The coroner’s inquest into the cause of the collapsed building at The Synagogue Church of All Nations, SCOAN, continued Tuesday with a pathologist accusing the church of delaying the identification of corpses.
John Obafunwa, the Chief Examiner at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, told the coroner that the church was yet to respond to their request for a list of people missing after the incident.
“It is in the interest of everybody that we have that list,” Mr. Obafunwa, a professor of Forensic Medicine, said.
“We don’t want a situation whereby somebody will come forward and say ‘I lost a relation’ and meanwhile that relation never existed. I don’t want to run into trouble.”
Over 115 people died when a five storey guest house belonging to SCOAN collapsed on September 12.
Mr. Obafunwa said that 116 bodies were deposited in three state owned mortuaries across the state and that all the samples had been shipped to the laboratory where DNA analysis will be conducted.
However, only five families had shown up for identification, according to the pathologist.
“It is true we are working closely with the South African Department of Health. They are assisting with the collection of reference samples. We are moving closer to the end of the process,” Mr. Obafunwa said.
“Why we had only five (families) from here could be that we have fewer Nigerians, could be that some people are still unaware.
“But one thing is key: the missing persons list. We need it to know who and who we are going to be looking for.”
During cross examination, a South African national who said he lost his wife in the collapse requested for a “specific date” when the bodies would be ready.
“It is extremely painful for me and my family to be waiting for a month and half to bury my wife. Is there any way you can give us a specific date for the collection of the body? The man asked the pathologist.
“Whatever it is standing in the way of getting the body, please remove it.”
In his response, Mr. Obafunwa also said that the autopsy report should be ready by the second week of November.
“Whatever we are doing is in conformity with international protocols. Bodies need to be identified before it is released,” said Mr. Obafunwa.
“Once a positive identification is made, we move from numbers to specific individuals and there will be nothing to stop collection. It will happen regardless of how long the inquest takes.”
The capacity- filled court room also had the South African High Commissioner in attendance.
Outside the court premises, church members stood with placards protesting the innocence of T.B Joshua, the church’s founder.
“T.B Joshua, hold your peace. We are your voice;’ ‘What about the unidentified aircraft?’ ‘Don’t drive T.B Joshua out of Nigeria by your actions in this matter,’ some of the placards read.
Ibrahim Farinloye, Head of Operations, Search and Rescue at the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, told the coroner that emergency responders were prevented from their duties until Sunday evening.
He said it took the intervention of Governor Babatunde Fashola before the church allowed them to participate in rescue efforts, more than two days after the collapse.
“We were not allowed to do anything,” said Mr. Farinloye, who is also NEMA’s South West Spokesperson.
“On the first day, one or two people (church members) stayed with us to ensure we don’t move around. We were nearly attacked.
“At 6.45 p.m., we decided to move out because if we stayed there, we might be attacked.”
On the Saturday after the incident, Mr. Farinloye said that he told a NEMA director in Abuja about the development and was advised to just stay within the church’s premises.
Mr. Farinloye admitted that about 11 ambulances were already participating in rescue efforts when he arrived the scene of the incident on the first day.
He, however, said that NEMA was a statutory agency mandated to mobilise resources with respect to distress alerts.
The coroner’s inquest continues on Wednesday.