Let me begin by stating that this opinion is not solely based on my
own personal ruminations
but rather on a relatively collective notion
opined by South Africans of varying degrees whom I have discussed this
salient topic with.
If truth be told, a certain negative connotation is unfortunately
attached to the image of Nigerians in South Africa, formed by some
unsavoury antics of her kinsmen within our nation such as drug pushing,
internet fraud, armed robbery and illegal overstaying. I am not in
anyway branding all Nigerians under the same illicit banner – but there
are sufficient numbers who have done significant damage to arouse
caution from the average South African.
In fact, Prophet T.B. Joshua’s rise to popularity within South Africa
has proven a key player in the ‘rebranding’ of the Nigerian image for
many South Africans, buoyed by Emmanuel TV’s brand of refreshingly
practical, unorthodox Christianity. As many Nigerians living in South
African can readily attest to, a question revolving around Joshua is
almost certainly asked once their nationality is ascertained, exuding
the influence he has within South African shores.
BBC’s Chief African correspondent Will Ross recently reported how an
uneducated local in rural Botswana identified Nigeria as ‘T.B. Joshua’s
country’ after learning Lagos was his base. It is an assertion similarly
shared by many here, particularly in the rural areas of South Africa
who automatically associate Africa’s most populous nation with its most
Unfortunately, the Nigerian government’s response in the aftermath of
the tragic building collapse at The SCOAN last month has done little to
assuage this already precarious image. The private jet debacle whereby
Nigerian money was illegally carried to South African soil for the
purchase of arms, coupled by the painfully slow process of the
repatriation of our fallen brethren in the collapse have only served to
fuel an atmosphere of distrust and distaste.
It is unfortunate also that the inquest set up by the Lagos State
Government into what truly transpired at The SCOAN has aroused equal
qualms, its political undertones breeding scepticism within South Africa
towards the genuineness of its intentions. From the initial sessions,
it appears to be more of a platform for Lagos State Government to
cover-up their own inadequacies in the rescue operation while ensuring a
predetermined agenda is played out, ultimately bringing culpability on
the part of The SCOAN for structural failures.
I have closely followed media updates surrounding the coroner’s inquest,
most of which came from Nigerian media sources as media coverage in the
aftermath of the tragedy has reduced in South Africa. The propensity of
focus toward debunking the claim of explosives being behind the
collapse, alongside the insistence that T.B. Joshua himself appears at
the inquest, certainly calls for questions. I am not saying such
information is not valid but the sensational media headlines and
lopsided reports suggest the outworking of a negative agenda against
Joshua, orchestrated by both the Lagos State government and media houses
reporting the incident.
For example, it was widely reported on Tuesday that pathologist
Professor John Obafunwa ruled out claims of an explosion as the cause of
the building collapse, saying none of the victims had blast injuries.
However, a report from the following day’s inquest where Obafunwa
admitted he had only conducted autopsies on two bodies and could not
authoritatively determine what was behind the collapse was barely
Similarly, the apparent ‘refusal’ of church authorities to cooperate
with external rescue bodies such as NEMA was disproportionately
accentuated, to the extent that media commentators suggested such
callous attitude actually increased the death toll. This was highlighted
by the testimony of NEMA spokesman Ibrahim Farinloye at the inquest on
Tuesday who claimed his team were not given access to the site until
However, in Wednesday’s session, a spokesman for the Nigerian Red Cross
shared his own version of events, praising The SCOAN for their
co-operation and efficiency and directly opposing Farinloye’s claims.
“When we got to the place, we met NEMA and LASEMA there, but we didn’t
see them carrying out any rescue operations,” Ige Oladimeji told the
court. Contrarily, he said the church officials were the ones who were
championing the rescue mission, buoyed by The SCOAN’s 10 ambulances and
heavy duty rescue machinery provided by several local construction
companies. Why was it that this aspect of the inquest was completely
downplayed to barely a mention by the majority of media reports
yesterday? Perhaps because it revealed shameful inadequacies within
Nigeria’s rescue team – both in attitude and action?
I recall reading an article by Nigerian-based journalist Simon Ateba,
who was at The SCOAN on the day of the incident, sharing similar
sentiments. “The truth is that NEMA has no equipment needed to rescue
people,” he bluntly stated. “All NEMA was doing was to release the
number of the dead and the injured to the media. NEMA is a failed and
incapacitated agency that cannot rescue anyone… They should shut the
hell up and get enough funding and equipment to do their job rather than
playing to the gallery and claiming that they “just coordinate “.
Coordinate what? Interviews when people are trapped?”
In Thursday’s session, Lagos State Commissioner for physical planning
Olutoyin Ayinde was quoted as saying the airplane seen bypassing the
ill-fated building on four occasions on the day of the incident was
simply on a flight path towards Lagos airport. Why is it, however, that
nearly two months after the incident, no official statement whatsoever
has been made by the Nigerian government or aviation authorities
concerning this? If indeed there was nothing sinister or suspicious in
its movements, why wasn’t there an immediate statement to that effect
since this is an incident of grave international proportions?
Yesterday, a Nigerian lawyer called for the halting of the inquest,
arguing that several agencies from within Lagos State had already made
indicting statements against The SCOAN to the effect that structural
inadequacies caused the collapse. He submitted that the inquest would
‘seriously occasion miscarriage of justice’ as it would base its
decision on the testimonies of the same agencies. In the light of the
above, I believe he has a very valid point.
As I wrote in an earlier article berating South African media’s coverage
of T.B. Joshua in lieu of this tragedy, I am an Emmanuel TV viewer and
have visited The SCOAN once last year in what I would term a spiritually
enhancing pilgrimage. The latest incident has not blighted this belief,
although many pertinent questions still remain unanswered concerning
the exact cause of the catastrophe.
It is unfortunate that the Lagos State inquest is not providing these
answers but provoking even more questions, especially within South
Marelise Van der Merwe is a social analyst based in Johannesburg, South Africa