Worship songs were immediately replaced with screams of agony as a church collapsed in Uyo, killing scores of worshippers
On the best of worship days, hundreds force their way into the uncompleted structure while hawkers make brisk business within the premises.
Last Saturday was no different.
Apostle Akan Weeks was getting consecrated--that means the church founder was making the step up from an Apostle to a Bishop.
Akan Weeks boasts some powerful connections within the corridors of power in Akwa Ibom State.
That meant State Governor Udom Emmanuel will be visiting.
The crowd surged into the structure. And kept surging.
"We were having praise and worship. Offering time followed. Bishop Mike Laju called for special prayers. And soon after, Governor Emmanuel walked in", one survivor tells Pulse. "Everyone was dancing and praising the Lord..."
And then mayhem.
The corrugated iron roof of the Reigners Bible Church came tumbling down.
The building was still under construction. With chants of "praise the Lord...Hallelujah!" still renting the air, iron bars or metal girders began dropping on heads of worshippers.
The structure began caving in from the edges. The Governor was seated on the raised platform.
One iron bar smashed the seat where the Governor was sitting. He ducked.
Everyone was ducking iron bars--or tried to duck iron bars.
Everyone was making a mad dash for the exit doors as screams of agony and cries for help replaced victory songs to God.
“The Governor did not run", narrates Personal Assistant to the Governor on Media, Essien Nduese. "He simply saw the falling iron coming, it stopped half way, then he walked out.”
Scores of other worshippers were not so lucky.
On the parch of red earth where a famous church once occupied a pride of place, close to 100 persons had been buried with several more trapped in the rubble.
24 hours later, Akwa Ibom Police commissioner, Murtala Mani, said his men had counted 27 lifeless bodies. 37 were critically injured, he told the press.
Eyewitnesses however said the death toll had reached triple digits by nightfall on Sunday.
Etete Peters of the University of Uyo Teaching Hospital said mortuaries were overflowing with corpses.
There were insinuations that one of the Governor's aides had lost his life while trying to save that of his boss.
However, Nduese said that wasn't the case. The person who was mistaken for an aide was the guy holding the microphone--one of the church members, Nduese offered.
“He (the deceased) was not standing with the Governor, neither was he sitting behind the Governor. The Commissioner for Information, Mr. Charles Udoh, and the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor Mr. Ekerette Udoh, are in the hospital.
“Ekerette has a dislocation in his left leg; he also has internal pains. He is better now though he is still in the hospital".
Hospitals in and around Uyo have had their hands full and all medical personnel in the State have been asked to be by the side of the wounded, as rescue operations continue.
In a press statement, Governor Udom ordered a full scale investigation into the circumstances that led to the collapse of the church.
“His Excellency, the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr Udom Emmanuel was present at the church service during the incident and thereafter personally supervised rescue operations and evacuation of the injured to the hospital. The State Government will undertake the medical treatment of the victims.
“A high-powered panel of enquiry is being constituted to ascertain the immediate and remote factors leading to the collapse of the church building with a view to forestall the re-occurrence of such incident and bring to book persons found to have compromised professional standards in the construction of the building”, the statement read.
President Muhammadu Buhari and State Governors across Nigeria, have been sending their commiserations across to the people of Akwa Ibom State.
“This evening I spoke with Gov. Udom Emmanuel to commiserate with him on the tragic collapse of the Reigners Bible Church in Uyo", said the President.
“I asked the Governor to convey to the people of Akwa Ibom state the deep sorrow felt by me, and by the entire country over this tragedy.
“I pray that the souls of the deceased will rest in peace, and that the injured will experience quick recovery.
“Any tragedy that affects any part of Nigeria affects all of us. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the people of Akwa Ibom.”
Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, said: “It is indeed an unfortunate incident and words cannot really express our sadness as a government over the loss of several lives, who have become victims of an incident they know nothing about.
“It is indeed a pathetic situation and we can only express our condolence and commiserate with the bereaved families over this incident".
Governor Udom has appealed for calm.
"People should be calm. On the part of government, we'll do everything possible to make sure that this will never happen again in this State".
Moments after the disaster however, the consecration service for Apostle Akan continued, one eye-witness told Pulse.
It won't be the first time a church building has given way in deeply religious Nigeria.
In 2014, the Synagogue Church of All Nations collapsed in Lagos, killing some 116 worshippers. A coroner's inquest put the collapse down to poor quality of building materials.
Synagogue Pastor, TB Joshua, still walks the land--complete with phony miracles--a free man.