November 12, 2014 – The Lagos State government on Wednesday cleared 54 bodies for repatriation to South Africa. The 54 bodies were among the 116 that died when a building used as a guest house collapsed in Synagogue Church of All Nations(SCOAN) in Ikotun, Lagos.
Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos made the revelation at a meeting with delegates of the South African government, following complaints that the bodies have been held for too long in Nigeria.
Fashola said government has no reason to delay the process except for proper identification of the bodies through DNA test.
“We regret that this has happened here. Unfortunately, I have managed such issue during the Dana plane crash and I understand the anxiety of families who want closure and the religious undertone as well. Our responsibility is to ensure that families get closure. And those culture exist here. I know that this is an issue that has attracted global attention.
“I understand the call by South Africans to get the bodies of their relatives but we cannot at this time get the process wrong because if we release a body, we want to ensure that each families take the body of their relative. It will be un-pardon able for us to make mistake.
“And the choice of South Africa for the test was a special decision to make the process easier for South Africans who bore the bigger brunt of the tragedy. So since the relatives were in South Africa, it was easier to use a laboratory in the country, where we could easily take samples from the deceased families for the test. It was meant to further demonstrate what our intention were.
“We have no reason to deny you the right to take those 54 bodies, you have my word, you can take them whenever you are ready to do so. It is left for you to decide whether to take them in batches or wait until we conclude the exercise. But if you are ready, my team will ensure that you take them without any delay,” the governor added.
He told the visitors that corona’s inquest is still on going, and that no fewer than 118 people died when the guest house collapsed on September 12, 2014.
Among the dead are 81 South Africans, three Zimbabweans and one from Democratic Republic of Congo.
Also speaking, Chief Medical Examiner for the State, Prof. John Obafunwa noted that 116 bodies were recovered and have been subjected to post-mortem examination – finger printing, photography, collection of samples and so on.
He explained that of the 116, the state was able to identify 70 through the DNA laboratory in South Africa. He said 54 of them are South Africans while the rests are likely from Nigeria, Benin Republic, Togo and so on.
“We had to collect addition DNA samples to assist the laboratory. We’ve been working together and talking to the lab. It is expected that more results will come in more than the 70 we have identified,” Obafunwa said.
Leader of the South African delegation to Nigeria, Special Envoy and Minister at the Presidency, Jeff Radebe, earlier said that South-African culture and traditions demand burial within a week of bereavement.
“But today makes it two-month since the incident, so I did paid a condolence visit to President Goodluck Jonathan two days ago, to convey the message of our president and find ways of speeding up the processes and repatriations of the mortal remains of those 85 (81 South Africans) including those four who carry South African passports even though they are not nationals of our country,” he said.
Radebe noted that arrangement had been made to include the four, and take them to Pretoria, from where three would be taken to Harare and one to Kinsasa.
“The whole nation of South Africa is in mourning, especially the families that have to endure these two months of waiting in order to bring closure to these whole incident. We are ready to repatriate them as soon as we get the green light from the State government.
“We appreciate your government for the cooperation and our team has been briefing us on the challenges of identifying the bodies. But the bereavement was very tragic indeed and we have to get the bodies back to South Africa so it does not get into more difficulties,” the envoy said.
The Director in the Presidency, Cassius Lubisi explained that all necessary mercenary are already in place for smooth return of the bodies back home and that two flights are ready for the exercise, with one to convey medical session of the Department of Defense. He said mortuary trucks will arrive in the second flight.
“The planes are already secured and the team, made up of specialist, will arrive as soon as we get the go ahead. They have all been paid for by the South African government. We have also enjoyed the support of the Nigerian Air Force, to use their session of the airport, to convey the bodies and done in dignified manner. Once we arrive South Africa there will be a brief reception. So we are ready,” he said.