Dec. 12, 2016 (GIN) – Newly-installed steel girders supporting a megachurch filled with Nigerian parishioners snapped abruptly during a Saturday church service, trapping hundreds and leaving a trail of tragedy for close to 200 congregants who lost their lives, according to local sources.
Mortuaries in the southern Nigerian city of Uyo were overflowing after the incident, Etete Peters, medical director of the University of Uyo teaching hospital, told the Associated Press.
In anticipation of the consecration service for the church founder, Apostle Akan, and a visit by the state governor, congregants told reporters on the scene that builders may have been pushed to finish the enormous structure earlier than planned.
The governor of the Nigerian state of Akwa Ibom, Emmanuel Udom, was inside the building when the girders fell onto worshippers and the corrugated iron roof caved in. Emmanuel escaped unhurt.
According to Reports Afrique, an online news service, Apostle Akan had urged engineers to remove the center scaffold that held up the roof to create more space in the church.
Journalists at the scene said church officials tried to prevent them from documenting the incident, trying to seize cameras and forcing some to leave the area. Later, Gov. Udom downplayed the number of fatalities – from 160 to 23 – blaming the discrepancy on shoddy reporting.
Body counts are now a matter of dispute since a lower number of fatalities was released by the Chairman of the Nigerian Medical Association, Akwa Ibom State Branch, Dr. Aniekeme Uwah, and higher numbers were released by foreign news agencies.
An article titled “Tell the Public the Truth about the Total Number of Victims and Casualties Now,” demanded an end to a “shameful coverup in order to undermine the gravity of the avoidable disaster.” The article, by human rights lawyer Inibehe Effiong, appeared in the online news service Sahara Reporters. Effiong is the convener of the Coalition of Human Rights Defenders of Nigeria.
Meanwhile, a megachurch was again the scene of a tragedy on the same day when a stampede occurred at the Synagogue Church of All Nations in Ikotun, Lagos State. Worshippers were reportedly attempting to reach the General Overseer, Prophet TB Joshua, as he led a special healing service.
Three worshippers have been confirmed dead after the stampede which occurred around 4:30 a.m., according to PUNCH.