On September 12, 2014, a six-storey guesthouse at the premises of the Synagogue Church of All Nations at Ikotun-Egbe, Lagos, collapsed, killing over a hundred people.  Last week, the governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola, said, during a meeting with members of the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners, that the state government would investigate the incident. The assurance by Gov. Fashola is heartwarming; the families of the victims of this tragedy and Nigerians, in general, expect and deserve nothing less.

While PREMIUM TIMES welcomes the probe and does not in any way intend to preempt the outcome, we feel duty-bound to highlight a few troubling issues surrounding the tragedy. Nigerians are outraged, and rightly so, not only about the building collapse but also the actions and utterances of the authorities of the church, particularly its leader, Mr. T.B. Joshua, during and after the incident. Of course, the incident was not the first and likely won’t be the last considering the many problems associated with Nigeria’s construction industry – lack of professionalism, poor quality materials, building without requisite permits and so on – but the response to this particular incident is disturbing in many ways.

In our view, Mr. Joshua mismanaged everything about the building tragedy, from the rescue effort to the simple task of providing information about the casualties. Regrettably, much of what we know about the incident has come from South Africa, a country that, reportedly, lost more than eighty of its citizens. At every opportunity, Mr. Joshua has been inclined to either downplay the incident or use religion and scare tactics to obfuscate the issues. Since the incident, Mr. Joshua has moved from one convenient alibi to another in order, we think, to cover up the incident.

Mr. Joshua’s initial response to the incident of September 12 focused on the terrorist group, Boko Haram. He accused the group of being responsible for the tragedy, claiming that he was the target of an orchestrated attack. Then he came up with the bizarre tale that a plane hovering over the building triggered the collapse. With over one hundred lives lost, the issue is too serious to be reduced to telling tales.

It is public knowledge that the building that collapsed was initially a two-storey building and there was no permit before it was raised to six floors. There were reports that for 48 hours after the incident, officials of the church prevented personnel of the National Emergency Management Authority (NEMA) from accessing the site and rescuing survivors. In a strange twist, Mr. Joshua was heard on tape offering journalists N50,000 each in a clear attempt to influence press reportage of the tragedy.

In response to the disquiet in South Africa over the incident, Mr. Joshua declared the dead “martyrs of faith” and promised to “take his teachings” to the country every month to compensate for their loss. And for those who challenged Mr. Joshua’s clairvoyance and why he didn’t forewarn the church about the incident, the founder of Synagogue Church proclaimed that he saw a vision that something tragic was to befall his ministry and that he had prepared his church to deal with the tragedy.

“For those who are outside the Lord, they would not know. When you are outside God, you will not know what I am talking. When you are outside the light, you cannot understand what I am talking,” Mr. Joshua said. “For the three weeks before the incident, if you heard my message and sat down, you would know I was giving you a vision and prophetic word on how to handle the situation at hand. Trials and tests are for our belief. I go by the directives of God.”

A few days ago, Mr. Joshua took to the social media to excoriate members of the public who have become increasingly incensed by his antics, accusing them of being “used by Satan,” and seeking to “disturb” the faith of his local and international members with “negative words”. Mr. Joshua was not done. In his words, the “Satanic agents” who are criticising him over the tragedy would soon “suffer for it”.

One of the most troubling reports that have emerged since the tragedy is from relatives of patients who have gone to the Synagogue for miracle cure being asked to stop taking their medications because they have been cured and many of them subsequently died. There is a fundamental public health issue there that should be investigated separately from the building collapse.

PREMIUM TIMES deplores the scare tactics T. B. Joshua has been using. We believe that religion is a private matter and that people reserve the right to their faith and to worship as they please.

Nonetheless, Mr. Joshua should be told that when his actions affect people’s lives, it is not an affront on him to demand for and obtain the truth of what happened.

Nigerians have a right to know – because the tragedy has wide-ranging social implications – the remote and immediate causes of what happened at the premises of the Synagogue Church on September 12, even if it is only for the reason of preventing similar incidents in future.

As the Lagos State government prepares to probe the incident, PREMIUM TIMES urges all those who have useful information, including journalists, building professionals and emergency responders, to avail themselves of the opportunity the inquest offers to unravel the “mystery” surrounding the tragedy.

PREMIUM TIMES hopes that Mr. Joshua, officials of the church and families of the victims will do the same. While we look forward to the outcome of the investigation, we commiserate with the families of the dead and injured and hope they and their loved ones will get justice. We strongly believe that anyone found culpable in this avoidable tragedy should be brought to trial and punished accordingly to serve as a deterrent to other would-be offenders.