Synagogue Tragedy: Death Toll Hits 80 …S’Africa Insists Over 300 Nationals Were At The Church

As the death toll in the collapsed building at the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN) yesterday rose to 80, Tuesday’s conflicting report from South African President, Jacob Zuma, that put the casualty rate of South African nationals at 67, has raised several unanswered questions.

Although the number of survivors remained at 131, emergency workers said there was a high possibility of recovering more corpses since the excavation work had gotten to the ground floor, which was believed to accommodate more people than the top floors.
THISDAY also gathered yesterday that some of the survivors, who sustained minor injuries have been released, while the families of deceased persons have gone to the morgue at the Isolo General Hospital to claim the bodies of their loved ones.

With the claim by Zuma that 67 of his nationals died in the accident, the interpretation by many is that it means that only 13 of the deceased were either from Nigeria or other nationalities, despite the fact that a large number of foreigners lodged in  the guest house, as well as several Nigerian construction workers, who were adding two more floors to the existing five.

In this conflicting figures however, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) maintained its stand, as the Public Relations Officer of the agency, South-west Zone, Mr. Ibrahim Farinloye, in an interview with THISDAY said the figures released by the Nigerian government is factual.

He said: “We are hoping on concluding the whole exercise today (yesterday) and as of now, we have 80 dead and 131 rescued alive. The figure got to 80 because we recovered two bodies by 11p.m. on Tuesday and another two early this morning (yesterday) at about 3a.m. and then the rest were during the day.
“We will continue working until we get to the last level of excavation and it’s possible more bodies are still trapped underneath the rubbles. So, we can’t categorically state the overall casualty figure.”

On the conflicting reports and figures between the emergency operators and South Africa President, he said: “I don’t know where President Zuma got his information from. He is not on ground here and we are. So, we presume he is operating based on the information made available to him.

“The president is not here and how he got his figure is what we don’t know. We are working on what we got based on operation. There is no controversy at all because we don’t have the identity of anybody yet.

“Bear in mind that the church did not give us the number of the people who were possibly in the building then but our initial action was to rescue the victims first before investigations to reveal the identities of the people would commence.”

Also, one of the Red Cross Commandants in Lagos, Evangelist Gabriel Frank Maduagwu, who was at the site of the collapsed building, said the figures touted by President Zuma could not be true.

He said: “We were among the first people to come to the scene of the collapsed building and so far, we have rescued 80 persons. I don’t know where South Africa got their figures from.”

Attempts to get the South Africa’s Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Lulu Loius Mnguni, to react proved as abortive as he promised to call back and he never did.
Even when further calls were put across to him, his phone line was engaged, and also text messages sent to him were not replied.

However, the foreign ministry spokesman, Clayson Monyela, said the figure was based on credible information at their disposal gotten from records, which states that five tour groups had gone to the synagogue to worship.

Also, South Africa spokesperson, Mac Maharaj, said although 300 South Africans were at the Synagogue, they were not sure how many were on the spot when the tragedy struck.

Meanwhile, the South Africans yesterday began to claim their dead, but it was not yet clear if the Australian Embassy was successful in its quest to identify some of its nationals who were said to have lodged at the guest house.

THISDAY learnt that they had been in talks with the officials of the church, who are expected to furnish them with the guest lists, to enable them identify their nationals who had flown in for one of the programmes in the church.

An official of the church who spoke on anonymity, said they were going through their lists because any foreigner who comes to the church must go through the due process, which starts from filling in the questionnaire.

Also, Lagos State Government yesterday said it has no plan to seal the site of the collapsed guesthouse of the Synagogue Church, until thorough and detailed investigation as to the cause(s) of the collapse had been concluded.

This was contained in statement issued yesterday by the Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Mr. Olutoyin Ayinde, who stressed that, “Government does not arbitrarily take over properties when investigation is still on-going.”

He however, reiterated the position of the ministry, “that the six- floor guesthouse of the Synagogue Church for All Nations that collapsed at Ikotun- Egbe, a Lagos suburb did not have building approval.”

The government, he said was “conducting a preliminary investigation into the cause(s) of the collapse and would leave no stone unturned and if there is any violation of relevant planning law, residents are assured that government would take appropriate action.”

According to him, a team of engineers from the ministry and other state government agencies “are taking samples from the foundation and materials from the wreckage of the building for detailed analysis and testing to ascertain the structural integrity of the building.”

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