Fresh information at the disposal of Saturday PUNCH is that South Africa is not the only foreign country which lost its nationals in the collapse of a six-storey building in the premises of the popular televangelist Temitope Joshua’s Synagogue Church of All Nations in Ikotun, Lagos.
Saturday PUNCH learnt that three Togolese victims are still missing while a family is in frantic search of hospitals to locate a Beninoise national.
Our correspondents who went in search of some of the victims on Monday and Tuesday learnt of 11 Togolese workers who were trapped in the rubble when the building came down.
The men were not church workers but artisans working in the building at the time the incident occurred.
“We (Togolese community) have not been able to sleep since this incident occurred. Our people only came to Nigeria for work and this happened. They are not even members of the church. What do we go back home to say to their relations, that we could not even find their bodies?” Togolese, Sofo Apenete, said.
Apenete, whose relations were among the workers, said it took days to locate eight of the 11 men.
Currently, three of the workers are still missing.
He said, “Altogether, we have searched more than 15 hospitals in Lagos because all the injured victims were scattered in different locations. But the most frustrating part is going from one hospital to another and being told that our men were not among the injured or the dead.
“Three were located not long after the collapse and five during our searches. But we have not been able to locate the remaining three workers. One of the three, Estse Basil, is my distant relation. I am not really sure about the names of the other two men.”
Apenete said families of the located injured Togolese nationals could not leave them at home in Agbara area of Lagos where they live and had to relocate them back home in Togo for further treatment.
A Togolese Embassy official in Lagos told one of our correspondents that some of the country’s officials had paid a visit to the church during the week but would give no official word on efforts to locate the missing nationals.
“Our officials have been to the scene but got no evidence that Togolese people were involved, the official identified as Mr. Yaovi said.
Death toll of the September 12 collapse has been put at 115 as of Monday, September 22, 2014 with South Africa losing 84 of its nationals who were said to have lodged in the building which was under construction at the time.
More families also recounted the agonising search for their relations who are still missing since the collapse, shedding light on the difficulty of tracking down all the victims of the tragedy.
A Nigerian from Kogi State and a worker in the laundry department of the church, who pleaded anonymity because the church had warned members not to disclose any information on the tragedy to the public, has yet to find his wife of 18 years, Veronica (39).
He said he waits by the phone with his five children everyday expecting a call that would say her body had been found after many days of searching 16 hospitals.
“My gut tells me she is dead, but I will never rest until I find her body,” he said.
He showed a list containing the 16 hospitals he had visited with each one ticked with a pen to indicate he had been there and found nothing.
He said, “My wife was among the visitors’ coordinators, serving the guests. She worked on the ground floor where the restaurant was. I am a worker in the church as well.
“I rushed to the gate immediately the incident occurred but I was not allowed to enter. The police blocked the entrance.
“They were carrying the victims out one after the other in ambulances. I called my wife’s mobile phone but it was not reachable. All through the following day, I got no news about her. I went there every day because I was in agony.
“I was so helpless but on the third day, I went with two of her uncles to Igando General Hospital. We were told that nobody that looked like her was there and we have searched 16 hospitals since then.
“There were many ambulances taking victims to the hospitals but I have not been able to determine which of the drivers took my wife.
“I heard that about 12 Nigerian church workers, who were attending to guests, were on the ground floor. I heard that they have been rescued, but my wife and another woman around there have not been seen.”
He said before the incident occurred, he had not been to church for some weeks because he was ill. The last time he saw his wife was the morning of the day of the incident when his wife came home and they embraced each other as he laid on the bed.
He said, “I wish I could just find her corpse and take her to our hometown in Kogi State for burial. I know my wife cannot be alive and not have contacted me all this while. I speak with her mother every day and we are all in sorrow that we have not recovered her body.”
The National Emergency Management Agency spokesperson in the South West, Mr. Ibrahim Farinloye, said the agency was aware of the different nationalities involved in the collapse.
He explained that the victims were not forgotten, but that the process of identification was what was making the location of bodies difficult.
“The families of the victims need to exercise patience. This is going to take a while because there are three methods through which victims would be identified; by fingerprints, pathology and DNA.
“We are going to repeat the same process we used during the 2012 Dana plane crash. You remember the process of identifying victims took up to two months at the time.”
But could there possibly still be bodies trapped under the rubble? Farinloye said that was impossible as he ensured the ground floor of the site was turned out before the site was closed at 3.15pm last week Thursday.
A member of the Synagogue Church of All Nations, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told of a Beninoise family which has also been searching for the body of a missing victim.
“The family has been going about showing pictures of the missing man. The family said he was also in the building when it collapsed. But nobody knows anything about him. They called the man Javi,” he said.
Efforts to track down this family to get more details on the missing man have so far proved abortive. Saturday PUNCH could not reach Beninoise officials for comments as the phone lines listed on the Beninoise embassy’s website have been unreachable.
However, the family of a bricklayer, Monsuru Jimoh (35), who was working in the building, had initially told our correspondents that he had not been located since the collapse.
After visiting many hospital mortuaries, his body was located at the Isolo General Hospital.
The deceased’s elder brother, Ayoade, said, “The day of the incident, he called to inform me that he was going to work at Synagogue. But in the evening, someone called to tell me that a building had collapsed in the church compound. My mind went to my brother immediately.
“We started looking everywhere but the following day, we were told to check all the hospitals around since all the victims were taken to various hospitals in Lagos.
“After searching many hospitals, we were able to locate him at Isolo. Even though we are very sad, we are happy that at least we located his body. We reported to the police and were asked to get a note from Synagogue authorities. We will need to present a document of identification but we only have his birth certificate for now.
“We are working on getting his body back for burial. My brother’s wife and child live in Ibadan.”
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