Nigeria did not exchange Synagogue bodies for arms – Presidency

Nigeria has denied a report by a South African newspaper that the two countries agreed on a deal to exchange the bodies of South African worshippers who died in a Church building collapse in Lagos, for arms.

At least 80 South Africans died when a guest house owned by Synagogue Church collapsed in September, just about the same time South Africa seized a Nigerian airplane with $9.7 million cash meant for arms purchase for the Nigerian military.

Another tranche of N5.3 million was also seized later.

The South African government said the transactions breached its laws and that the money would be forfeited to the state.

The controversy about the cash money came as South Africa faced delays in repatriating the bodies of victims of the Synagogue church crash.

The report by South Africa-based Mail and Guardian said the two countries agreed to exchange favours by completing the botched arms deal and the repatriation of the bodies.

The South African government has denied the report.

But the newspaper cited official correspondences and interviews with top government officials to back its story, which it said remains true.

A senior aide to President Goodluck Jonathan, Reuben Abati, told PREMIUM TIMES on Friday that the two countries had no such negotiations, and said the report was “completely absurd”.

“There is absolutely no connection between the repatriation of the body and the arms money. They are completely two issues,” Mr. Abati said.

He said any claim that there was such as understanding would be a “disservice to the memory of the dead”.

Mail and Guardian report cited two letters written by the South African special envoy in-charge of facilitating the repatriation of the bodies of the victims, Jeff Radebe, to Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations and South African National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC) trying to legitimise the arms deals despite two court orders freezing the money.

“Although the required administrative processes were not adhered to at the time, the government of South Africa deems it a bona fide error,” Mr Radebe wrote, generating suggestions that while in Nigeria, Mr. Radebe might have reached a deal with the Nigeria government to sort out the hitches.

Mr. Abati said such a suggestion was “preposterous.” He said there was no politics involved in the return of the bodies to South Africa.

“It would be a disservice to the memory of the dead to play politics with such an issue. It would be preposterous for anybody to suggest that the Nigerian government would be asking for a deal to repatriate the bodies,” he said.

The presidential aide said both governments were committed to repatriating the bodies so that the families of the victims can reach a closure on the issue. He added it was simply about human lives and respect for the victims as well as their family and nothing more.

Mr. Abati said the delay experienced in the repatriation of the bodies was as a result of the process of forensic identification of the bodies and experts from both countries worked together to make it a success.

When asked if Mr. Radebe could have felt indebted by the help he received from the Nigerian government and wanted to show appreciation by helping release the seized money, Mr. Abati replied that there was no question of indebtedness as the concern of both countries was to bring a closure on the issue.

“Nobody said anything about indebtedness,” he said. “The Nigerian government also felt the urgent need for the bodies to be repatriated. You know as African our culture demands that we bury our dead properly. It is a cultural thing so that family can reach a closure on what happened.”


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  • Frank Bassey

    Our Editors are becoming more and more IRRESPONSIBLE. There will be Nigeria after 2015.

    • absam777

      We should appreciate our editors, especially this journalist. He is a true professional. He is not your average Nigerian journalist. He followed stories with keen eyes. To prove my point he is the only Nigerian journalist to follow a story concerning our country in a foreign land and report it. He gave the Nigerian government to refute the allegation. That is professional journalism and patriotism at its best.

  • Kay Soyemi (Esq.)

    Mr. Abati, even if the government did – reprehensible as it may be – it would have my full backing, for what it is worth.

    National interest goes beyond the issues of morality.

    If morality was the issue and SA was blocking Nigerian moves to protect Nigerian lives from boko haram, why can the shoe not fit the other foot?

    Nigeria, and Nigerians, must come first before any other consideration.

  • Otile

    No reasonable person should spend valuable of time discussing this issue. It should be left for vultures on the blog to peck on.

  • Chris1408

    I don’t see any reason why Nigeria can’t manufacture anything that’s manufactured in south Africa. It’s time for us to develop our country and economy. Being independent doesn’t mean 1960, it means we can sustain ourselves even if the rest of the world cease to exist.

    • tsunami1earthquake

      Nigeria was doing all these but corruption and official ineptitude killed the efforts. There was this Defence Industries Corporation in Kaduna. I don’t know whether that still exists or is now moribund; and if it exists what it presently does.

  • tsunami1earthquake

    I know the next reaction of the presidency would be a lie, a denial.

  • Funso Famuyiwa

    Given what has happened in Nigeria since 1967 and the 20/20 vision that we all now have, I am not sure I agree with Mr. Teniola that the advice the then Prince Akenzua gave Gen, Gowon at that time was in the interest of the country. So the closing statement that “…..his later efforts will continue to be appreciated in no small measure” is totally misplaced . He ( the then Prince) in fact , unwittingly contributed to our present predicament as a dysfunctional country that is still groping for an identity.
    But one thing I deeply appreciate in this historicity by Mr. Teniola is that it hopefully may disabuse the minds of those who unceasingly and viciously, without adducing any evidence, accuse and abuse the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo as being the architect of derailment of Aburi accord. If Facts and Truth mean anything to them, hopefully they will forever hold their peace henceforth.

    • Fim Sampson

      Teniola turned reason upside down in his conclusions. In fact, if what i read was true of the roles Oba Akenzua (now late) played at the time, he must be held responssible for the troubles Nigerians had continued to undergo ever since. What would Mr. Teniola say of the millions of lives lost in the Biafran pogrom. This unmerited praise is to say the least, undeserving. Nigerians would have been saved of her numerous troubles if he had allowed the Aburi agreements. I still cannot point at what benefits the Binis made out of this than the exploitation of their resources and marginalisation they had suffered as a minority tribe in Nigeria.

  • imagine_2012

    Whoever derailed Aburi in my opinion deserves opprobrium and not praise. The person contributed in no small measure to this current dysfunction called a country. With the benefit of hindsight. it was a terrible mistake and Nigerians are still paying for that terrible advise.

  • Ibraheem Aruna

    You meant Lt. Col. Hassan Usman Katsina and not David Hassan Katsina. A former Military Governor and a late General.