No dirge for victims of Synagogue building collapse, two years on

• Church keeps mum on remembrance
• Hoteliers bemoan losses
By Tope Templer Olaiya
It is exactly two years since 116 people died at the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN), Lagos, when one of the ancillary buildings collapsed.

The six-storey guesthouse belonging to the church, which was under construction in the Ikotun area of Lagos collapsed, killing over 100 people, 85 of whom were South African worshippers.

The Guardian yesterday observed that the church seems to have given an unofficial closure to the tragedy. Unlike last year when Prophet Temitope Joshua, founder of the church, held a memorial service in honour of the victims, there was no dirge for the departed , whom Joshua had two years ago described as ‘Martyrs of Faith’ during yesterday’s service.

The collapsed building

Mum was the word during church service held yesterday and also on the social media pages of the church. On Joshua’s official Twitter account, @SCOANTBJoshua, which has over 146,000 followers, it was last updated on Saturday, September 10, with the following quote: “Nobody is too good or too bad to qualify for God’s grace – T.B. Joshua”.

The Facebook page of the church, TB Joshua Ministries, which has nearly 2.5 million followers, was regularly updated yesterday with proceedings from the service, particularly testimonies and messages of the Prophet; yet no mention of the tragedy or prayers for the victims. Attempts by The Guardian to get an official reaction met a brick wall as church officials refused commenting on the memorial.

At the first anniversary of the unfortunate incident, which held simultaneously in Nigeria and South Africa, Joshua had maintained that the victims, many of whom had visited the church to seek spiritual help and were staying at the guesthouse before it collapsed, were on an appointment with God when they met their death and therefore believes they did not die in vain.

Prophet TB Joshua ministering

Prophet TB Joshua ministering

This has, however, not dissuaded the Lagos State government from seeking prosecution of the contractors that handled the building of the collapsed structure.

After exhaustive legal fireworks between the state coroner and lawyers representing the church spanning many months, the case was eventually filed before an Ikeja High Court, where Akinbela Fatiregun and Oladele Ogundeji alongside their companies – Hardrock Construction and Engineering Company and Jandy Trust Ltd and the trustees of Synagogue Church – are facing a 111-count charge bordering on gross negligence and criminal manslaughter.

At the last adjourned hearing of the case on June 22, 2016 before judges’ yearly three months vacation shut down the courts, a former Lagos State Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Olutoyin Ayinde, told Justice Lateef Lawal-Akapo at the Ikeja High Court that the auditorium of the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN) did not have a valid building permit.

When former President Goodluck Jonathan visited the site of the collapsed building in 2014

When former President Goodluck Jonathan visited the site of the collapsed building in 2014

Hoteliers in the Ikotun-Egbe axis area are, however, bemoaning their losses due to low occupancy rate , blaming the situation on the Synagogue building collapse, which in turn affected influx of worshippers to the church.

Before the accident, thousands of Nigerians and foreigners alike thronged the church in search of miracle healings for various afflictions. The miracle-seekers, all of whom could not see Prophet Joshua in one day, took accommodation in hotels in the area.

But since the collapse, the throngs have thinned out, while the hotels have lost revenue running into billions of naira. According to an official of the Pilgrims Hotels Association of Nigeria, Chief Jerry Omorodion, the total number of bed spaces of different categories for all the hotels in the Ikotun area is about 3,500.

Before the accident, the hotels record nearly 100 per cent occupancy rate due to the church programmes, which hold three times a week. Sadly, the occupancy rates now fluctuate between 10 and 20 per cent all weeklong.

Sy 1

Manager of Phonix Pilgrims Hotel in the church’s vicinity, Paul Ogbeide, noted that since Joshua resumed ministering after his retreat following the tragic incident, religious tourists from across the world especially from Africa and Asia are returning in their thousands to attend the weekly deliverance services at the SCOAN.

“From Thursdays, our rooms are fully booked by foreign visitors who stay for one week to one month while those visiting from different parts of Nigeria stay about two days.

“Aside hospitality operators, these religious tourists affect the livelihood of many people positively and various sectors benefit from their financial resources,” Ogbeide explained.

A resident, David Efiong, who makes a living by connecting visitors with hoteliers, added that banks, currency changers and market men and women in Ikotun and its environs also depend solely on these religious tourists for survival.

synagogue

Ogbeide, however, recalled that the tragic incident of September 2014 had nearly brought the bubbling activities in the area to a standstill due to loss of patronage.

“The number of church visitors, who come with dollars, euros, pounds and other foreign currencies to enrich the local economy has reduced drastically. Many hoteliers converted their guesthouses to residential apartments because they thought government would seize the church. But today, normalcy has gradually returned to SCOAN,” he said.

According to an hotel booking website, http://www.hotels.ng, areas surrounding the popular church in Ikotun have a total of 110 hotels.

 

No dirge for victims of Synagogue building collapse, two years on

Advertisements

Tales from Onilewura… The other side of Synagogue City

By Tope Templer Olaiya,
Assistant Lagos City Editor
It’s been one week since the quiet Onilewura community, in Ikotun, Lagos, lost its serenity after it was robbed of peace by the cruel angel of death, and it may take many more weeks before the former state is restored, if it will ever be.
For residents of the area, particularly adherents and visitors to the famous Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN), it is still a long dream they are yet to wake up from, especially how in a moment, a significant part of their alluring city became a crash site, attracting citizens and dignitaries alike.
To those who were eyewitnesses to the disaster, one week is not enough to shake off the shock of the building collapse that has claimed over 60 lives.
The church founded and shepherded by Prophet Temitope Balogun Joshua, truly lives to its billing as a church for all nationalities under the sun and its architectural masterpiece tells a different story about Nigeria. Everything about the church is beauty come to life.
Visitors and tourists who flock to the church in their multitudes have one aim in mind – the elusive search for healing.
Meeting the down-to-earth man in the Synagogue, Prophet Joshua, is a lifetime opportunity many would relish reliving and that aacounts for why they keep coming back from all over the world.
But beyond the frontiers of the church is where the scenic sights ends. In seconds, you are transported from fantasyland to the grim reality of a Lagos ghetto, replete with its trademark shanties and bad roads.
That community, known as Onilewura, is the other side of the Synagogue city.
Onilewura is partly an industrial area but mostly residential. It comprises seven streets namely, Sadiq Estate, Leona Ajayi Close, Akerekoro Close, Ise Oluwa Street, Orija Street, Onilewura Street and the entrance into the community, which houses the Synagogue church, Segun Irefin Street.
There are a host of companies and warehouses, prominent among which are Albert Company, JMG Generators, IPI and Olam, an agro-allied firm. A noticeable impact of the church’s presence in the area is the clusters of hotels and guesthouses, ranging between one star dormitories to three star lodges. There are over 50 in the area.

Sy 1

TWO WORLDS… ONE STREET: Segun Irefin Street, Onilewura, Ikotun, is entrance into Synagogue City

Until the latest tragedy that befell the church, residents were resentful that not a trace of the good life at the synagogue city was filtering into the community.
As neighbours, they only see the beautiful life and miracles on television, while every Sunday, members of the church ‘oppress’ them with the exotic cars that line their streets and give undue pressure to the roads already in urgent need of rehabilitation.
For the community, the building collapse is an unfortunate incident and as a group, they have been rallying to convey their sympathies to Prophet Joshua but it has been unsuccessful.
Chairman of Onilewura Landlords and Residents Association, Mr. Olusola Adisa Oseni, told The Guardian that they are using the opportunity of the present media spotlight to bring to the fore their plight and concerns as a community.
According to him, the church’s fame has only brought pain to the community. “On Saturdays and Sundays, it is a no-go area for everybody, the whole community is turned into a garage with transporters and car owners crowding out residents in every available space and the church is not doing anything about it.
“Unfortunately, he doesn’t allow his members to park around the vicinity of the church. They don’t have a parking space despite the fact that he has been acquiring properties around the church. Members of his Church litter the whole community with cars, while the church keeps its serenity even on worship days.
“Also, there has not been any effort to make the roads motorable, apart from tarring the street up to where the church ends, leaving the rest of the street in bad shape. It is a serious issue that is even difficult for people to believe,” he said.
Sy 2 Oseni explained that all efforts to take their grievances to Joshua met a brick wall and their last stop was the church’s Chief Security Officer, who promised to broker a meeting between the community and the prophet.
“Unfortunately, for over three months, we are yet to be granted access to him. You can see how close we are yet far apart as neighbours. When you are not able to see him, no help is forthcoming and there would be no benefit to members of the community.
“Before the building collapsed, we had requested for a heap of broken blocks from the site to be given to us to use as palliatives on the road. One major issue why we wanted to hold a meeting with the prophet is the closure of the road during service to all road users and residents.
“We have been trying to see what we can do as it is not only affecting us but other churches on the same street like Foursquare, Redeem and WOSEM. Their members cannot bring their car in and they have complained to us that they are losing a lot of their worshippers, many of who may not know the windy long alternative road to use.
For us residents, we have accepted our fate since many years now, and only sought his (T.B. Joshua’s) assistance to, at least, make the road motorable. We have through communal efforts tried to rescue the situation but no contribution from our biggest neighbour. We keep appealing to our members to be patient with SCOAN and not resort to violence.
“At our meetings, we had even suggested writing to the Inspector-General of Police and Governor Babatunde Fashola, but some among us suggested we should meet with Joshua first as our neighbor before we start reporting him to somebody else and if nothing comes out of it, it won’t be a surprise to him if we approach the authorities.”

Jankara Market Fire: Trader To Sue Govt For Illegal Demolition

By TOPE TEMPLER OLAIYA

The conviviality of the Yuletide and New Year season is still very much strong in the air, but it is a numb celebration for residents and traders, whose Boxing Day feasting was shattered by firecracker explosions that devastated the Ojo Giwa, Okoya and Jankara market areas of Lagos Island.
While some are fortunate to count their losses in a few thousands of Naira, many of the victims are starting 2013 with a huge deficit running into millions of Naira.
In fact, Alhaja Basirat Bolanle Ibrahim, owner of a three storey building at No. 41, Ojo Giwa Street, had to be heavily sedated days following the incident that eventually razed 12 buildings, to cross over into the new year alive.

Jankara Market Explosion... The morning after

Jankara Market Explosion… The morning after

With the effect of the drugs gradually wearing off and reality fully dawning that the building erected 18 months ago and valued at N85 million now lay in rubbles, it’s time to spill the beans.
Ibrahim, a generator dealer, who claims she recently stocked her wares for 2013 amounting to over N20 million, says she would sue the Lagos State government for illegal demolition.
“My building was not gutted by fire, it was demolished to pave way for the building behind mine, which was facing Okoya and was burning in the attempt to stop the spread of fire. I was standing here when the governor ordered that my building should be demolished; they didn’t even allow me to carry my goods.

Owner of a three-storey building affected by the explosion, Alhaja Basirat Ibrahim, who plans to sue the Lagos state government for illegally demolishing her structure.

Owner of a three-storey building affected by the explosion, Alhaja Basirat Ibrahim, who plans to sue the Lagos state government for illegally demolishing her structure.

“Despite giving my approval that only the roof should be removed to create access for the fire fighters and rescue operatives to work, they said if they didn’t demolish my building, there was no way they could quench the raging fire. I was not allowed to take a pin out of the building with goods worth N50 million. I just got a supply order of N20 million and the least of the generators is N25,000.
“All we were told was that they were saving our lives and we should not go near the building, while the emergency officials demolished everything in sight. I am taking the government to court. I will collect my money back because they gave the instruction for demolition. They didn’t stop at demolition, every useable item, including irons, were carted away.”
Ibrahim is not alone in her misery. For Mr. Ozokolie Sunday, a resident of Idumota, December 26, 2012 will go down as a day he would live to regret. Ozokolie owned four shops in the Jankara market. Looking dejected and unable to control his emotions, he told The Guardian that he lost goods worth over N15 million to the disaster. The shops were located at Numbers 43 and 45 Ojo Giwa Street in the thickly populated Lagos Island Business District.
Ozokolie said he was still in celebration mood when news of the disaster reached him. According to him, “I received the information with shock because I was not around.” The trader, who described the disaster as the most unfortunate incident that ever happened to him, explained that he temporarily passed on when the news of the incident was broken to him via a phone call.

General Manager/CEO, Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Dr. Olufemi Oke-Osanyintolu, pointing to the debris of the Jankara market building collapse

General Manager/CEO, Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Dr. Olufemi Oke-Osanyintolu, pointing to the debris of the Jankara market building collapse

Speaking with journalists at the site of the incident, the General Manager/CEO, Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Dr. Olufemi Oke-Osanyintolu, said the agency had to quickly demolish buildings affected by the explosion and make the area safe for people to do business because they do not want to further cause financial distress to so many families.
“We have demolished the area, we are now clearing the debris and enumeration is being carried out by the operations and logistics department of LASEMA. In due time, we will get into matters of compensation. At the moment, we are concerned about giving out financial assistance to victims to cushion the effect of this disaster.
He noted that other affected buildings in the area had been subjected to integrity text by the Lagos State Raw Material Testing Agency to determine their present structural stability status to avoid another disaster in the State. He said buildings examined to be unfit would be demolished while those needing adjustment would be recommended for appropriate and necessary action.
According to him, “our work here is to make the area safe and calm; agencies like the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA) have carried out environmental impact assessment of the explosion in the area, while the Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA) and the Lagos State Waste Management Agency (LAWMA) have been on ground to clear the debris and other waste items from the site.”
Hassan Bolaji, resident of No. 39, Ojo Giwa Street, said money was paid to the state coffers for an integrity test to be conducted on the neighbouring buildings.