Synagogue Tragedy: Lagos grants S.Africa clearance to repatriate bodies

Babatunde Fashola

Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State

Kazeem Ugbodaga

Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State
Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State

The Lagos state government has released the body of 54 South Africans who died in the collapsed building at the Synagogue of All Nations for collection after the bodies were sorted out through DNA.

At least, 70 dead bodies have been identified through DNA out of the 116 people who perished in the tragedy. While 54 of those cleared so far were South Africans, 16 others are Nigerians, Togolese, Beninoise and others.

Lagos governor, Babatunde Fashola gave the approval for the South African Government to repatriate its 54 dead bodies ready for collection at the State House, Marina on Wednesday evening after the South African Government complained that the bodies were held for too long.

According to Fashola, “We regret that this has happened here. Unfortunately, I managed such issues during the Dana plane crash and I understand the anxiety of families who want the closure and the religious undertone as well. Our responsibility is to ensure that families get closure. And those culture exist here. I know that this is an issue that has attracted global attention.”

“I understand the call by South Africans to get the bodies of their relatives but we cannot at this time get the process wrong because if we release a body, we want to ensure that each family takes the body of their relative. It will be unpardonable for us to make mistake.

“And the choice of South Africa for the test was a special decision to make the process easier for South Africans who bore the bigger brunt of the tragedy. So since the relatives were in South Africa, it was easier to use a laboratory in the country, where we could easily take samples from the deceased families for the test. It was meant to further demonstrate what our intentions were,” he explained.

Fashola said the state government had no reason to deny South Africa the right to take those 54 bodies, saying “you have my word, you can take them whenever you are ready to do so. It is left for you to decide whether to take them in batches or wait until we conclude the exercise. But if you are ready, my team will ensure that you take them without any delay,” Fashola said.

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He said the coroner’s inquest is still ongoing, to investigate the cause of the disaster and to prosecute them.
Chief Medical Examiner for the state, Prof. John Obafunwa said 116 bodies were recovered and had been subjected to post-mortem examination, such as finger printing, photography, collection of samples, among others.

Obafunwa disclosed that of the 116 bodies, 70 has been identified through the DNA laboratory in South Africa, explaining that 54 out of the 70 were South Africans.

According to him, “We had to collect additional DNA samples to assist the laboratory. We’ve been working together and talking to the lab. It is expected that more results will come in more than the 70 we have identified.”

Leader of the South African delegation to Nigeria, Special Envoy and Minister at the Presidency, Jeff Radebe, had said that South African culture and traditions demand burial within a week of bereavement.

“But today makes it two month since the incident, so I paid a condolence visit to President Goodluck Jonathan two days ago, to convey the message of our president and find ways of speeding up the processes and repatriation of the mortal remains of those 85 (81 S/Africans) including those four who carry S/African passports even though they are not nationals of our country,” he stated.

He said that arrangement had been made to include the four, and take them to Pretoria, from where three would be taken to Harare and one to Kinsasa, adding that “the whole nation of South Africa is in mourning, especially the families that have to endure two months of waiting in order to bring closure to this whole incident. We are ready to repatriate them as soon as we get the green light from the state government.

The Director in the South African Presidency, Cassius Lubisi explained that all necessary machinery were already in place for smooth return of the bodies to S/Africa, disclosing that two flights were ready for the exercise, with one to convey medical session of the Department of Defense, while mortuary trucks would arrive in the second flight.

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