Written by KEHINDE OYETIMI
It was while celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ that the devastating incidence occurred when members of Christ the King Church, Makurdi, lost friends and family members as the church building collapsed after a stormy rainfall.
I will follow Jesus, come rain, come sunshine, I will follow Jesus”, this is the translation of the Tiv song being rendered by one of the survivors of the Saturday ugly incident at the Christ the King Parish Church in Adamgbe community in Vandeikiya local government area of Benue State when the church building collapsed during one of the services to mark the Easter celebration. At the St Elizabeth Health center, Vandeikiya as the Tribune Church visited the ward for the update of the ugly incident which claimed about 25 people with over 30 people sustaining varied degree of injuries, survivors recounted their ordeals.
This reporter walked quietly towards the direction where the song was coming out, when suddenly, another female victim yawned in a loud voice and rounded it up with, ‘ka we Yesu’ meaning, Thank you Jesus.
Madam Francisca Ahemba was the singer of ‘Come rain, come sunshine, I will follow Jesus.’ While speaking with Tribune Church, the 50-year-old woman explained that her faith in Christ remained unshaken despite the ugly incident that confined her into a hospital bed. She explained that the Easter eve service was an occasion she loved to attend, adding that she had come to the church that fateful day with abundant joy in her heart, particularly, being alive to witness this year’s Easter having fasted for forty days according to the Catholic doctrine.
Mrs Ahemba described her escape as a miracle, saying “It is beyond my comprehension,” stressing that she had joined other worshippers to run in door when it started drizzling.
“I remember that we were directed to move inside the church auditorium when it looked like it was going to rain. As we all ran into the auditorium, the downpour was followed by a storm. Suddenly we heard a loud noise.
“A portion of the roof fell on my leg. I cried and shouted for help. Later some men came and I was rescued from the rubbles that crashed on my leg,” she stated.
For 35-year-old Patricia Shaagba, her case was more severe and had been transferred to an undisclosed hospital shortly after she spoke through an interpreter to this reporter. Merely seeing her, it was obvious that she was in serious pain but still managed to narrate her ordeal.
According to her, she could not remember vividly how the tragic incident occurred but only remembered that she joined other worshippers to file into the church auditorium when the rain started. She was shocked to find herself at the health center with bruises all over her body. It was while she was narrating her story that a medical personnel interrupted and excused the reporter to allow the woman take her rest as she was about to be transferred to a neighboring hospital for better treatment.
Mrs Lydia Ityonenge who was full of praises to God Almighty also described her escape as a miracle because she said that another woman who sat by her side was not that lucky as she lost her life.
According to her, “There was no ominous sign to show that evil was lurking around the corner. We were asked to go inside the church when it started raining. Because of the multitude of the people that graced the mass, the church could not accommodate us. Initially, I wanted to run into a nearby classroom but my friend suggested that we should take refuge inside the church.
“Hardly had we settled down that it started raining. It was accompanied with a thunderstorm and the last thing I noticed was that the side of the church where we sat caved in and fell on us. It was here I learnt that my companion could not make it.”
Emmanuel Azer was, however, not so lucky as he lost his wife to the storm. Speaking to Tribune Church about his last encounter with his wife, he said that his wife had prepared pounded yam for him before she left for the mass that fateful day.
According to him, “I came back from a burial in the afternoon of that fateful day, only to leave for a meeting in the evening and informed my wife to prepare pounded yam for me before she leaves for the vigil.
“When I got home around 8. 30pm that day, I could not eat the food again because I had taken something outside. So I returned to a nearby family house where we were having fun but the news filtered to us that a church had collapsed. In a jiffy, we rushed to the place and what we saw was alarming. What I did was to look for my wife only to be confronted with her lifeless body.”
The parish priest Rev fr Cosmos Jooli while narrating the unpleasant incident, recalled that he was not inside the church building when the mishap occurred.
According to him, “It was on holy Saturday evening. I was supposed to start mass by 9pm. But some minutes to nine, it started threatening to rain and there was heavy wind. Because the population of the members was bigger than the church auditorium, we decided to shift the mass to an open arena within church compound.
“So when it started to rain, people had to run to take shelter in the church that was already empty of pews, since the mass was going to take place outside. When it started raining, people had to run to the church to take shelter, some came to my house. While others went to other nearby houses to take refuge, it rained heavily, accompanied by wind.
“Shortly after the rain had started, I cameot too long I saw people running to my house, shouting and wailing that the church had collapsed, the church had collapsed.
“I quickly pulled my cassock and ran out into the rain and went to the church where I discovered that part of the building had collapsed and had engulfed people in the debris. I started shouting, my loud cry was however drowned by the torrential rainfall. So I kept shouting and shouting, until some male members of the church came with diggers, hammers and shovels and started breaking the walls that had trapped the people inside the church. We were able to save some lives that were knocked down by the collapsed wall.
“There was a stampede at the doors and even those who were not affected by the collapsed wall were trapped inside the church because the door leading to the church was blocked as a result of the stampede. As soon as we were able to remove those who were trapped, we realized that twenty two persons died on the spot mostly women and children and their corpses were later taken to the mortuary in Vandeikya LGA while the 35 persons severely injured were taken to various hospitals for treatment,” he narrated .