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.

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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

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In search of new Mandelas

Nigerian leads body of political consultants in Africa
By Tope Templer Olaiya

A statue of Nelson Mandela

A statue of Nelson Mandela

The Association of Political Consultants in Africa (APCA), established in the mold of the American Association of Political Consultants has been launched in Cape Town, South Africa, with the Special Adviser to the Lagos State governor on Communication and Communities, Mr. Kehinde Bamigbetan, emerging as the chairman of the body.
The body, which provides a platform for exchange of ideas between political consultants, seeks to woo across the continent, members of the public who are actively involved in counseling candidates and political parties, running campaigns or providing specialized services such as polling, fundraising, message development and communications.

The main objectives, according to drivers of the APCA is to foster democracy and democratic processes across Africa, while also fostering the growing and diverse profession of political consulting, as well as the practical aspects of democratic elections.

Kehinde Bamigbetan

Kehinde Bamigbetan

According to Bamigbetan, they intend to achieve this by bringing together members at strategic annual meetings to exchange views and information about political developments and campaign techniques.

“We want to draw membership from specialists in government relations, lobbyists, political party employees and members of the academia. Our immediate task is to set up the inaugural conference of the association. The announcement of the group is generating so much enthusiasm from stakeholders. To this effect, we would be holding an inaugural session in the first week of February at Oriental Hotels, Lekki to brainstorm and chart the modus operandi the association would take,” he said.

Speaking on his motivation to drive the continent-wide initiative, Bamigbetan said he had been drawn to the activities of the American Association of Political Consultants for a very long time. “Reading the works of political consultants and following the online magazine, Politico, caused me to interrogate the absence of such a discipline in the Nigerian political process despite the obvious fact that professionals from the humanities had played such roles in the past.

“I believed the democratic system in the country had matured enough to nurture political consultants. But I was yet to meet a political consultant one on one. So I attended the annual convention of the association in New Orleans, United States last year. The convention cured my ignorance. I met political consultants, pollsters, data collection companies, media managers, fundraisers, and stuck great camaraderie with many, particularly Matt McMillan, who had been to Nigeria in the past to work on a few accounts.

“That was how the idea of APCA was given birth to. After the conference, we kept in touch. He went ahead with plans to provide a platform called the Africa Political Summit in South Africa for the takeoff of the idea and appointed me a member of the Steering Committee.

“January 9 was destined to go down in history as the day that history would be made. Political consultants, party officials and activists participating in the summit gathered at a corner in the Cape Town Westin Hotel to create such a platform, fostered by Matt himself. At the summit, Matt emphasized the need to hand over the summit to the political consultants based in Africa. The need to create a platform for such a body became imperative,” he said.

Joining hands with Bamigbetan to spearhead the APCA include Semiu Okanlawon, the workaholic media manager of the Osun State’s information machinery, Tunji Awonusi, a key political strategist of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Zibu Mthiyane, a consultant from South Africa, who will serve as the secretary of the steering committee, Kipgeno Kirui, strategist from Kenya, among other consultants from Gabon, Benin Republic and Ghana.

A grateful world bids Nelson Mandela farewell

IN what has turned out as one of the largest gatherings of global leaders in recent history, presidents from Barack Obama of the United States (U.S.), Cuba’s Raul Castro, Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan and Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff, Tuesday paid tributes to Nelson Madiba Mandela who died last Thursday at the age of 95.

They were among the presidents and prime ministers, celebrities and royals and ordinary people from across the world – Bangladesh, Palestine, India, Chile, and literally, the world over – who joined hundreds of thousands of South Africans to pay tributes to Mandela, in a memorial service that celebrated a man seen as a global symbol of reconciliation.

Every living former U.S. president was there except George Bush (Snr.) as well as every living former British Prime Minister.

The world of entertainment also was well represented with South African actress, Charlize Theron, U2′s Bono and Kirk Franklin in attendance.

Despite the heavy rain, which in his native Xhosa tribe is seen as a blessing, the atmosphere in the FNB Stadium, Johannesburg, was celebratory, with people dancing, blowing ‘vuvuzela’ (plastic horns) and singing songs from the anti-apartheid struggle.

nelson-tribute-bg-2Many carried banners honouring ‘Madiba’ Mandela’s traditional clan name, or his picture. Others were draped in materials covered with his face or the green, yellow, black, red and blue colours of the South African flag.

Some had skipped work and queued for hours to secure a seat so that they could pay their respects at the stadium where Mandela delivered his first major speech after his release from prison.

The four-hour service, which coincided with United Nations (UN) Human Rights Day, is the centrepiece of a week of mourning and brought much of South Africa to a stop.

It began with the national anthem before South Africa’s presidents – past and present – were introduced.

There was a loud cheer from the crowd for F.W. de Klerk, the last leader of white South Africa, who shared a Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela for helping to end apartheid.

The arrivals of Liberia’s president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, wearing a yellow rose and customary dark sunglasses, brought cheers from the crowd.

The joyous cries died down as speeches from Mandela’s family, friends as well as a fellow Robben Island prison inmate began. Anguished faces listened quietly as a sorrowful chant to “Tata Madiba” filled the air. “Tata” means “father” in Xhosa.

“This is how Nelson Mandela would have wanted to be sent on,” said Cyril Ramaphosa, the deputy ANC leader who chaired the proceedings. “These are blessings. In our African tradition (when it rains), it means the gods are welcoming you and the gates of heaven are open.”

Among the crowd, a scarlet-robed Desmond Tutu stood out as he watched the proceedings with a sombre expression.

Mandela’s ex-wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, barely held back tears as she walked slowly into the stadium supported by her eldest daughter, Zindzi. She embraced Graça Machel, Mandela’s widow, before taking a seat.

Speaking on behalf of the family, General Thanduxolo Mandela said he was mindful that they shared the former president with the rest of the country and the world. “He is gone from before our eyes but never from our hearts and minds,” he said.

The memorial service may have given birth to the first steps towards thawing one of the frostiest relations created since the cold war.

In a mark of reconciliation that Mandela himself would have approved of, Obama making his way to the podium shook hands with Raul Castro of Cuba.

The U.S. and Cuba have literally not been on speaking terms for more than 50 years.

Obama was in his element delivering a rousing speech that was both personal and political. “It is a singular honour to be with you today, to celebrate a life unlike any other. To the people of South Africa – people of every race and walk of life – the world thanks you for sharing Nelson Mandela with us,” said Obama, who compared Mandela to Abraham Lincoln.

“It was precisely because he could admit to imperfection – because he could be so full of good humour, even mischief, despite the heavy burdens he carried – that we loved him so,” he added, prompting applause.

South African President Jacob Zuma in his speech said: “Today, Madiba is no more. He leaves behind a nation that loves him dearly and a continent proud to call him an African.

Madiba laid foundation for better life for all.

“Madiba never hesitated to speak his mind, regardless of how uncomfortable his words may be.

“Under his leadership, the democratically-elected government focused on building a democratic society based on non-racialism and non-sexism.

“Indeed, Madiba was one of a kind.”

To Castro, Mandela was a prophet of unity.

“Mandela’s life teaches us that what threatens the existence of humanity can be eradicated only by effort from all countries.

“We shall never forget Mandela’s moving homage to our country’s struggles when he came,” said Castro who spoke of Mandela’s ‘bond of affection’ with Fidel Castro and quoted Fidel Castro as saying about Mandela: “Honour and glory for ever to the great comrade Nelson Mandela and the heroic people of South Africa.”

President Pranab Mukherjee of India in his tribute said: “Madiba was a towering personality of great compassion.

“Indeed, his life and struggles that represented hope of the downtrodden across the world reminds us of Father of our nation, Mahatma Gandhi.”

Though now aged, Desmond Tutu seemed not to have lost much of his old energy as he brought the service to a close.

He scolded the crowd that seemed to be unruly by making noise.

“I won’t speak until there is pin-drop silence,” “You must show the world you are disciplined. I want to hear a pin drop.”

He also made them swear: “We promise to God we will follow the example of Nelson Mandela.”

With 91 heads of state attending, security was tight but South Africa rose to the occasion working off plans developed for years in secret, using an elite military task force, sniper teams and canine teams to help secure the stadium.

“Should anybody, anything dare to disturb or disrupt this period of mourning and finally taking and accompanying the former president to his last resting place, then that person will be dealt with,” Brig.-Gen. Xolani Mabanga had told Cable News Network (CNN) on Monday.

A minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane, had also confidently told journalists on Monday:  “We can assure that all necessary steps have been taken, and that is why the leadership of the world and former leaders of the world have confidence to come to our country at this time to share with us this moment.”

As Obama flew into South Africa, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes had told reporters aboard Air Force One that they were satisfied with security arrangements.

“We do not have any concerns.

“The South Africans hosted the World Cup, so they have experience hosting significant crowds and managing events like this, although clearly this is really a unique event in the world.”

While Tuesday’s memorial is the first major event honouring Mandela since his death, it won’t be the last.

A state funeral will be held on Sunday in Mandela’s ancestral hometown of Qunu in Eastern Cape Province.

Yesterday’s has begun to be compared with other significant state funerals in recent decades, such as that of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1965 and the 2008 funeral of Pope John Paul II, which attracted some two million people to Rome – among them four kings, five queens, at least 70 presidents and prime ministers and the leaders of 14 other faiths.

Metal detectors and some 15,000 members of security forces stood watch over the event.

Maximizing benefits of tourism sector in Nigeria

BY TOPE TEMPLER OLAIYA

Protea Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos

Protea Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos

WITH the opening of at least one hotel every other month, influx of international hotel brands, and high employment capacity, the hospitality sector seems to be the only thriving sub-sector in the travel and tourism industry in Nigeria and clearly depicts the obvious – that Nigeria tourism is globally competitive.

In July this year, Nigeria’s first six-star hotel began operation in Abuja with the take-off of AES Luxury Apartments. The Minister of Culture, Tourism and National Orientation, Chief Edem Duke, who declared the facility open, commended the owners and managers of the hospitality outfit for its high standard. Duke said the emergence of AES was particularly timely as patrons seek secure, yet opulent, alternatives to the few and often overcrowded five-star hotels in the city.

Underscoring the fact that the country’s tourism sector is globally competitive, President Goodluck Jonathan, last month unveiled a new “tourism identity” as part of efforts to develop the tourism sector and diversify the nation’s revenue sources. The new identity, Fascinating Nigeria, was launched at a dinner held at the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, to showcase the country’s rich tourism and cultural potentials.

The president, who was represented by the Vice President, Namadi Sambo, said the tourism sector, if properly harnessed, could generate income and attract investment to drive the country’s economy. He revealed that the Federal Government has placed greater emphasis on creating an enabling environment for harnessing the country’s vast tourism potentials and resources and subsequently increase the budget of the Ministry of Tourism.
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“This is because tourism, another huge revenue source, is a means by which potentialities shall create employment and wealth for our teeming Nigerian youths. The cultural diversity, historic sites and slave routes together with the large Diaspora population provide an opportunity for success, when packaged with festivals and events for presentation to the international and regional tour operators,” he added.

According to the president, Nigeria has a lot to showcase to the world. “Our movie industry is second in the world only after Hollywood, our football team is the reigning African Champions, our festivals are unrivaled on the African continent and our music is reigning supreme globally. We are ranked as one of the best places to do business and we are one of the fastest growing economies and an investment destination,” he said.

Tourism Minister, Edem Duke, said tourism sector in 2012 contributed three per cent to the Nigerian Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 2.6 per cent of total employment, making the sector second to oil and gas.

In the bid to add bite to the Fascinating Nigeria initiative, president of the Federation of Tourism Association of Nigeria (FTAN), Mr. Tomi Akingbogun, during the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the association, said his federation was working to ensure a reduction in operating tourism businesses in the country.

“FTAN is set to partner the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on private-public investments by broadening inter-regional tourism trade and investments, but the government has to be sincere about developing this sector, first by reducing multiple taxation and other business unfriendly policies.”

While there is a remarkable growth in the sector, all is not well, as challenges, especially in electricity power supply, importation of majority of the products and furniture, and dearth of skilled personnel, and recently, security still, pose serious problems. Despite the harsh business climate, the likes of Protea, Golden Tulip, Best Western, among others, added a number to their repertoire in their preparation to take on the big players and multinational brands such as Sheraton, Le Meridian and Hilton.

Edem Duke, Nigeria's Culture Minister

Edem Duke, Nigeria’s Culture Minister


So many two-star and three-star hotels opened all over the country with established hotels adding more rooms and expanding facilities. According to a report, Calabar and Enugu saw increased hotel development surpassed only by Abuja, followed closely by Lagos. With this development, hotel room rates are falling because of the shrinking economic activities and availability of more rooms.

The influx of these international brands, according to George Lucky Esiekpe, public relations consultant to African Sun, and CEO, travelafricanews.com, is a testimony that the sector is growing. “But, it is also sad that the indigenous hotels are yet to wake up to the competition by foreign brands.”

A thriving hospitality industry provides thousands of skilled and unskilled jobs, both of which are particularly critical in Nigeria, where unemployment levels have continued to grow geometrically.

As international hotel groups start moving into the continent they view as “the final frontier of hospitality”, this raises the critical question: What is best for Nigeria? Working with local partners makes the most sense from a hospitality perspective, but who should hoteliers be looking to partner with? Is an international group with a name but no African experience the way to go, or should a hotel management company have an African track record to be most successful?

These questions are critical to tourism development in Africa, especially in countries where tourism is a leading forex earner or is fast becoming one. Providing answers is Arthur Gillis, CEO of the Protea Hospitality Group, which is by a wide margin the largest hotel group on the continent, with approximately 130 hotels in 10 countries.

Arthur Gillis, CEO Protea Group

Arthur Gillis, CEO Protea Group


In an exclusive online interview with The Guardian, Gillis said: “One of our foundation principles is to seek local partners when entering a new market. We are hospitality experts and we have never claimed to be anything else, so we partner with those people who are the legal and financial experts in their home countries. It helps us get a better understanding of the needs in each country and gives us a business plan to follow that creates hotels of the highest standard where they are needed, where they will be profitable and where they will create employment.

“That doesn’t change, no matter where you are working in Africa. There are sometimes challenges like guaranteeing reliable Wi-Fi, but as a continent we all want to create long term and sustainable growth, so we all work towards that goal.”

For Gillis, Nigeria is the priority market. Outside of South Africa, the country has the greatest number of Protea Hospitality Group hotels and plans to double its presence within five years. “We currently have 11 hotels, the latest of which is Protea Hotel Select Emotan that opened in Benin City in February.

“Investing in Nigeria makes sense in every way; the country is the most populous in Africa, its economy is about to overtake South Africa as the continent’s biggest, the economic growth forecast is extremely optimistic and it has immense resources that the rest of the world wants. That means the world travels to Nigeria and we believe we are setting the hospitality benchmark for superlative hotels and service.

“To illustrate that, currently the only superior deluxe African Pride Hotel under construction anywhere in Africa right now is going up in Lagos. It will set a new benchmark for five-star luxury in Africa and we will be opening doors next year.”

According to Gillis, the success story of the Protea Hospitality Group is a model for any new entrant into the hospitality sector in Africa. “We started in Africa and work exclusively in Africa, meaning every cent that is made from our hotels remains in Africa. We have been here for 30 years and we are by far the largest hotel group on the continent.”

Africa, for him, is still a tourism destination with its many challenges. “There is absolutely no doubt that Africa is a tourist destination and a very popular one. Security concerns have gone from pervasive to very specific regions and those, too, are shrinking. That is not to say one views the world through rose-tinted spectacles, but the reality is that Africa has had a taste of what it means to flourish economically and nobody wants to give that up. Tourism is a phenomenal forex stream that contributes to development and prosperity.

The Protea Group has been able to drive its growth on the continent in simple consistent ways. “We have three decades of experience in African hospitality. Our expertise in finance, marketing and management, as well as established supply chains and distribution channels, make money for hotel owners and convert guests from once-off visitors to loyal patrons.”

On how Nigeria can develop its hospitality industry and fully maximize its tourism potentials, the Protea group chief noted that the first hurdle has been cleared with government understanding the opportunities and revenue streams a thriving tourism trade can bring to the country.

“This has accorded the industry priority status after oil and gas. Without government buy-in, very few industries would survive in the world, so it’s a good start. That said, it falls to entrepreneurs to take those leaps of faith and commit to growing the hospitality industry. All the action won’t only be in the big cities, though.

“As with every country in the world, business travel is the lifeblood of the hospitality industry and more opportunities to develop hotels in secondary nodes will occur as regional development expands.

“The recipe for success is simple: create a world-class product, give it a trusted brand name, train staff well, install talented managers with sound financial knowledge and always remember that the reason you are there is to create a phenomenal guest experience. If you stick to those rules, you simply can’t lose.