By Tope Templer Olaiya,
Assistant Lagos City Editor
IN the last few days, Prophet Temitope Joshua has taken time out of the flurry of activities arising from the building collapse and rescue operations to, at intervals, give reassuring messages to his teaming multitude of members across the world, effectively using the social media to preach to his followers.
With a membership base of over one million, the prophet personally posted on the his face book on Tuesday: “The purpose of life is to glorify God in both good and hard times.”
This was immediately followed by another personally signed post: “Hard times may test me, they cannot destroy me.” And with this, there was a more elaborate message for his flocks.
“To withstand hard times, stand with Christ. When you face trials, hard times, you can ‘count it all joy’ (James 1:2-3).
“It is through hard times that you gain the necessary experience and maturity to handle whatever responsibility given to you.
“We are most likely to go astray from God and forget Him when things are easy with us in the world because we often become proud and stupid with wealth and pleasure. God visits His people with hard times that they may learn His way. His ways, though hard to the ungodly men, are desirable and profitable because they lead us to safety unto eternal life.
“God allowed the enemy to overcome Israel so that they may learn the difference between serving God and serving the devil. If not for our hard times, we would not have sought the face of God. I mean, if not because of hard times, man by his wicked nature would not have sought the face of God. This means, God sometimes uses hard times to draw us to Himself so that we can take our proper position and possession in Him.”
That post did its intended magic as a temporal soothing balm, which went viral across the world with over a thousand shares, 5,000 comments and 7,000 likes in less than an hour.
Prophet Joshua must probably have also heaved a sigh of relief coming at a time situation report from site was somewhat depressing, with recovered dead bodies climbing to 65, as at Tuesday.
Further damage struck later when news rented the social media space that South African President, Jacob Zuma, announced on Tuesday evening that 67 of its citizens died in the Synagogue building collapse that occurred on September 12.
The South Africans were in Nigeria to seek spiritual help and were staying at the guest house before it collapsed. It was announced by a BBC Africa tweet: “President Zuma announces 67 South Africans died in the Lagos building collapse on Friday, disputing the 60 dead cited by Nigerian officials.”
In the midst of the chaos and grief at the Synagogue was the cherry news of a 45-year-old woman, who walked out of the rubble alive, after being buried under the debris for four days.
Joshua had attributed the collapse to a ‘mystery’ aircraft, which he said hovered around the building for about 30 minutes before the building came tumbling down. This was further corroborated with the release of a footage captured by a CCTV camera attached to one of the church’s buildings.
This prompted officials of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) and the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) to visit the site and assess the debris.
Though officials of both airport agencies refused to respond to media inquires, saying they would come up with an official reaction after investigations would have been concluded, an unnamed official rejected the link between a hovering aircraft and the building, as claimed by the church authorities.
According to him, Ikotun, Ikeja, Shasha, Iju, Egbeda and environs around the airport and a plane approaching the Murtala Mohammed Airport could be sighted hovering in these areas due to congestion in the air and delayed landing.
“It is not unusual for an aircraft to be seen hovering around in these areas until it is cleared to land, particularly in Ejigbo and Ikotun areas because it is on the flight route on the east of the airport, which is the outbound traffic route of most flights. All incoming flights descend to the airport from the west around Agege, Ogba, and Iju-Ishaga.”
A public affairs commentator, Dr. Nick Idoko, in his reaction to the incident, urged Prophet Joshua to be more scientific and come up with tenable explanations for the building collapse.
“Rather than his half-hearted attempt at attributing a fatal collapse to a hovering plane, he should tell the world how that building was approved to be increased from a two-storey building to six and he must apologise to all Nigerians and families of the dead.
“I even understand that there is an ongoing expansion on the main auditorium of the church as we speak, which is why the government must act fast to prevent another calamity. That ministry has for a long time been very notorious and corrupt, especially in land deals. The state government should also investigate all the lands acquired by the ministry in the area,” he added.
Rescue workers have been picking through the rubble with heavy lifting equipment and using sniffer dogs, although the National Emergency Management Authority (NEMA) said the search for survivors could end on Wednesday.
“The church is not co-operating with emergency workers at all,” NEMA’s spokesman for the southwest region, Ibrahim Farinloye, told AFP, giving the latest toll as 67 with 131 survivors.
“For the first three days of the incident, the church people were very hostile and prevented rescue officials access to the site.
“It was after the visit of the (Lagos state) governor (Babatunde Fashola) when he threatened to close down the church that we were allowed to work.
“Perhaps if we had had early access to the place we would have been able to save more lives.”
Already, the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) has commenced investigations into the causes of the building collapse. The head of inspectorate and compliance of the organisation, Bede Obaye, made this known when he led a team to the site to take samples of some of the materials used for the construction.
According to Obaye, the investigations will be comprehensive as the organisation intends to get to the root cause of the collapsed structure.
“We have come here to see exactly what happened, we have watched the clip of what happened, but beyond that we are here to investigate the remote causes of the collapse, to look at the materials and to ask questions about the engineers and contractors that handled the project.”
When asked on his findings from his inspection so far, he said, “We cannot say for now. There are lots of questions to be asked. Structures don’t just collapse like that. Our investigation will not be limited to the materials alone. The materials may be right, but the selection and combination maybe wrong.
“The contractor and engineer who handled the project will have to provide us with vital information. For now, it is too early for SON to say what the cause of the collapse is but when we are through, we will brief Nigerians on our findings.”
Similarly, the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN) on Monday vowed to unravel the immediate and remote causes of the collapse of the six-storey building. The council, in a statement issued in Abuja and signed by its President, Kashim Ali, said it had mobilized its team of Engineering Regulation Monitoring Inspectors to visit the site of the collapsed building.
It said while preliminary report of the visit had been received and is being processed, a more detailed investigation is ongoing.
The statement reads in part: “Council wishes to commiserate with the Executive Governor, the Government and people of Lagos State over the loss of lives and properties as a result of this unfortunate incident.”