When buildings and other structures collapse, it should be nominally attributable to natural disasters, not human faults. Nigeria is lucky to be spared the fault lines of the Pacific Rim, yet, our buildings collapse because we tempt fate by haphazardly erecting structures. On Saturday, the main auditorium of the Reigners Bible Church International collapsed in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, during service and between 50 and 200 people were killed (depending on which media outlet you believed).
With the collapse of the so-called “Mega-Cathedral” in Uyo, we are once again confronted with a massive loss of lives sacrificed on the altar of contractors’ ineptitude, avarice of building owners and the failure of government agencies. Media reports indicate that the cathedral was hastily completed for the “bishoprick enthronement” of the General Overseer, Apostle Akan Weeks.
Clearly, lives cut in their prime matter little to those who by omission or commission sanctioned the collapsed structure. What has collapsed before the actual physical buildings is our society’s moral values; we needlessly suffer an unthinkable number of collapsed buildings yet the anomaly continues. In March, the buildings that collapsed in Lekki Gardens killed about 34 people.
In saner climes, there are buildings that are centuries old and which are still standing. In Nigeria, it is not uncommon for building under construction to keel over. There is the perpetual error of using substandard building materials, voodoo site engineers who are not registered with the relevant certifying bodies, and the absolute disregard for the laws of Nigeria.
As is Nigeria’s lot, while passions around this tragedy rage, there will be one or two semblances of definite action against those responsible for the unfortunate incident. There will be a number of arrests and, perhaps, a trial would be initiated. The state officials and some others invested with various levers of power will spend days raging in the media with tongue-in-cheek pronouncements that those who are responsible for the collapse will face justice. There will be promises of compensation to victims and their families. If those who managed to escape from the scene with injuries are lucky, their hospital bills will be paid.
When the passion dies down and Nigerians move to other concerns as we are wont to do, will the state maintain the drive to see that this case is thoroughly investigated and those responsible for the ill-fated occurrence brought to justice?
Interestingly, the Uyo instance piques me because the state governor, Emmanuel Udom, was an “I-witness” to the unfortunate incident. He was lucky to have escaped unhurt but this important detail of his miraculous escape must not be overlooked as we press for justice: If the governor worships in the church, it means he has a relationship with the pastor. If he has a relationship with the pastor, either as a friend or as a church VIP whose presence at the church buys the pastor some social capital, it could also mean that he might be “morally” bound to prevent his friend or pastor from facing the full wrath of the law.
Please, note that I have not accused the governor of anything yet but in Nigeria, we know how the unholy marriage between religious leaders and politicians pays off. Politicians need them because they have huge following and a lot of influence; religious leaders need politicians because they have executive power which helps the former to pull some strings in high places whenever they need to do so. For some time now, a corrupt former banker who also happens to be a member of one of our mega churches in Nigeria has, over the years, evaded justice from the acts of fraud he allegedly committed because he has been shielded by his “Daddy-Pastor.” The pastor in question does not run the courts but he publicly consorts with those who do and that sort of “man know man” is huge capital in the organisation of power in Nigeria. Pastors want us to believe that the hand that manipulates things in man’s favour comes from God but in reality, pastors forge strategic political alliances like any other politician.
Two years ago, a building in Synagogue Church of all Nations, Lagos, led by Pastor T.B. Joshua collapsed and killed about 116 people. One would have rightly believed that given the scale of the disaster, and the fact that the Lagos Coroner inquest indicted the church, the fate of Joshua and the engineers/designers in charge of the construction would by now be a warning to others who use shortcuts but no, that has not happened. In fact, days after the incident, before the blood of the victims had even been wiped off the floor, the then President, Goodluck Jonathan, (who never missed a chance to pander wherever religion was concerned) flew from Abuja to Lagos to condole with Joshua who was unharmed. Mind you, Jonathan’s visit came while revelations were already streaming in that the building might have collapsed due to human error and that Joshua needed to be investigated. Yet, the President chose to openly fraternise with Joshua; a gesture that would have communicated his “body language” to prosecutors: that this pastor had the backing of the “big men.”
Meanwhile, Governor Emmanuel has ordered the arrest of the engineers and building contractors who worked on the building. That should be an impressive step but the fact that the governor had to make such an order makes me wonder if this is not a mere knee-jerk reaction that will go nowhere. These responses are typical in the wake of disasters in Nigeria. Let the passion cool off and people will simply move on. I suppose we will come back to this same place in some years to review Akwa Ibom State Government’s treatment of this case. Will the governor protect the church if found guilty or will his own lucky escape serve as an omen to remind him that he could be a victim of similar sloppiness another time?
There are three more things that have happened since Sunday, all of them displaying our lack of social ethics when confronted with a major tragedy. One, Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, issued a press release where he mentioned that the President had “congratulated” the governor for escaping death. Buhari’s media aides tend to manage his public correspondence with a level of moronism that is almost abominable and this press release is another one of the many examples. While Shehu’s piece showed zero sensitivity and nil common sense, what Shehu expressed, is in fact, a Nigerian attitude.
Consider Ini Edo, the actress who announced that she could have been in the collapsed church that day but for God. Nigerians need to be schooled on their penchant for rushing to share testimonies when certain catastrophic incidents miss them. People should learn to restrain themselves from telling the world God saved them when the same God stood by and watched others die. They need not add to the trauma of the bereaved. People should know that not every moment is about them and they can always wait until the pains of the victims’ families would have receded.
Three, on Monday, Apostle Weeks said, “Let Christians in Akwa Ibom State know that this battle is not all about Akan Weeks and his church; it is the battle between the kingdom of darkness and the church in the land.”
Personally, I do not believe in the existence of Satan (or any spectre for that matter) but the man of God apparently does. He has found a way of shifting moral responsibility to the devil so we can overlook the culpability of human agents. If Satan truly had anything to do with the collapse, and his God was too weak to save his own followers, then Apostle Weeks is making a case for serving Satan instead.