How Will It End? Lagos State’s Mother Of All Building Collapse

Synagogue

Aftermath of the building collapse at the Synagogue Church of All Nations in the Ikotun area of Lagos State PHOTO: PREMIUM TIMES/MICHAEL ABIMBOYE

LAGOS State is no stranger to having its buildings crash. These sad events, whenever they unfold, are sometimes with loss of lives, but always with loss of resources.

These, notwithstanding, no collapse in the state’s history has attracted so much attention, drawn so much controversy, and close public monitoring as the September 12, 2014 collapse of a six-storey guesthouse at the headquarters of the Synagogue Church of All Nations in the Ikotun area of the state.

Needless to say, how the drama ends will set precedence for the state’s future handling of similar disasters. There are several reasons why the Synagogue collapse is significant. Firstly, it recorded the highest casualty figure in the state’s 48-year history.

More than a hundred people, mostly South Africans, lost their lives in the incident. Secondly, it came at a time when the Lagos government needed to be seen as doing something about the increasingly embarrassing spate of building collapse in the state.

Thirdly, the incident occurred at the premises of one of the most controversial, and perhaps the most vilified of Christian ministers in Nigeria, a popular quip being: ‘if the man were truly a prophet, he ought to have seen it coming’.

Since no building collapses without cause, reason adduced by the Church for the unfortunate incident has had to weather a storm of skepticism, beginning from day one, something reminiscent of the recent ‘Ondo mysterious disease’ that blinded or killed its victims.

While residents attributed the deaths to the wrath of the gods, laboratory evidence proved it was handiwork of methanol poison. The Church, following the incident, had released CCTV footage showing an aircraft flying close to the building. It concluded the building fell as a result of sabotage, not unconnected with the aircraft.

The coroner’s inquest, meanwhile, cited criminal negligence. It, consequently, called for the arrest and prosecution of the contractor, Akinbela Fatiregun, and structural engineer, Oladele Ogundeji.

There are several reasons why the Synagogue collapse is significant. Firstly, it recorded the highest casualty figure in the state’s 48-year history. More than a hundred people, mostly South Africans, lost their lives in the incident. Secondly, it came at a time when the Lagos government needed to be seen as doing something about the increasingly embarrassing spate of building collapse in the state. Thirdly, the incident occurred at the premises of one of the most controversial, and perhaps the most vilified of Christian ministers in Nigeria, a popular quip being: ‘if the man were truly a prophet, he ought to have seen it coming’.

A structural engineer, Mr. Oreoluwa Fadayomi of the Building Collapse Prevention Guild (BCPG), had noted at the inquest that the collapse was not the result of a weak foundation.

He, however, told the coroner that the incident was the result of a combination of design and detailing errors by the engineers who managed the project. According to Fadayomi, all the components of a sudden collapse had been present in the structure before it fell.

He said investigations carried out by the BCPG showed the columns and beams used for the construction were very weak, adding that although the Church might have provided the best materials for the job, due diligence on the competence of the engineers might not have been performed.

Two weeks ago, The Guardian published a story headlined – ‘Synagogue vs Lagos Coroner: Community Groans As Prophet Lies Low’. Last week, a source within the Church’s fold dropped a copy of an academic paper with The Guardian.

Written by one Paul Biedomo Iguniwei and published in the International Journal of Scientific Engineering and Research (IJSER) Volume 3 Issue 7, July 2015, it was titled: ‘Elimination of the Structural Failure and the Placement of Chemical Explosives Options, for the Infrasonic Weapon Option as Cause of the Synagogue Building Collapse’.

Iguniwei, who had previously appeared at the coroner’s inquest set up by the Lagos State government following the incident, describes himself as a Lecturer at Kaduna Polytechnic, College of Science and Technology, Applied Science Department; and an MSc student of Material Science and Explosives at the Nigerian Defence Academy, Post Graduate School, Kaduna.

The online journal, IJSER, refers to itself as a platform that focuses “on theories, methods and applications in various branches of engineering and relevant researches in the field of social work, management, education, nursing, medicine, political science etc…and aims to contribute to constant development and research in various streams of science, engineering and Management.”

Iguniwei notes: “However, having analyzed the CCTV footage and personally visited the scene and made critical observations, I am convinced (that) an entirely new cause, which is an exotic kind of weapon employing infrasonic characteristics was used to cause the collapse…

It was deduced that the collapse resulted from a high energy infrasound absorption by the building leading to a high energy resonance of its constituents’ atoms. “It’s been known that sonic and infrasonic weapons exist long before now… And it’s also known in the weapons research community that certain nations have taken it to the next level…

Certainly, our science tells us that infrasound, weaponized with high enough intensity, can cause vibrations to structures at the atomic level, causing the kind of destruction we saw happen at the Church’s premises.”

Even so, IJSER did not forget to establish the limit of this paper. It writes on its disclaimer page: “The information contained in this website is for Educational purposes only.

The information is provided by International Journal of Scientific Engineering and Research (IJSER) and while we endeavour to keep the information up to date and correct, we make no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, about the completeness, accuracy, reliability, suitability or availability with respect to the website or the information, products, services, or related graphics contained on the website for any purpose.

ANY RELIANCE YOU PLACE ON SUCH INFORMATION IS, THEREFORE, STRICTLY AT YOUR OWN RISK.” Besides, as Iguniwei’s ‘infrasonic’ arguments perched on the branches of several online postings, fiery critics shot at it with double-barreled venom.

On one of South Africa’s news websites, News24, one Kagiso Koman comments, “This was a fun read. I love Nigeria. It’s so diverse in its lunacy.’

The Church also might have indicated it would jump into the trench for the fray. It “disagrees with the findings concerning the aircraft that hovered over the six-storey building because there was evidence before the court that the incident could have been brought about by external forces such as controlled demolition or an explosion. The verdict did not even refer to the CCTV footage which showed the 6-storey building falling in less than four seconds – a manner consistent with controlled or externally induced demolition – nor did it refer to the interim report and investigation by the Nigerian Police which pointed to sabotage by external forces.” The Church particularly stressed, “It was a one-sided verdict which left many issues unaddressed and questions unanswered.”

Bashu Pule writes: ‘Absolute lunacy, TV Joshua spin Dr. He makes Mac Maharaj looks a telly tuby.’ Thersius Biermann says: ‘TB Joshua paid handsome for this absolute bullshit opinion in an attempt to escape justice.’ Magus: ‘What an embarrassment to african academics’.

Mashoto Moabelo: ‘He used Wikipedia articles to give a brief history of research into infrasonics and sonic weapons. Lol this is super great using wikipedia on such a cruz matter.’

Mukoka Nsenda: ‘Paul Biedomo Iguniwei is not known in Africa. How many publication does this guy have? As a Christian i believe that the construction of the building did not respond to required standard and that is the only reason of the collapse.”

The ill feelings in Pretoria against the Church are understandably strong, having lost 84 South Africans. A delegation of the leadership of the Africa National Congress that visited Lagos State Governor Akinwumi Ambode, last month, supported the state’s decision to prosecute the Church.

The delegation was in the state to boost trade relations. Back in September 2009, the ANC Youth League had urged the South African government not to issue a visa to Prophet T. B. Joshua. “He should not be allowed to come to South Africa until we know what happened to our fellow countrymen at his church.

We will make sure we engage with the department of international relations and co-operation to make sure they do not issue him a South African visa,” said spokesperson Bandile Masuku.

The Lagos State government appears to have tactically dug in for the legal offensive. In unambiguous tone, the Chief Press Secretary to the governor, Mr. Habib Aruna, unveiled the stance of his superior: “His Excellency, hereby, reiterates his government’s commitment to uphold and enforce the sanctity of the law in the state and calls on all Lagos residents to respect the rule of law.”

The two engineers had recently sought an order restraining the Lagos State Attorney General or any officer under his authority from instituting criminal proceedings against them, as recommended by the coroner.

This the Lagos State government swiftly opposed. The Church also might have indicated it would jump into the trench for the fray. It “disagrees with the findings concerning the aircraft that hovered over the six-storey building because there was evidence before the court that the incident could have been brought about by external forces such as controlled demolition or an explosion.

The verdict did not even refer to the CCTV footage which showed the 6-storey building falling in less than four seconds – a manner consistent with controlled or externally induced demolition – nor did it refer to the interim report and investigation by the Nigerian Police which pointed to sabotage by external forces.”

The Church particularly stressed, “It was a one-sided verdict which left many issues unaddressed and questions unanswered.” Going for an all out judicial battle with the Church is not expected to be without public cries of disapproval from, at least, a section of society.

Prophet T.B. Joshua has through the years won his way into the hearts of thousands with his incredible philanthropism, and the recipients may feel its time to pay back a kind deed.

For instance, while the inquest lasted, the Church premises continued to host visits upon visits by individuals, communities and non-governmental organisations who trooped to ‘Ground Zero’ to show solidarity with the ‘Man of God’.

Recently, Youth Alive, a group based in the Oshodi area of the state appealed to the Lagos government to show mercy, and not forget T.B. Joshua’s kind deeds to the poor. “Prophet T.B. Joshua is not an engineer, neither is he a building contractor to understand that the foundation of the collapsed guest house was weak.

We want to use this medium to appeal to the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, and the state House of Assembly to temper justice with mercy on the verdict of the Lagos coroner on the Synagogue Church of All Nations,” the group said in a report published by PM News.

There could, therefore, be more rallies and placard carrying by some members of the public calling on the state government to soft-pedal on its prosecutorial bent. In its recent report on the Synagogue (July 26, 2015), The Guardian reported the economic bubble burst that has befallen the Church’s host community.

Describing the situation, one respondent concluded: “Business is dead!” It’s a tale of former hotels and lodges being converted to regular accommodations, idle cab operators, and locked up shops.

Perhaps in acknowledgement of the trying times, the Church has put a hold on its programmes that hitherto had kept foreigners visiting the community in their thousands. If it continues to do so, it would mean loss of livelihood to thousands, and loss of millions of naira in annual revenue generated via religious tourism.

Synagogue

A section of the church

If the state decides to weigh its local economic gains against the benefits of promising trade relations with South Africa, it may shy from the dirty job of bringing the Church to book, possibly tinker with judicial and administrative levers with a view to making the issue outlive the days of the present administration.

It would, of course, have left precedence for how serious it wishes to be taken in cases of future collapses. If it presses the legal battle, it might heave a sigh of relief when the structural engineers have been apprehended, tried and penalized, knowing also that its laws on similar incidents would never again be taken for granted.

This would not be the first time the arm of the law has overshadowed the Church. Under controversial circumstance, though, in 1996, Prophet T.B. Joshua spent days in detention, held by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) over a false charge of drug trafficking.

While the scenarios may be years apart and dissimilar, they nevertheless indicate that the law, when it so wishes, can visit the Church. T.B. Joshua won in 1996. Will he win this time around? That’s one big question only the Lagos State government and the Synagogue Church of All Nations can answer. But will they?

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