started falling,” said Mr. Mboho whose father, Elijah Mboho, an influential arch bishop in Akwa Ibom, was scheduled to ordain the church pastor, Akan Weeks, as a bishop at the ill-fated ceremony.
Mr. Mboho said Mr. Idem was hit by a beam before he could get out of the collapsed building.
Two other persons who spoke on Sunday with PREMIUM TIMES corroborated Mr. Mboho’s story.
But Mr. Emmanuel said no such thing happened.
The governor, during a solemn assembly held on Monday in the state banquet hall in honour of the victims of the incident, said the late Mr. Idem was a driver who worked “directly in his service”.
He said the late driver “sat elsewhere in another location within the church because he was also a member of the church”.
Raphael Edem, Special Assistant on Public Affairs to the governor, gave further insight.
“On that occasion, as on every event the governor attends, those seated beside him (Mr. Emmanuel) were senior officials of Government while those behind him were security detail,” Mr. Edem said on Facebook.
“There were commissioners, chairmen of boards and commissions, permanent secretaries seated up to four rows behind the governor. My friend Ernest was nowhere around there. I was in that church and I saw those beams and heavy metal and roof come down.
“It is a scene you should pray never to witness as it all happened within a matter of seconds. Do you know the distance between where the governor sat and the exit and that it isn’t possible to push someone that distance?
“Is it possible that someone who wasn’t even close to the governor would somehow manage to jump in between his close body protection detail and push the governor?” Mr. Edem said.
The Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, and the Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, were among the dignitaries present at the Akwa Ibom solemn assembly.
Mr. Emmanuel said at the solemn assembly that he had to chartered aircrafts to fly in neuro-surgeons to help treat the victims of the incident, and appealed to the federal government for assistance.
The governor told the people of the state not to despair, as God was still with the people.
“The second chance is for everyone and not just the survivors, and we should be more concerned by the account we would render before God, because He will certainly not be interested in our titles and positions,” Mr. Emmanuel was quoted as saying.
Meanwhile, the state government has announced the postponement of the Ibom Heritage Festival, a three-day cultural event which was earlier scheduled to commence on December 15.
Ekerete Udoh, the spokesman to Governor Emmanuel, said the postponement was in honour of the victims of the church building collapse. He said a new date for the festival will be made known to the public.