We make our peace with hypocrisy

2014-10-05 15:00

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Don’t expect answers regarding the Synagogue Church collapse, writes Azubuikwe Ishiekwene

South Africans are bereft at Nigeria’s lousy official response after the collapse of a building on the premises of the Synagogue Church of All Nations left 115 people dead and scores injured. At least 80 South Africans died in the tragedy.

But it was not just the incident that has left South Africans appalled. They didn’t even know the number of dead until Pretoria told us almost a week later. And yet, that single incident could be one of the worst, in terms of casualties, in the past 20 years.

How can people die in numbers and those who have a responsibility to save lives or comfort the bereaved all end up wringing their hands as if to say: “Let’s just bury the dead and move on?”

In a Sunday Times article titled Blood on their hands, the author provided a diary of how a combination of fear, caprice and negligence led to the tragedy, and compounded its aftermath.

Accidents happen. The problem is that not only do we make them happen, we allow all that can go wrong to happen. It’s this depressing narrative that left the author of the Sunday Times article asking questions. I can say for free that there would be no answers.

How did Synagogue get approval to raise the church building from two storeys to six? Why were first responders prevented from accessing to the site?

Why are the authorities behaving as if TB Joshua, the man on whose premises this tragedy occurred, is above the law?

There will be a probe, all right. There will be a big ceremony to receive the report. And there will even be a bigger promise that the government will do everything to give the dead the justice they deserve. But that would be it – until another tragedy occurs.

According to the Nigerian Institute of Building, 84 buildings have collapsed in 20 years, mostly between 1999 and 2009, claiming more than 400 lives.

In a 2012 study, Dr Adedeji Adeniran quoted the institute as saying that investigations into the incidents revealed that 50% of building failure cases were due to design fault, 40% to construction fault and 10% to product failures.

He referred to another study, which states: “About 37% of the collapses are believed to be caused by carelessness and greed on the part of construction professionals.”

Enforcement of building codes has improved in some places, especially in Lagos, but Synagogue is a reminder that we still have a long way to go.

Reports after the tragedy clearly showed the building was a disaster waiting to happen. Only God knows why the town-planning authorities allowed Joshua’s church to get away with a skyscraper on wooden stilts.

Pastor Joshua wants the world to believe an unidentified flying object was responsible for the collapse of the church building. Or that it was a terror attack. That, to say the least, is laughable, and not just because the Nigerian senate finds it convenient to say so. Would the senators have been able to speak up if the Yonggi Chos of Nigerian Christendom – those with the congregations and the connections – had been the ones involved?

We may not even dare ask for reasons and explanations as to why Synagogue happened, and Joshua can expect to get away with his ridiculous explanations. This because, in Nigeria, common sense is totally at the disposal of faith-based religion.

We wear God on our sleeves, but make our peace with hypocrisy, turning a blind eye when the rules are broken.

Instead of asking why Synagogue happened and demanding answers, we resign to fate or cringe in fear that preventable disaster could either be “divine punishment” for our sins or Satan’s war on the saints.

How Joshua could have described the dead as “martyrs and God’s generals” when his church reportedly blocked initial rescue efforts beats me. But what is even more confounding is that he has not once been called in for questioning about how the worst building collapse in two decades happened in his church.

Maybe the police think it would be a sin against

God to question the pastor the same way town planning authorities in Lagos might have thought it “heresy” to stop the church from extending the building upwards.

Politics spoils everything. As elections draw near, religious leaders have become major recruiters for politicians. The church and mosque have become campaign grounds. Whatever the outcome of the Lagos probe, Governor Babatunde Fashola, a Muslim, would be in no less a quandary repossessing the church site, for example, than would President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian who is harvesting his Christian base for re-election next year.

After the $9.3?million (R105.4?million) cash-for-arms scandal, Synagogue can only worsen the current miserable relationship between Nigeria and South Africa. That’s why President Jacob Zuma’s request for a probe might get talking attention, but nothing more.

We stumble from one bad news event to another, sweeping things under the carpet as we go. We’ll probably find enough room to accommodate this tragedy without losing sleep.

It’s sad, but the friends and families of the dead will have to find the courage to move on without expecting Synagogue to change the way Nigeria works.

Ishiekwene is a board member of the World Policy Journal and the group managing director of the Abuja-based Leadership newspaper

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