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Nigeria: death toll from TB Joshua church rises as South Africa demands investigation

September 25, 2014 (KAMPALA) – The death toll from the collapse of a church hostel belonging to the Nigerian TV evangelist preacher, TB Joshua, has risen sharply from 40 to 115, with 84 of the dead identified as South African nationals.

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Pictures of Nigerian Preacher TB Joshua`s Synagogue Church building which collapsed last Friday (Photo:newsofthesouth)

The two-storey building, which previously accommodated visitors seeking prophesies and healing from Joshua, collapsed on 12 September when hundreds of people were gathered in the building to hear from the popular preacher.

Although the cause of the incident was not established, the Nigerian preacher, sometimes known as prophet, blamed the incident on what he said was a plane that hovered over the church building on the day it collapsed.

At least seven out of the 115 confirmed dead are Nigerians, the BBC has reported.

Nationalities of the other 23 victims were not yet confirmed, except for an official with Zimbabwe’s opposition movement for democratic change whose death was announced last week.

CALLS FOR INVESTIGATION

The South African government has demanded an investigation into the cause of the fatal accident. At least 25 South African survivors reportedly returned to the country with 16 said to be in serious conditions and some possessing amputated limbs.

South African minister Jeff Radebe has urged the heavily criticised Nigerian government to carry out an investigation into the “tragedy”.

“We are keenly awaiting as a South African government the investigation that is being conducted by the Nigerian government so that we get to the bottom of the cause of this national disaster,” Radebe said

Radebe largely congratulated the work of South African emergency workers for what he said was the “biggest evacuation by the air force since the dawn of democracy”.

He did not mention the efforts of Nigerian emergency services or the church, but said Nigeria was carrying out an investigation.

South Africa’s media outlets have since been criticising Joshua and the Nigerian government, especially after the Nigerian emergency services said the church had failed to cooperate and had blocked rescuers’ access to the site.

South Africa’s Sunday Times newspaper ran the headline “Blood on their hands” on its front page, while many Nigerians have also been critical of the incident.

“MARTYRS OF FAITH”

Meanwhile, Joshua described the victims as “martyrs of faith” in his latest sermon on Sunday.

Joshua and his supporters say the collapse was an “attack” somehow linked to a mysterious aircraft they say flew over the building before it fell down.

However, there was no any mention by the government about any plane that crashed over the building as alleged.

The preacher also announced that he planned to travel to South Africa to visit the families of the victims.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan visited the site on Saturday, offering his condolences to Joshua, who has been the focus of South Africans’ anger after he described the victims as “martyrs of faith” on his Facebook page.

Analysts say Nigeria’s prominent church leaders are so influential in the political arena that few politicians dare to upset them, especially just before a national election, which Nigeria is due to hold in five months.

TB JOSHUA FRIEND TO SOUTH SUDAN

The renowned preacher became a friend to South Sudan in 2013, receiving a high-profile visit from the South Sudanese vice-president, James Wani Igga, after he allegedly prophesied a coup attempt.

Prior to the 15 December outbreak of violence in South Sudan, Joshua was quoted to have seen in a vision of a president “being captured” in a bloodbath of conflict and huge human displacement in an East African country close to Kenya.

The South Sudanese government under president Salva Kiir interpreted the dream to mean the 15 December crisis, which they described as a coup attempt to try to overthrow the country’s leadership.

Officials representing Joshua however later denied he had prophesied about South Sudan specifically, but about a country close to Kenya whose leader was seen “being captured”.

Vice-president James Wani Igga visited Lagos soon after the crisis broke out carrying a letter of thanksgiving to the Nigerian preacher for the prophesy and offering him a role as a religious advisor to the South Sudanese president.

Following his return from the visit, Igga was quoted in the media as joking that while the rebels under the leadership of former vice-president Riek Machar had Nuer prophet Ngundeng to rely on, his leadership in Juba would now have TB Joshua.

Joshua’s church draws thousands of followers from all over Africa and other parts of the world, attracted by assertions that he and his “wise men” can cure almost any affliction by “casting out demons” they say are responsible for everything from madness and HIV/AIDS to normally irreparable spinal damage.

The regular influx of visitors from abroad for church services that can last for up to a week means the church’s own guesthouse is often at capacity, leaving local hotels to meet the demand.

(ST)