Only faith keeps some buildings standing

2014-09-23 13:45

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Construction regulations in Nigeria are regularly flouted, leading to the ­regular collapse of structures in a country where corruption is rife

Rescue workers search for survivors in the rubble of a collapsed building belonging to the Synagogue Church of All Nations in Lagos, Nigeria. President Jacob Zuma announced on Tuesday that at least 67 South Africans died when the multistorey guesthouse, which housed Nigerian and foreign followers of the popular preacher and televangelist, TB Joshua, collapsed on September 12. Picture: AP

Nigeria is the African country with the most Christians (80?million) and also the African country with the most Muslims (also 80?million). Religion is everywhere. As is poverty. Dozens of small churches populate almost every suburban street and backstreet in Lagos.

But it is just outside the city where the giants stand: enormous temples of hope with names like Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries (capacity: 200?000) on the highway to Ibadan; TB Joshua’s own church where last week’s tragedy occurred; and Winners Chapel, where glamorous bishop David Oyedepo boasts his temple’s roof stays up thanks to mercy from above (it seats 50?000 people).

And this is part of the problem – so many roofs and buildings in Nigeria are still standing on just a wing and a prayer.

Collapsing buildings in Lagos, a pulsating megacity of about 18?million people, is a common occurrence.

Building regulations are regularly flouted, cement is mixed with sand and despite many efforts to curb corruption, bribery is common, especially if you need a certificate that says “this building is safe”.

Everything is up for sale, and even fear is peddled.

Joshua’s own explanation for the catastrophe was that a mysterious aircraft somehow managed to sabotage the multistorey building by flying over it shortly before the collapse.

He also blamed Islamic militants, who, as Boko Haram, have abducted and slaughtered thousands of people in recent years, especially in the north, in their effort to enforce the creation of an Islamic caliphate.

In April, more than 300 schoolgirls were kidnapped by Boko Haram from their school in Chibok. They are still missing.

Their proven blood lust makes the extremists a credible scapegoat. Video footage made available by Joshua shows something that looks like an aeroplane flying low over the building before it collapses in a cloud of dust.

The authenticity of the video has not been confirmed and conspiracy theories like these abound in this superstitious country, even if relief organisations have ruled out foul play.

The more banal explanation for the deadly collapse is the alleged unlawful construction of additional floors on top of Joshua’s guesthouse. We don’t yet know the real reason for the disaster.

The hundreds of people who go to Lagos with the hope of finding spiritual revival or a cure for deadly disease become the innocent victims of prophets who are seen as infallible.

And who can blame the millions of Nigerians who stream to Joshua and other merchants of hope?

Government institutions are so eroded by nepotism and fraud, it really is only the churches that can say with any authority: “Believe in us.”

Pelser was Media24’s bureau chief in Lagos in 2007 and 2008, and is now the editor of Rapport

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