Nigeria Preacher, TB Joshua's Guesthouse Collapses, Killing Many
Nigeria Preacher, TB Joshua's Guesthouse Collapses, Killing Many
Church couldn’t produce building approval – LASG
A building linked to TB Joshua, one of Nigeria's best known preachers and televangelists, has collapsed in Lagos, killing at least three people.
The two-storey structure was a guesthouse for members of Mr Joshua's Synagogue Church of All Nations. Eighteen people had been taken to hospital and scores were still trapped in the rubble, rescue official Ibrahim Farinloye told AFP news agency.
But according to LEADERSHIP newspaper, the building in question was actually a six-storey building serving as a lodge for spiritual tourists at the Synagogue Church of All Nations, Ikotun-Egbe, Lagos. It collapsed midday Friday killing about 15 people including a 12-year-old.
Mr Joshua - also known as the Prophet - regularly preaches to vast crowds. His services, at a mega-church in Lagos's Ikotun district, are known for attracting thousands of people, AFP reports. Followers in Nigeria and abroad believe he has the gifts of healing and prophecy.
The guesthouse was being extended, with three additional floors, when it collapsed. Its occupants are thought to have included many foreign visitors.
When LEADERSHIP weekend visited the scene of the incident Friday, many corpses had been recovered from the debris of the collapsed building. Rescuers working with nine ambulances, two cranes and three fire tanks made frantic efforts to rescue trapped victims. Critically injured ones were taken to the general hospitals at Isolo and Igando.
An eyewitness who spoke with LEADERSHIP correspondent said the building fell at about 1:30pm. It was not known if there had been any sign of possible collapse before it eventually fell. The eyewitness, a commercial tricycle operator who declined to give his name, said scores of injured people had been taken to the Igando hospital.
“The hotel used to be a four-storey building, but the church kept adding more floors to the structure and this may have contributed to the eventual collapse. The building is less than four years old,” he said.
Non-Nigerian nationals may have been affected as the Synagogue Church attracts spiritual tourists from neighbouring African countries such as Ghana, Benin Republic, Togo and other parts of the world. These tourists used to settle down at the Ikotun-Egbe headquarters of the church at the weekend for the Sunday service.
None of the church’s officials was available to talk to correspondents, as security officers attached to the church cordoned off the scene and barred people from coming near.
The general manager Lagos State Emergency Management Agency, Dr Femi Oke-Osanyintolu, confirmed that 15 bodies had been taken out already while others were trapped. “Rescue operation is ongoing,” he said. It was gathered that the church had embarked on an expansion drive over the last few months, which allegedly led to the collapse.
Eyewitnesses disclosed that there were more than 20 casualties and that over 10 ambulance vehicles had trooped the church premises, trying to remove dead bodies and rush injured persons to the hospital. The tragic occurrence caused pandemonium around the church. The police tightened security around the perimeter of the church. Gunshots were fired at intervals to scare people standing in the middle of the road watching from afar.
Eyewitnesses who spoke with Saturday PUNCH, however, put the number of the dead in the incident at about 50. An eyewitness, who insisted that up to 50 persons died in the incident, said he saw almost 10 ambulances loaded with bodies going to and fro, taking victims to nearby hospitals.
He said, “I’m very sure that nothing less than 50 people were killed in the incident as ambulances loaded with bodies were going to and fro. The collapse was massive and the casualty figure was high.”
The collapsed building was said to have served as a guest house for church members, particularly foreigners attending the church. The PUNCH correspondent observed that only two floors were visible at the scene of the incident as the other three had sunk into the ground.
Farinloye, who confirmed that the building was under construction, said the building collapse might have been caused by the addition of three more storeys to the structure.
He said, “The building was under construction; it was initially a two-storey building but they were adding three floors to it and I think that was what led to the collapse. I think it was the construction that caused the problem.”
Journalists were barred from covering the incident by church members, who were trying to play down the incident. They also hampered rescue efforts as they attacked officials of the emergency services who were there to rescue victims.
Farinloye, who also confirmed this, said, “The church members have been very aggressive and hostile to us; they attacked us and we had to withdraw our services. I was attacked, the officials of the Lagos State Building Control Agency and the General Manager of LASEMA were also attacked. We were not hurt and our equipment was not damaged. This was, however, because we quickly left when they attacked us. We are still waiting to settle before we resume our job.”
However, about an hour after, Oke-Osanyintola, who also confirmed the hostilities, said the emergency officials had been able to calm the aggressors down and that normal rescue services had resumed. Consequently, the incident attracted many onlookers to the scene and there was heavy vehicular traffic in and around Ikotun area, where the church is located.
In the evening, the pandemonium in the area was compounded by security officials who besieged the entrance of the church, shooting into the air to disperse the crowd. The security officers prevented onlookers from gaining entrance into the church, but their presence and shootings led to a stampede. In the confusion, many of the onlookers running helter-skelter, rushed into moving vehicles, while trying to avoid being hit by stray bullets.
Beside security operatives, young men suspected to be members of the church, also barricaded the entrance of the church. They also prevented motorists from gaining access to the premises. However, ambulances, police vehicles and forklifts were allowed to gain entrance. No fewer than 20 ambulances had entered the site, coming out with injured victims as of 7pm.
At 7.30pm, a trailer with registration number MUS 891XK, hauling a bulldozer and belonging to the Lagos State Works Corporation, entered the premises, ostensibly to help in the rescue exercise.
According to an eye witness account, the impact of the collapsed building shook his house. A resident of Olusesi Street adjacent to the church, who identified himself as Ade, told one of our correspondents that he never suspected it was a collapsed building.
“It was around 1pm. I was in my sitting room and my house just vibrated. I didn’t know what happened. I was scared, but few minutes later, I just heard that a building had collapsed. I was shocked,” he said.
A recharge card seller, who claimed she saw when the building collapse, said she counted nothing less than 20 dead people.
“It was so gory. Most of them were construction workers. I saw so many bodies being evacuated. I am sure not less than 20 people have died so far,” she claimed.
Another resident said he wasn’t surprised that such a building collapsed especially as high rise buildings keep springing up in the area intermittently. The resident, who didn’t want his name in print said, “I know the building so well. I wasn’t surprised it collapsed as it was already bent. Landlords became greedy and started building more storeys on top of the already completed ones.”
Meanwhile, suspected members of the church who spoke to one of our correspondents claimed nothing major happened. It was obvious they wanted to protect their church.
One of them said, “It was just a small thing. I attend this church. Nobody died. You know Ikotun has a huge population, that is why you see many people here.”
One of our correspondents learnt that the church was planning to hold a special program on Saturday (today) and that many members, including foreigners were meant to attend the event. It was also observed that many visiting members of the church, who arrived later in the evening, met the confusion.
Saturday PUNCH spoke to one of them who was reluctant to talk.
“I don’t know what to do. I am confused. I am coming from Gabon. Nobody has really told me what is happening,” he said.
In a related development, young men suspected to be members of the church, mobbed and assaulted a photojournalist working for NTA, smashing his camera. They also molested other reporters and individuals who tried to take pictures of the scene.
One of our correspondents, who was among the journalists who later gained access to the scene of the incident at about 9pm, confirmed that only two of the building floors were visible as the remaining had been buried. Rescue operations were still ongoing as of the time of filing this report and an official of the church whose name was not made available to our correspondent, said a statement would be issued by the leadership of the church on Saturday (today).
At about 9.40pm when our correspondents visited Igando General Hospital, there were six survivors of the incident on beds in a ward while nine others were under a canopy outside, presumably due to inadequate bed space. A nurse was observed attending to the victims outside with some of their relatives present.
However, some members of the church who were at the hospital, told the nurse and the victims not to entertain any questions from our correspondents. The nurse said she was not authorised to speak on the issue but asked our correspondents to return on Monday, next week when her superiors would be around for information.
The hospital’s Medical Director, Deputy Medical Director and Administrative officer were not at the facility at that time and efforts to reach them on their mobile phones were also not successful as their numbers were switched off.
Meanwhile, This is an official communication from The Synagogue, Church Of All Nations concerning a news story currently being reported by the media regarding an incident that happened today:
“A building, not the church auditorium as was reported. The few people that were there are being rescued. What you wish to others, God wishes to you. Nothing makes us love a person as much as praying for him. The more I love you, the more I will pray for you.”
Meanwhile, a member of the media team of the Synagogue Church for All Nations in Ikotun, Lagos, Mr Oladapo Bankole, has alleged that three helicopters hovered over the six-storey building about 20 minutes before the building came down.
Bankole, who spoke with newsmen a few hours after the building gave way, said three helicopters were seen at about 1pm hovering above the building, which was under construction. He added that one of the helicopters came close to the uncompleted building, noting that the building collapsed 20 minutes after the unidentified helicopters flew over the building.
According to Bankole, the building involved was standing between the two canteens of the church. At the time of the incident, he said some construction workers were at work while some children were around the canteen. Bankole said that since the church was not envisaging the accident, the identification of the helicopters was not done.
He however did not confirm the number of casualties in the building collapse.
He said: “For now, we don’t have the casualty figure because the Lagos State Emergency Agency has taken over the site, but as of 3pm, we were able to evacuate about 25 persons through the emergency unit. There were three children involved; fortunately the three of them are alive; no foreigner was involved.
“We are still trying to understand what the mission of the helicopters was; we weren’t expecting the accident, so we didn’t pay attention to the identity of the helicopters.”
On whether the church management sought approval before constructing the building from the Lagos State Building and Control Agency (LASBCA), Mrs Abimbola Animashaun said the government could not confirm or trace any document stating approval to commence construction work on the premises. Animashaun, who led her team to the scene of the incident, said none of the church members could provide evidence of approval for the collapsed building.
She said, “We have been here challenging them on the building approval but they haven’t said anything convincing. They claimed to have approval but we could not confirm it. They were told to bring the building approval authorised by the government; none of them could do that.”
Amid the confusion created by the collapse, the church members were seen attacking officials of National Emergency Management Agency, Lagos State Emergency Management Agency and Lagos State Building Control Agency, among others. NEMA and its state version LASEMA, the Lagos State Building Control Agency, and other rescue agencies were attacked while on their rescue mission.
LEADERSHIP correspondent gathered that the managing director of LASBCA, Mrs Animashaun, was not spared from the church’s assault.
According to the information officer of NEMA, Mr Ibrahim Farinloye, “We are pulling out from the rescue operation. The church members attacked us and other emergency teams.” He added: “First, we were not allowed to go into the premises. And after we were able to gain access, they attacked us and halted the rescue operation.”
Later, however, all groups, agencies and others who came for the rescue operation were seen collaborating on the rescue efforts.