TB Joshua Building Collapse: Lagos okays repatriation of 54 S’African corpses
The Lagos State Government on Wednesday gave clearance for the repatriation of 54 corpses of South Africans who were among the 116 victims that died in the Synagogue Church of All Nations building collapse on September 12, 2014.
Governor Babatunde Fashola gave the approval during a meeting with delegates of the South African government following complaints that the bodies were being held for too long.
Fashola said his government had no reason to delay the handing over of the bodies in line with the South African culture and traditions.
He said, “We regret that this happened. Unfortunately, I also managed such an issue during the Dana plane crash and I understand the anxiety of families who want closure and the religious undertone as well. Our responsibility is to ensure that families get closure. And those cultures exist here. I know that this is an issue that has attracted global attention.
“We cannot at this time get the process wrong because if we release a body, we want to ensure that each family takes the body of their relative. It will be unpardonable for us to make mistakes.
“And the choice of South Africa for the test was a special decision to make the process easier for South Africans who bore the bigger brunt of the tragedy. So, since the relatives were in South Africa, it was easier to use a laboratory in the country, where we could easily take samples from the deceased’s families for the test. It was meant to further demonstrate what our intentions were.
“We have no reason to deny you the right to take those 54 bodies, you have my word, you can take them whenever you are ready to do so. It is left for you to decide whether to take them in batches or wait until we conclude the exercise. But if you are ready, my team will ensure that you take them without any delay.”
Fashola noted that the coroner’s inquest was ongoing, to investigate the disaster. He, however, emphasised that the inquest was not meant to prosecute anyone.
No fewer than 116 people died when the guest house of the church collapsed on September 12, 2014. Among them were 81 South Africans, three Zimbabweans and one from Democratic Republic of Congo.
On the status of the bodies, Chief Medical Examiner of the state, Prof. John Obafunwa, noted that 116 bodies were recovered and had been subjected to a post-mortem examination such as finger printing, photography, collection of samples and so on.
He said out of the 116, they had been able to identify 70 through DNA laboratory tests in South Africa. Out of the 70, 54 of them are South Africans, the rests, from their names, are Nigerians, Beninoise, Togolese and so on.
He said, “We had to collect additional DNA samples to assist the laboratory. We’ve been working together and talking to the lab. It is expected that more results will come in while more than 70 have been identified.”
The leader of the South African delegation to Nigeria, Mr. Jeff Radebe, had earlier said that South-African culture and traditions demanded burial within a week of bereavement.
He said, “But today makes it two months since the incident, so I paid a condolence visit to President Goodluck Jonathan two days ago, to convey the message of our President and find ways of speeding up the processes and reparations of the mortal remains of those 85 including those four who carry South African passports even though they are not nationals of our country.”
Radebe noted that arrangements had been made to include the four, and take them to Pretoria, from where three would taken to Harare and one to Kinsasa.
He said, “The whole nation of South Africa is in mourning, especially the families that have had to endure these two months of waiting in order to bring closure to this whole incident.
“We appreciate your government for the cooperation and our team have been briefing us on the challenges of identifying the bodies. But the bereavement was very tragic indeed and we have to get the bodies back to South Africa.”