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Nigeria church guesthouse collapse: the blame game

18 September 2014

The news of the collapse of a church guest house in Lagos, Nigeria, has gradually filtered through to South Africa. The first reports suggested that the church itself had collapsed, and later reports said that 67 South Africans had been killed. And then the blame game started, with the media and the Twitterati and even the pastor of the church, T.B. Joshua, looking for a scapegoat.

Well, not everyone was looking for a scapegoat, as this article shows: Shock, condolences after Nigeria building collapse | News24:

Citizens, religious leaders, and organisations expressed their condolences on Wednesday after dozens of people, including 67 South Africans, were killed in a building collapse in Nigeria.

But condolences were rather muted, and many people seemed to feel the need to attack someone, anyone, perhaps because it makes them feel better. I suppose that must count as a “normal” human reaction. After all, after the collapse of the World Trade Centre in 2001 the US Government killed several thousand people in Iraq, who had nothing, nothing at all, to do with the collapse, simply because it made some Americans feel better.

Maybe it is the same thing that made so many people angry with Judge Thokozile Masipha because she found Oscar Pistorius guilty of culpable homicide rather than murder. And so we see the angry birds tweeting things like:

No kingdom has shed more blood than the kingdom of God.

The collapse of TB Joshua’s church has given him so much PR, he must be a very happy man

Some have blamed the South African government for not “doing something”, some blame the Nigerian government. And some have blamed the victims for going to a church in Nigeria instead of one in South Africa.

The media have reported T.B. Joshua as saying that it was a plot to kill him, referring to an aircraft seen in CCTV footage apparently flying over the building. Some have therefore blamed him for being callous and insensitive, and being more concerned with himself than with those of his followers who had lost their lives. But we don’t know that. The media choose to give prominence to some statements and not to others, and may calculate conspiracy theories are more likely to sell newspapers than condolences, and so give prominence to the former and play down the latter.

So who, or what is to blame, and for what?

CCTV footage of the guest house collapse

CCTV footage of the guest house collapse

I’ve seen the collapse of the building replayed many times on TV. It happened so fast that you could see that passers-by in the street were unaware of what had happened until the sound reached them a little while later, when the building had already disappeared.

It happened so fast, and was so complete that it would take several days to know how many people were in the building at the time, never mind who they were and which countries they were from. As a guest house it probably had records of who the guests were, but those records would also have been buried under the rubble, so neither the Nigerian Government nor the South African government could fairly be blamed for not having such information immediately at their fingertips.

And the South African government is pretty good at looking after their citizens in that way. A couple of months ago my daughter had a bike crash in Athens. A guy who was stoned on alcohol or something else suddenly stepped out from behind a parked vehicle as she was going down a hill. Her bike was a mess and she and the bloke she hit were bruised and grazed, but no broken bones. A few days later the South African Embassy phoned to check if she was OK. She hadn’t reported it to them. The police must have reported to the embassy that a South African citizen was involved in an accident, and they took the trouble to check. If they can do that in a relatively minor incident like a bike accident, I’m sure they are doing everything they can for those involved in the building collapse.

Some have sought to blame the victims, and have questioned why they were going to a church in Nigeria, rather than one at home, or saying that all religious people are gullible. But in South Africa we have freedom of religion, and we are free to travel to Mecca or Mount Athos or Rome or Las Vegas for religious reasons if we want to. I’ve stayed at church guest houses in Moscow and Hong Kong, and possibly a few other places I can’t now remember. Perhaps the most apt tweet for this kind of attitude was

“… those 18 who died when the tower in siloam fell on them, were they more guilty than anyone else?”

Some, no doubt inspired by the Oscar Pistorius case, have pointed dolus eventualis in T.B. Joshua’s direction. That would mean that he expected the building to collapse and didn’t care who was inside when it did, perhaps to claim on the insurance.

As far as I can see, the most likely causes of the collapse are one or more of:

  1. Bad building materials
  2. Bad workmanship
  3. Sabotage

It is up to the Lagos municipal authorities who are responsible for building plans and codes to investigate what went wrong, and, if anyone is to blame, it is up to the judicial and law enforcement authorities to deal with them.

But, I suspect that, even if that happens, many people will not be happy. Because justice is not enough. We don’t want justice, we want vengeance, and it doesn’t matter who we take vengeance on, as long as it makes us feel better. And that makes us no better than Boko Haram, and a good deal worse than Oscar Pistorius.

What more can we say but, Lord have mercy? And Memory Eternal for those who died. Whatever their faults and imperfections, they were seeking God.

He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him (Poverbs 18:13).

 

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 18 September 2014 10:56 am

    Awesome article, Steve. I agree wholeheartedly! (About Oscar; I don’t know enough to comment about the church collapse in Nigeria, or the pastor. I’d heard of it, of course, but I’d just chalked it up to a tragic accident.)

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