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The South African government on Saturday began the repatriation of the bodies of its citizens killed in the Synagogue Church of All Nations, Lagos building collapse.
Eighty-one South Africans were confirmed killed in a guest house owned by the church of popular televangelist, Temitope Joshua, on September 12.
The bodies were removed from Isolo General Hospital and Mainland Hospital, Yaba in Lagos State. The airlifting of the remains was scheduled for Saturday.
But, according to the Lagos State Chief Forensic Pathologist, Prof. John Obafunwa, the South African and Nigerian teams were only able to identify 66 bodies.
“We’ve so far identified 40 bodies at the Yaba Mainland Hospital mortuary and another 26 bodies were identified at the Isolo General Hospital,” Obafunwa said.
The South African team, including military personnel, forensic experts and pathologists were said to have arrived in Nigeria around midnight and headed for the two general hospitals to identify and repatriate the bodies of their compatriots.
Speaking further, the Lagos pathologist stated, “We have been busy since yesterday (Friday) in preparation for today (Saturday). We have been here for 24 hours, getting the bodies ready; the bodies tagged, in preparation for today. We have the bodies that were located essentially in two mortuaries; the few bodies in Lagos State University Teaching Hospital’s mortuary were moved to Yaba Mainland Hospital. And we have some bodies at the Isolo General Hospital.
“We knew the South African team would arrive today. They came in around midnight. They came with their military, forensic and autopsy personnel. There’s been cooperation between us and the South African team. They arrived here at 4am. We started by identifying the bodies and setting up tents and other things. By 6am we started picking each body, decontaminating them further and bagging them — all these were done by the South African team.”
The South Africans, who arrived the country in two aircraft, shunned local facilities and items. They came with four forensic pathology trucks, generators, water, buses, pick-up vehicles and other items.
Efforts by SUNDAY PUNCH to speak to the country’s team of forensic experts and pathologists, who were guarded by soldiers from the Nigerian Army, proved abortive as the personnel rebuffed attempts made to interview them.
The soldiers barred journalists from gaining access to the mortuary’s premises, saying they were acting on “an order from above.” Journalists were also prevented from taking photographs of the South African contingent. Howerver, about three hours later, journalists were granted permission by the soldiers to take photographs of the facilities and the team.
Reacting on the equipment brought into the country by the experts, Obafunwa took a swipe at the Federal Government for its inability to make provisions for forensic science laboratories across the country, the lack of which, he said, had often led to mass burial of dead victims of major disasters in Nigeria.
He said, “Nothing is too much to spend on identifying victims of disasters, taking care of the dead through forensic pathology services. (Look at what the South Africans have demonstrated to us:) one vehicle for each of their provinces, and the population is so small; should there be a mass disaster in a particular area that requires three or four of these trucks, they will be mobilised from other provinces to that place. Nigeria needs a functional forensic science laboratory. And why is this too difficult for the FG to establish? We don’t have a single functional forensic science laboratory in this country.
“You can imagine if Lagos government had not embarked on this kind of thing, all these bodies would have been given mass burial. Today, we can safely say to South Africans, ‘Come and collect your bodies because we’ve identified them. We’ve been working hand in hand with them in the area of finger-printing, Deoxyribonucleic acid analysis; we have to give credit to them as well. When we talk about Nigeria being the giant of Africa, I think we are just fooling ourselves.”
On Wednesday, Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola gave permission to the SA authorities to repatriate the bodies of the victims of the Synagogue collapsed building at Ikotun-Egbe, Lagos.
The victims were identified through DNA analysis.
Fashola had met with a South African government official, Jeff Radebe, on Wednesday, giving the country the go-ahead to collect the bodies.