Nigeria: Church collapse reignites questions about safety

15 December 2016

Rescuers continued the search for survivors of a collapsed Church building in the south of Nigeria on Monday, as the death toll climbed to 160. Hundreds of worshippers, including Governor Udom Emmanuel, were inside the Reigners Bible Church in Uyo, the capital city of the southern Akwa Ibom State, when its roof caved in on Saturday.

“After offering, the building from the centre started cracking, and in less than a minute the whole building collapsed,” one eye-witness told RFI. The building was still under construction at the time. “Even if you’re not an architect or engineer, you know that a building that has not been tested or completed would collapse anyway,” Joseph Ochieno, a political analyst and writer, said.

Accident waiting to happen

Buildings collapse regularly in Nigeria because of lack of adequate public services, with contractors bribing inspectors to ignore botched jobs or absent building permits. “Construction materials would be substandard, it’s not unusual where concrete mixes are designed to use 100 bags of cement, have contractors using 50, 60 or 70 and share the spoils of the others,” highlights Ochieno.

For Albert Uko, this kind of shoddy work is what brought down another famous church in the Nigerian capital Lagos two years ago. “That of Lagos that happened, it was also due to lack of strict adherence to engineering standards, because they were trying to put up many floors on the building, whose foundation could not sustain, and so it had to cave in.”

In 2014, 116 people, mainly South Africans, died when their guest house at the Synagogue Church of All Nations in Lagos, also collapsed. Worshippers told reporters that construction workers had been rushing to finish the Reigners Bible Church in time for Saturday’s ceremony to ordain founder Akan Weeks as a bishop.

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