A six-storey building belonging to the Synagogue Church of All Nations, Ikotun, Lagos, collapsed on Friday with no fewer than 50 persons feared dead.
The building, which was under construction, was initially a two-storey building before the addition of four new floors which were under construction.
Saturday PUNCH gathered that the building, which housed guests and members of the church, already had so many people lodged in it before the incident.
The six-storey building, which collapsed around 1pm, was under construction.
The Synagogue Church of All Nations was founded by Prophet Temitope Joshua.
As at 3pm when our correspondent got to the scene, hundreds of people were seen, crying and wailing.
A 10-year-old child was among the dead and some foreigners were among the victims said to have been rescued alive. As of the time of going to press, several persons were still trapped in the collapsed building.
However, the exact number of casualties could not be confirmed as of the time of filing this report as there were conflicting reports from emergency agencies and eyewitnesses.
For instance, the Public Relations Officer, National Emergency Management Agency, Mr. Ibrahim Farinloye, in a phone conversation with our correspondent on Friday evening, confirmed the recovery of three dead bodies and 15 persons rescued alive.
He said, “We have recovered three dead bodies and a child of about 10 years was among them. The others were adults and one of them had his leg chopped off. Before we arrived at the scene, 15 persons had been rescued alive and taken to the hospital. But there are people still trapped in the building and rescue efforts are still ongoing.”
The General Manager, Lagos State Emergency Management Agency, Dr. Femi Oke-Osanyintolu, who could not confirm the figure of the dead victims, said 15 bodies and 20 survivors were recovered from the debris.
He said, “We have cordoned off the area and we have been able to recover 15 bodies and 20 casualties and they have been taken to the hospitals, including the General Hospital, Alimosho, but I can’t tell you the number of the dead right now. There were foreigners among the dead and those that were rescued but I didn’t count how many they were.”
Eyewitnesses who spoke with Saturday PUNCH, however, put the number of the dead in the incident at about 50.
An eyewitness, who insisted that up to 50 persons died in the incident, said he saw almost 10 ambulances loaded with bodies going to and fro, taking victims to nearby hospitals.
He said, “I’m very sure that nothing less than 50 people were killed in the incident as ambulances loaded with bodies were going to and fro. The collapse was massive and the casualty figure was high.”
The collapsed building was said to have served as a guest house for church members, particularly foreigners attending the church.
Our correspondent observed that only two floors were visible at the scene of the incident as the other three had sunk into the ground.
Farinloye, who confirmed that the building was under construction, said the building collapse might have been caused by the addition of three more storeys to the structure.
He said, “The building was under construction; it was initially a two-storey building but they were adding three floors to it and I think that was what led to the collapse. I think it was the construction that caused the problem.”
Journalists were barred from covering the incident by church members, who were trying to play down the incident. They also hampered rescue efforts as they attacked officials of the emergency services who were there to rescue victims.
Farinloye, who also confirmed this, said, “The church members have been very aggressive and hostile to us; they attacked us and we had to withdraw our services. I was attacked, the officials of the Lagos State Building Control Agency and the General Manager of LASEMA were also attacked. We were not hurt and our equipment was not damaged. This was, however, because we quickly left when they attacked us. We are still waiting to settle before we resume our job.”
However, about an hour after, Oke-Osanyintola, who also confirmed the hostilities, said the emergency officials had been able to calm the aggressors down and that normal rescue services had resumed.
Consequently, the incident attracted many onlookers to the scene and there was heavy vehicular traffic in and around Ikotun area, where the church is located.
In the evening, the pandemonium in the area was compounded by security officials who besieged the entrance of the church, shooting into the air to disperse the crowd.
The security officers prevented onlookers from gaining entrance into the church, but their presence and shootings led to a stampede.
In the confusion, many of the onlookers running helter-skelter, rushed into moving vehicles, while trying to avoid being hit by stray bullets.
Beside security operatives, young men suspected to be members of the church, also barricaded the entrance of the church. They also prevented motorists from gaining access to the premises.
However, ambulances, police vehicles and forklifts were allowed to gain entrance.
No fewer than 20 ambulances had entered the site, coming out with injured victims as of 7pm.
At 7.30pm, a trailer with registration number MUS 891XK, hauling a bulldozer and belonging to the Lagos State Works Corporation, entered the premises, ostensibly to help in the rescue exercise.
According to an eye witness account, the impact of the collapsed building shook his house.
A resident of Olusesi Street adjacent to the church, who identified himself as Ade, told one of our correspondents that he never suspected it was a collapsed building.
“It was around 1pm. I was in my sitting room and my house just vibrated. I didn’t know what happened. I was scared, but few minutes later, I just heard that a building had collapsed. I was shocked,” he said.
A recharge card seller, who claimed she saw when the building collapsed, said she counted nothing less than 20 dead people.
“It was so gory. Most of them were construction workers. I saw so many bodies being evacuated. I am sure not less than 20 people have died so far,” she claimed.
Another resident said he wasn’t surprised that such a building collapsed especially as high rise buildings keep springing up in the area intermittently.
The resident, who didn’t want his name in print said, “I know the building so well. I wasn’t surprised it collapsed as it was already bent. Landlords became greedy and started building more storeys on top of the already completed ones.”
Meanwhile, suspected members of the church who spoke to one of our correspondents claimed nothing major happened. It was obvious they wanted to protect their church.
One of them said, “It was just a small thing. I attend this church. Nobody died. You know Ikotun has a huge population, that is why you see many people here.”
One of our correspondents learnt that the church was planning to hold a special programme on Saturday (today) and that many members, including foreigners were meant to attend the event. It was also observed that many visiting members of the church, who arrived later in the evening, met the confusion.
Saturday PUNCH spoke to one of them who was reluctant to talk.
“I don’t know what to do. I am confused. I am coming from Gabon. Nobody has really told me what is happening,” he said.
In a related development, young men suspected to be members of the church, mobbed and assaulted a photojournalist working for NTA, smashing his camera. They also molested other reporters and individuals who tried to take pictures of the scene.
One of our correspondents, who was among the journalists who later gained access to the scene of the incident at about 9pm, confirmed that only two of the building floors were visible as the remaining had been buried.
Rescue operations were still ongoing as of the time of filing this report and an official of the church whose name was not made available to our correspondent, said a statement would be issued by the leadership of the church on Saturday (today).
At about 9.40pm when our correspondents visited Igando General Hospital, there were six survivors of the incident on beds in a ward while nine others were under a canopy outside, presumably due to inadequate bed space. A nurse was observed attending to the victims outside with some of their relatives present.
However, some members of the church who were at the hospital, told the nurse and the victims not to entertain any questions from our correspondents.
The nurse said she was not authorised to speak on the issue but asked our correspondents to return on Monday, next week when her superiors would be around for information.
The hospital’s Medical Director, Deputy Medical Director and Administrative officer were not at the facility at that time and efforts to reach them on their mobile phones were also not successful as their numbers were switched off.
Meanwhile, This is an official communication from The Synagogue, Church Of All Nations concerning a news story currently being reported by the media regarding an incident that happened today:
“A building, not the church auditorium as was reported. The few people that were there are being rescued. What you wish to others, God wishes to you. Nothing makes us love a person as much as praying for him. The more I love you, the more I will pray for you.”