The right lesson will be learned by prosecuting the offender
The controversy surrounding last year’s collapsed guest house at the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN) in Lagos seems to have been finally laid to rest. The Lagos coroner’s inquest last week indicted the church for “criminal negligence” and recommended that it be prosecuted for the death of 116 persons.
According to the coroner’s court, presided over by Chief Magistrate Oyetade Komolafe, who called out the names of the 116 victims – 60 males and 56 females – including a six-year-old child. Six of the victims were yet to be identified while 85 of them were South Africans, 22 Nigerians, two Beninoise and two Togolese. The coroner also said that the church did not get the necessary permit or approval before commencing the construction of the building.
We commend the Lagos State authorities and the coroner court for unraveling the real cause of the tragedy and for making far-reaching recommendations. But now that the report is out, there are doubts whether the authorities would be able to muster the requisite will to ensure justice for the victims. This is because the promoter of SCOAN is a powerful and well-connected man in Nigeria and across the continent. There is also the issue of the premium placed on the lives of our citizens.
We recall that when the tragedy occurred, the South African authorities were proactive but the Nigerian authorities were tardy in their approach. While the Jacob Zuma-led government scrambled to protect and account for its affected citizens in Nigeria, there was no such attention in our country about our own nationals. To compound the problem, prominent Nigerians, including former President Goodlcuk Jonathan, were paying solidarity visits to the church promoter, Pastor T.B. Joshua, who released some video clips with claims that the building was attacked by some hovering aircraft, a claim that the coroner has disputed.
That Nigerians are a very religious people is not in doubt but there is also a serious challenge to the whole idea of transparency in matters relating to faith. Yet government must begin to take more interest in what transpires in these places of worship by scrutinising their conditions. It is a notorious fact that some of the churches use makeshift structures where scores of people are massed together in clear disregard for safety rules. With no proper ventilation, fire-fighting equipment and exit outlets, many of them are essentially death traps. It is also true that not a few of the buildings are erected in clear violations of building codes, as the coroner has now concluded in the case of SCOAN.
Beyond looking at some of those issues, it is important that the relevant authorities begin to protect unwary citizens from harmful indoctrinations. Faith healing, cult recruitment and other extremism must be countered through deliberate programmes. At the moment, citizens in dire need of solutions to life’s crises are getting ripped off by manipulators who are versed in the art of hypnotism and mind games. From being turned to slaves to parting with huge sums of money, several Nigerians are now in the firm grip of unscrupulous, hard-nosed business men who masquerade as men of the cloak. A responsible government must view the mental and psychological well-being of citizens as its responsibility.
In the instant case of the Synagogue, no faith centre has probably eaten deep into the psyche of people as this conglomerate of a church has done. And its tentacles are wide given the way and manner citizens, including leaders, of several African countries troop to the place. By all account therefore, Pastor Joshua is a very important man. But that has not placed him or his church above the law of the land. The coroner’s report on the death of 116 people at The Synagogue must lead to prosecution.