South African woman, Sonny has lamented 10 years after her daughter was killed in the Synagogue Church of All Nations building collapse on September 12, 2014.
She identified her daughter Princess Sibongile.
The mother, speaking with BBC Africa Eye, in a three-part investigation titled, “Disciples: The Cult of TB Joshua” disclosed that her daughter was buried under the rubble during the collapse.
Sonny said her daughter decided to visit Nigeria on hearing of the several miracles performed by the late Prophet Temitope Joshua (TB Joshua).
She said, “My daughter Sibongile Princess, died on her first trip to the synagogue. She was looking forward to being there just like everyone that you see on TV. She still has her favourite teddy bear in her room, which she had asked her siblings to keep for her. She was such a perfectionist.
“We all saw the miracles every day on television and we thought that this could only be the hand of God.
“However, on September 12, when I heard the news of the collapse, I tried to call my daughter, tried to send an SMS but there was no response. That was when I could not breathe. I could not sleep.”
The mother said she waited for days to get a call from the church on her daughter’s safety but got none till after five days.
“I waited for days for a phone call to tell me of my daughter’s whereabouts. The next Sunday, TB Joshua came on a live service and said there was a bombing.
“On television, they were showing us that the building had been bombed and showing this aircraft.
“I heard from SCOAN after five days and they told me that they were afraid that my daughter did not make it. My daughter died in a place where I thought it was safe. Because the Bible says, ‘Bring your child in the way of the lord,’ I always made sure that my children were always in church. I did not know I was taking them to church to be killed. That part was one I was not expecting. My daughter was buried alive,” she said.
Sonny’s son, Lwandle, also speaking, said, his sister, fondly called Phumzile, was the golden child of the family.
“She was injured when she was at work. She had a back problem at work. She couldn’t get any assistance. Somebody referred her to this church in Nigeria, promising all these miracles and whatever.
“There were all these news flashes coming in that this church building had collapsed with South Africans inside and they did not have any details and the whole family was panicking. When we asked for information, they could not give us anything concrete. We were only asked to wait and pray. How?
“A delegation from the church came and pronounced that my sister had passed on. I didn’t have the chance to say goodbye to her,” he said.
The PUNCH reported that on September 12, 2014, the six-storey building collapsed, killing at least 116 worshipers, mostly South Africans, who were having lunch on the ground floor.
The then governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola, who was at the scene ordered all church workers away to properly rescue trapped bodies.
The government also claimed the church did not get government approval before construction.
However, a few days later, Prophet Joshua appeared on a live telecast, alleging that the collapse was due to a strange aircraft which he claimed ‘hovered’ over the building hours before it went down.
A video released that day and published on YouTube also showed what looked like a plane flying around the building.
However, the coroner’s report found the cause to be due to structural failure and found Joshua ‘criminally liable’ for the deaths.
Three government agencies – the Nigeria Building and Road Research Institute, the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria and the Building Collapse Prevention Guild – examined the site and found several inadequacies.
Part of the report read, “Inadequate beams of 750mm by 225mm (should have been 900mm by 300mm) were used.
“Inadequately reinforced columns (should have been reinforced with 12 x Y25 bars or 20 x Y20mm bars. Instead, they used 10 x Y20 bars (as seen in the video released by SCOAN) were also used.
“Other structural failures include inadequate bearing pressure for the central column due to the 2m x 2m x 0.9m foundations; failure to introduce rigid zones for bracing the structure and did not design the frames as an unbraced structure; failure to provide movement joints that could have absorbed any movement due to creep, contraction, expansion and differential settlement etcetera; and eight out of the 12 main beams of the structure failed because they were undersized, under-reinforced (both in tension and shear), the tension bars were poorly anchored to the column supports and 8 x Y20 was used instead of 14 x Y20.”
However, Joshua failed to appear at a November 2015 hearing and the church lawyers were said to have filed multiple applications to stay the proceedings.
Until Joshua’s death on June 5, 2021, he was not prosecuted.