Nigeria: we need answers, not politics

2014-09-21 15:00

It’s been more than a week since a guesthouse belonging to controversial Nigerian preacher TB Joshua collapsed in Lagos.

In times of crisis and tragedy, saving lives is paramount; and sometimes information is the least of anyone’s worries. But usually, as time passes, that changes.

Take the case of the Westgate Mall shooting in Nairobi, Kenya, last year. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, the authorities were as confused and in the dark as the rest of us. The siege intensified and information started to flow, both through official channels and on social media, as relatives, friends, journalists and concerned Kenyans shared what they knew.

But nine days on, we know little from Lagos.

South Africans were shocked when President Jacob Zuma announced that 67 of our countrymen and women were among the dead.

There was further shock as the Nigerian authorities sniped that the South Africans had jumped the gun; that nobody knew for sure who was dead or where they had travelled from, guided by their faith.

Pretoria revised its death toll upwards to 84. Still, there was no confirmation from Abuja. Joshua himself broke his silence only to suggest the collapse was about him and not the people who had died in the rubble.

The diplomatic relationship between these two continental powerhouses has been fraught in the 20 years since South Africa came in from the cold. Is this week’s harrowing silence, the hopeless wait for frightened relatives, a product of this tension?

This is not the time for petty politicking or official muscle-flexing. People need answers.

They need clarity and they need to mourn their dead and celebrate the survivors.

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