Synagogue Inquest: Oh What A Tangled Web Lagos Weaves



Recent revelations have left questions about the credibility of the witnesses at the Lagos State Government Inquest into The Synagogue Building disaster accentuated rather than assuaged.

In a previous article, I had submitted that the tone set by testifiers at the ongoing inquest into the cause of the tragic building collapse at The Synagogue, Church Of All Nations (SCOAN) was breeding malcontent among South Africans keenly interested in its outcome.

So far, the entirety of the witnesses connected by vocation to the Lagos State Government have spoken in damning unison of SCOAN, its ‘heartless’ emergency response and pointedly firm conviction that terrorism was behind the tragedy.

Similarly, through thorough cross-examination, contradictions were found in almost all these accounts. The most recent witness, Dr Oke-Osanyingolu, the General Manager and CEO of the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), was perhaps the most incongruous.

“The first three days were marred by the so-called church sympathisers and the crowd,” Nigerian media reported him to have said. “By the time we attained momentum after 96 hours, a lot of things had gone bad.” If indeed this statement were true, such alarming incompetence in an incident of this magnitude should meet a commensurate reward – the sack!

However, even as a distant observer from South Africa, the snippets I viewed of local Nigerian news on YouTube showed the very same gentleman reassuringly speaking to the media the day after the incident that the rescue operation was under control.

Incidentally, the 96 hours quoted refers to the time it took Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola to visit the scene, further fostering an impression of either gross neglect or surreptitious idling.

His contradictory testimony underscores the sentiment I shared earlier – it appears Lagos State government are frantically attempting a cover-up of their own inadequacies (or something even more sinister) by pointing all fingers available at T.B. Joshua. Indeed, the only thing the Nigerian rescue services seem bent on rescuing is their own reputation!

A local ‘Ikotun’ resident, Kolawole Ayodele Sunday highlighted another pertinent point regarding the ‘strange plane’ that encircled the district on the very day of the collapse. “On 12th September, citizens of Ikotun woke up to the frightful sight of a military plane flying so low, several times above their buildings,” the cleric wrote in an opinion piece published several days ago. “Only after the inauguration of the inquest, about two weeks ago, did these ‘military maneuvers’ return, in a highly congested area.”

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He posited some vital questions: “Why is the flight pilot and Nigerian Air Force not at the inquest if only to state their own side of the story? Why is a thickly populated residential area being used for such military exercise against normal practices? What has happened to coastal areas such as Badagry, thick forest areas in Ogun state or better still Sambisa forest (the infamous base of terrorist group Boko Haram)?”

Additionally, almost two months down the line, results of the structural integrity tests conducted at the scene of the incident have not been released to the public. What could be the cause of such an uncanny delay of information that could well lay to rest much of these controversies?

To add further credence to my qualms, let me share with you an email I received from Dr James Dibdin MD, a respected forensic pathologist based in USA. With 38 years of experience, qualifications spanning three continents and no personal connection whatsoever with The SCOAN, I see no reason to doubt his brazen assertions.

Describing the Lagos State pathologist Professor John Obafunwa as ‘incompetent’, he wrote thus, “I am a forensic pathologist in Santa Monica, California and I was very interested in your recent article expressing skepticism about Professor Obafunwa and the Nigerian government’s attitude toward Prophet Joshua. I agree with you.

“I noted that Obafunwa claimed that the victims died of ‘traumatic rhabdomyolysis’ according to one report which is something I’ve never heard of and that he claimed that smoke inhalation could be ruled out as a cause of death without testing the blood for carbon monoxide levels (and) that could not be done because the bodies had been embalmed. I’m sure your local forensic pathologists could confirm that this is nonsense.

“I think he is the same person who attempted to come here to the USA at one point but could not pass the medical licensing exams and who was more or less run out of the United Kingdom. So it could be that the Nigerian government is plotting or has its own agenda as you suggest. I don’t know anything about the politics of your two countries but maybe they just got conned into hiring someone who isn’t up to the job and don’t know what to do about it.”

His words, not mine. It is sad that such a sacred and solemn thing as death seems to have been politicised by the government, reiterated by the excessive delay in repatriation of the fallen. It is not only adding insult to injury for the families of those who lost their lives but an affront to the sanctity of human life, the preservation of which politicians are supposed to champion.

I am not the usual fodder for wild conspiracies but the unusual circumstances surrounding this incident and its aftermath certainly induce serious concerns as to what is happening ‘behind the scenes’. The missing piece in this puzzle seems to have been intentionally left out by parties who perhaps know more than meets the eye.

In the poignant words of a Scottish poet, “Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when we first practice to deceive…”

Marelise Van der Merwe, a social analyst, wrote from Johannesburg, South Africa

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