The Nigerian Human Rights Community (NHRC), a coalition of 135 civil society groups across Nigeria, is the latest to add its voice to the controversy surrounding the verdict of a Lagos State Coroner’s court against The Synagogue, Church Of All Nations (SCOAN), the church of popular preacher T.B. Joshua.
In a statement signed by Dr Anselm Oboku and published in the Nigerian Punch newspaper, the human rights groups observed with concern the growing trend of terrorist attacks against churches in Nigeria by Islamic insurgents Boko Haram.
They cited examples of the diffused bomb found in the Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA) in Jos and the attack against the Redeemed Christian Church Of God (RCCG) in Borno, incidents that both happened in close proximity within the month of July.
“After a thorough reflection on the spate of terrorist attacks in Nigeria, one is bound to conclude that concerted efforts should be made by international institutions, governments and corporate institutions to work with the Nigerian government to be able to stem the ugly trend,” read the statement.
Coming to the tragic incident at The SCOAN last year which led to the deaths of116, mostly foreign pilgrims, the NHRC insinuated that there were glaring ‘flaws’ in the verdict about the guesthouse collapse, stating its intention to appeal for international intervention.
“It is our opinion that the Lagos State government and the Federal government needs assistance for a thorough and dispassionate investigation into the incident. It is on this basis that we call on the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Commission to be involved in the probe of the collapsed building at The SCOAN.”
According to the NHRC, the verdict “falls short of global expectations” and “raises serious questions about the capacity of the Nigerian government to deal scientifically with issues that demand a coroner’s inquest”.
The coalition of human rights group supported the contentious claim by the church that sabotage was behind the building’s fatal fall.
“The NHRC believes that there are new evidences that link the collapse of the building to terrorism. By the threats earlier sent to the church and the way and manner the building collapsed, it suggests that the Islamic extremists may have attacked the building due to Nigeria’s war against Boko Haram which found a new wave of support from South Africa.”
The group noted that the attack came days after an arms deal struck between the Nigerian government and a South African private company, further adding that 80% of the victims were South Africans and the timing of the incident coincided with the busiest period for South African visitors to the church. “Was this a revenge attack by terrorists,” Dr Oboku queried.
The statement then called for a more thorough investigation which involves ‘international forensic experts’ who would “examine the particles found at the site of the building if indeed there were materials related to an explosion”.
According to the NHRC, if such actions are not taken, suspicion will remain that the verdict was “a preconceived notion, aimed at putting the church down, which may have beclouded critical examination of the facts before the court.”
The statement comes in lieu of several other groups expressing their misgivings concerning the verdict given by Magistrate Oyetade Komolafe, including the West African Civil Rights Coalition (WACROC) and the O’odua Nationalist Coalition (ONAC).
On Thursday 16th July, Lagos State Governor Akinwunmi Ambode stated his intentions to prosecute The Synagogue, Church Of All Nations, not on the basis of ‘criminal negligence’ but on their failure to obtain government approval before constructing the guesthouse.
The SCOAN rejected the verdict, claiming it was ‘one-sided’ and ‘unreasonable’. Intriguingly, the church’s founder T.B. Joshua has not been seen in public for more than 2 months, ever since his ‘Miracle Crusade’ in Mexico City in May.
Ihechukwu Njoku ( Email: firstname.lastname@example.org), Nigerian journalist specialized in religion and human interest stories reports from Lagos, Nigeria. Njoku says: “Contrary to certain insinuations, I am NOT an official reporter of The SCOAN but do write extensively about the church given the scope of public interest in its activities.”