Lagos – Followers of one of Nigeria’s most popular preachers attacked emergency service workers, preventing them from accessing the site of a deadly building collapse, an inquest was told today.
“The first three days [after the collapse] were marred by the so-called church sympathisers and the crowd,” said the head of the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency, Femi Oke-Osanyintolu.
“By the time we attained momentum after 96 hours a lot of things had gone bad.”
A total of 116 people, 84 of them South Africans, were killed when a guesthouse for foreign followers of TB Joshua’s Synagogue Church of All Nations collapsed in Lagos on September 12.
Joshua, known to his congregation as “The Prophet” and “The Man of God”, was scheduled to give evidence at the coroner’s inquest into the tragedy.
But the self-styled miracle worker, who claims that he can see the future, was not in court, despite the coroner having warned that he faced arrest if he did not appear.
Oke-Osanyintolu told the hearing that it was only after the intervention of the Lagos state governor that rescue workers could get to the stricken building on the sprawling church compound.
He said there was “no effective crowd control” in the aftermath of the collapse, which engineers have blamed on the addition of extra floors to the guesthouse.
“The crowd impeded our operation. They did not allow our personnel and equipment to come in. They frustrated the emergency workers at the scene,” he added.
Instead of allowing trained rescue workers with specialist equipment to search for survivors, only church members and volunteers were allowed to pick through the rubble, he said.
“There were restrictions of emergency responders to the scene of the collapse. On the first day, we were assaulted, especially my humble self,” he continued.
“We were not allowed to do documentation. Photographs of the incident were not allowed.
“We asked for the manifest to know the number and identities of the people in the building, we were not given. We asked for the building plan, we were not given.”
Expert witnesses at the hearing have previously ruled out sabotage from a low-flying aircraft or an explosion, as suggested by Joshua and church members.
Oke-Osanyintolu, a medical doctor, also rejected the theory: “On observation, bodies were not mutilated. They were not disjointed ... the bodies were not burnt.”
The court has heard that the guesthouse did not have planning permission and that other structures on the site, including the church’s main auditorium, were structurally defective.