Crime, Courts & Legal Issues
TB Joshua Church Collapse: South Africans Intend to Sue
TB Joshua Church Collapse: South Africans Intend to Sue
Two South Africans who lost relatives when a church hostel in Lagos collapsed have told the BBC they intend to sue Nigerian evangelist TB Joshua.
A South African rescue team was sent to the site in Lagos to help find survivors
The two men, who both lost sisters in the collapse, are appealing for more families to come together in bringing a case against the preacher. At least 115 people, including 84 South Africans, died when the multi-storey building fell down earlier this month. The authorities say it had more floors than its foundation could hold.
On Sunday, Mr Joshua, who is one of Nigeria's best-known evangelists and is popular across Africa, announced plans to travel to South Africa to visit the families of the deceased.
Emergency workers allege they were prevented from participating in the rescue, only gaining full access to the site on Sunday afternoon - accusations denied by Pastor Joshua's Synagogue, Church of All Nations (SCOAN). Thanduxolo Doro and Mpho Molebatsi waited at Johannesburg's OR Tambo airport for days after the collapse for news of their sisters, who had been visiting SCOAN.
Both families had last heard from their relatives hours before the collapse, which happened at about 13:50 local time (12.50 GMT) on Friday 12 September.
"It is not that the building collapsed, rather what was done after the collapse - we didn't get any news from the church," Mr Doro, whose sister Vathiswa Madikiza died, told the BBC. "When I contacted them they wouldn't tell me anything. We saw reports that emergency workers were denied access initially, access that could have saved lives. The actions of the church after the incident are very telling," he said.
In an open letter published in South Africa's Star newspaper, Mr Doro called on more families to sue Mr Joshua.
"I need to do this for her. Even if I stand alone, I am determined to see that something is done," he told the BBC. "I understand that some families are afraid to take on someone who purports to be God's messenger and I don't blame them but I will do this."
Mr Doro says he was informed by South African officials about his sister's death this week, but has to wait for the results of DNA tests before her body can be repatriated for burial. He told the BBC that he had spoken to two families who were eager to join him in suing Mr Joshua, but no concrete plans had been made. He has not been in contact with Mr Molebatsi, whose sister Hlubi Molebatsi was also killed. Mr Molebatsi says he has contacted his lawyers.
Officials suspect the foundations were not suitable for extra floors to be added to the building
"I have spoken to other families but it has been difficult because this is a time of mourning. I would like to see families get something from the church as some of the people who died were breadwinners," he told the BBC.
Some 25 survivors of the collapse are continuing to receive medical care following their return to South Africa. Officials say 16 of the wounded are in critical condition, with some having had limbs amputated and other complications.
Meanwhile, for what they described as attempts to deliberately cover up the truth about the cause of the collapse of a guest hostel in his church premises, a group of Nigerian intellectuals based in the United States of America, are demanding that Pastor T. B. Joshua should be arrested and tried.
The demand was made in a press statement jointly signed by Olufemi Taiwo of Cornell University, Ithaca; Ebenezer Obadare of University of Kansas, Lawrence; Akin Adesokan of Indiana University, Bloomington; Wale Adebanwi, of the University of California, Davis; and Tejumola Olaniyan of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The dons frowned at attempts by Joshua, General Overseer of the Synagogue Church for All Nations, SCOAN, to deny emergency services and the media access to his church when the incident occurred. They also picked holes in his bid to link the collapse to terrorist attack, noting that the fact that the cleric attempted to bribe journalists not to report the incident lends credence to Joshua’s culpability and thus he should be made to stand trial for his role in the unfortunate incident in which 115 people from across continents were killed.
In their opinion, T.B. Joshua’s actions amount to unpardonable impunity laundered under the cloak of “a man of God” with little or no respect and concern for the dead and their families. The professors believe that his intention to divert attention from obvious neglect of stipulated building regulations is tantamount to callousness on the part of the pastor, thus he should be made to face the law.
Similarly, the dons frowned at the visits of President Goodluck Jonathan and Governor Babatunde Fashola to the troubled preacher to commiserate with him on the disaster that befell his church. The signatories to the statement wondered why the meetings were not held in hospitals where some of the victims are being treated for injuries or at the homes of the dead where their relatives are still grieving.
“The president’s visit to the scene of the collapsed building in which he commiserated with Mr. Joshua was painful to watch. Why would the Nigerian president visit and express solidarity with the leader of a church who should be a person of interest in an ongoing police investigation?”
Governor Fashola was also chided for putting his reputation on the line by visiting Pastor Joshua and keeping their conversation private.
Rather than visit the premises, the professors said, the premises should have been cordoned off to preserve evidence for investigation. The professors said that all efforts should be made to get to the root of the matter as well as provide support to survivors of the mishap. Regardless of the high-profile visits by government officials, the group called for support for security agencies to unearth the truth.
Before then, they called for the arrest of Pastor Joshua not only for what they called his “callousness” but for his efforts to subvert the truth.