Contrary to expectations, Prophet T.B. Joshua was conspicuously absent as a witness at the sixth sitting of Coroner’s Inquest into the collapsed building at The Synagogue, Church Of All Nations (SCOAN) in Lagos, Nigeria.
After a two hour delay in proceedings, the General Manager and CEO of the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Dr. Damilola Oke-Osanyintolu was the first witness to testify at the inquest. Dr Osanyintolu alleged that his team was impeded from the rescue site by overzealous onlookers, adding that some even turned aggressive. However, some of the submissions he made in his written deposition to the court were contradicted in his oral account during cross-examination by counsel to The SCOAN, Olalekan Ojo. Mr. Oke-Osanyintolu had submitted in his written deposition that members of the church frustrated his agency’s efforts in carrying out an effective rescue operation but later told the coroner in his oral account that he worked harmoniously with members of the church in ensuring a hitch-free operation.
From another angle, the counsel to the church had pointed out the visibly conflicting account of the number of dead bodies reportedly evacuated by LASEMA. The LASEMA boss’ submission that he evacuated a total of 86 dead bodies contradicted the account of the Lagos State pathologist, Professor Obafunwa, who submitted earlier that the death toll reached 116. He also shot himself down when he claimed the collapsed building was six floors but submitted in his written deposition that the structure was five floors.
Mr. Oke-Osanyintolu further submitted that the Red Cross only arrived on the second day of the incident whereas a representative of the latter, Mr. Oladimeji Ige had told the coroner that he and his team arrived on the scene of the incident on the very day it happened. This continuing trend of contradictions drew the outburst of journalists and other interested parties within the court room.
A mild drama ensued in the court when the presiding magistrate admitted that Prophet T.B. Joshua was not duly served by the court to appear before it. The revelation came after the counsel to the church, Olalekan Ojo, divulged that Joshua, being the chief mourner, should not be expected to appear in court. Moreover, he stated that the Prophet was not officially invited by the coroner. He revealed that the Court Sheriff only came and dropped a letter of invitation to an unidentified officer in the church, a statement which was corroborated by the court.
According to the counsel, the rule of the coroner is that the witness be served personally. The magistrate said he expected the man of God to have read the invitation of the pages of newspapers, a submission which the counsel to the church laughed off as an impermissible court action. According to Mr. Ojo, “…the Prophet has nothing to hide because he is on the path of truth. However, things should be done properly. Until that is done we can’t discuss whether he is eligible to come or not.”
Meanwhile, the entire premises of the Ikeja High Court was besieged by various individuals and pressure groups, most of whom had come to register their support for Prophet T.B. Joshua. The South-west Coordinator of The Citizens Club of Nigeria, Mr. Afolabi Olawale spoke to journalists and urged all conspirators against Joshua to desist as the consequences could be grave. He said, “We stand as mediators between the government and the citizens basically because of the gap between government policies and citizenry. From our observation, there is a deliberate plot to intimidate, oppress and frustrate the man of God, Prophet T.B. Joshua. This man has been doing God’s work, catering to the needs of many, especially the hopeless and destitute. Instead of troubling him, the government should follow his footsteps in tackling the problem of poverty that is ravaging the country”.
In the same vein, a serving Nigerian soldier, who preferred anonymity, said he came down all the way from Port Harcourt to show solidarity to the prophet, whom he described as a father figure and a genuine man of God. According to him, “Prophet T.B. Joshua does not deserve hassles from any quarters because he has done too many wonderful things for this country. As I speak to you, I cannot count the multitude of favours I and my family have received from him. He has been so wonderful to us and we thank God for his life”.
Similarly, a pastor from South Africa drew the attention of journalists when he asked Nigerians to recognise the value of Prophet Joshua. According to him, if Nigerians prefer to continue to condemn their own, South Africa would be willing to offer South African citizenship to Joshua to lure him to their country.