The Akwa Ibom State government has said that the pastor whose church building collapsed and killed 27 people in the state in 2016 is not culpable of any crime.
The tragic incident occurred during the consecration ceremony of the founder and pastor of Reigners Bible Church, Uyo, Akan Weeks, as a bishop.
The church building was still under construction when it caved in.
Thirty-seven people were injured, while additional number of people died later from injuries.
The state Governor, Udom Emmanuel, who was one of the guests at the church ceremony, narrowly escaped unhurt.
The state government, in a white paper released on Monday, rejected the pastor’s indictment by the commission of inquiry it set up to investigate the incident.
The commission, headed by a retired judge, Umoekoyo Essang, said in its report that the pastor’s “undue interference” in the construction work led to the collapse of the church building.
“His (Mr Week) adamant posture of unbridled impunity as the Founder/General Overseer of Reigners Bible Church led to the unfortunate incident of 10 December, 2016,” the commission had said in the report.
The commission said the church didn’t get government permit for the building construction and that the construction work was rushed with impunity to have the event take place in an uncompleted building site.
The state government in rejecting the recommendation of the commission, said: “Facts available indicate that Apostle (Dr.) Akan Weeks relied on the professionals he engaged.
“It is the obligation of the professionals to execute due care and skill in the discharge of their duties or resign where they are not allowed to do so.”
The government also rejected the commission’s report that the Uyo Capital City Development Authority (UCCDA) was remotely responsible for the building collapse for failing to stop the construction work after issuing a ‘stop work’ order.
But the government, however, accepted the commission’s recommendation that the head of planning at the UCCDA, Effiong Akpan, should be punished by the agency.
Two persons who were involved in the building construction is to be prosecuted by the state’s Ministry of Justice for their culpability, according to the white paper.
The building collapse, the white paper said, was due to unprofessionalism and negligence.
A human right lawyer from the state, Inibehe Effiong, while reacting to the release of the white paper, accused Governor Emmanuel of “shielding” the pastor, Mr Weeks, whom he said is the governor’s friend.
“Udom Emmanuel is a friend of Akan Weeks and was physically present during the consecration event when the building collapsed.
“We should remember that the governor himself rode to power on the blood of innocent Akwa Ibom people and does not have respect for human life. This explains why the government has fraudulently exonerated the principal culprit of the building collapse, Akan Weeks.
“Since the government has rejected the findings and recommendations relating to Akan Weeks and the UCCDA, why should any other person be prosecuted? If Akan Weeks, the principal culprit, is not liable despite being indicted by the Commission of Inquiry, why should any other person be held liable?
“Selective justice is also fraudulent justice, and fraudulent justice is not and will never be justice,” Mr Effiong said in a statement he emailed to PREMIUM TIMES, Monday.
The government, which appeared reluctant initially to issue a white paper on the report, came under increasing pressure from the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) and human right campaigners.
The release of the white paper came few weeks after Mr Effiong threatened to sue the government for it.