How TB Joshua covered up the deadly Lagos building collapse.

Pastor TB Joshua of Nigeria Photo:Flickr

The BBC has unearthed new evidence the late Nigerian megachurch leader TB Joshua hid dead bodies and intimidated families to cover up his role in the collapse of a building that killed at least 116 people at his church in 2014. The collapse is one of the worst disasters to ever strike a place of worship in Africa. The BBC's investigation is the first time insiders from TB Joshua's Synagogue Church of All Nations in Lagos have presented evidence of what caused the incident nearly ten years ago and how the pastor allegedly orchestrated a cover-up. Two days after the collapse on 12 September 2014, TB Joshua publicly said it was linked to an aircraft that flew over the building used to house visiting pilgrims.

But an inquiry by a Lagos coroner agreed with emergency workers that structural failure had caused the guest house to collapse. It said it had been built without proper planning permission. Eyewitnesses told the BBC that TB Joshua had been warned of severe structural problems before the disaster. He knew the building was unstable, says Emmanuel, who spent more than a decade as a disciple of TB Joshua - a group of devout followers who lived in his church in Lagos. Like most former disciples interviewed by the BBC, he only used his first name.

Multiple witnesses say the visitors were not warned. It was pretty clear that that building was never built for the height that TB Joshua made it to, says Rae, from the UK, who spent 12 years living in the church as a disciple. The church insiders who spoke to the BBC also say lives could potentially have been saved had TB Joshua responded promptly to the collapse itself. During this crucial window for rescuing people and assisting the injured, the BBC's eyewitnesses say some church workers attempted to save lives in reckless and amateur ways.

In one instance, a church worker allegedly used a chainsaw to amputate the leg of a man who was trapped under a fallen beam. He was screaming! says Emmanuel, visibly shaken during his interview. Three sources, including Michael, say TB Joshua ordered his workers to move piles of dead bodies away from the building collapse site during the night to hide them from the media and the authorities.

Despite multiple summons, the pastor never attended court. Some of his former disciples say he handed out vast amounts of cash to people with influence over proceedings during this period. This included thousands of US dollars, South African rand, and Nigerian naira to the families of the building collapse victims, 85 of whom were from South Africa. Sihle, a former disciple of TB Joshua, told the BBC she was given this job in South Africa to go and give money, bags of cash to those who had lost relatives. We would say to them they mustn't speak to the media, they mustn't give reports or anything.

After accepting an initial gift from the church of 50,000 rands, Sonny Madzhiye from Benoni near Johannesburg says she turned down subsequent bundles of money for the death of her teenage daughter, Sibongile. Now he's threatening me that my whole family will go down, the way my daughter went down. She showed these messages and a recording of a call from TB Joshua to the BBC. Ms Madzhiye has subsequently attempted to sue Scoan in civil court in Nigeria, seeking damages for her daughter's death.

Sihle says journalists were also provided financial incentives in the aftermath of the disaster to influence their reporting. This was confirmed by two journalists who spoke to the BBC and openDemocracy - a partner in this investigation. He covered up everything, says Emmanuel. The BBC contacted Scoan with the allegations in our investigation.

It did not respond to them but denied previous claims against TB Joshua. To this day, many members of Scoan believe that a mysterious airplane was the cause of the building's collapse. Videos making this claim, produced by the church, have been broadcast on their worldwide Emmanuel TV satellite channel and are widely circulated on YouTube. Chloe, who spent 14 years as a disciple of TB Joshua, believes the families suffered a vast injustice.

One member lamented how they didn't know they were sending their daughter to the church to be killed, crying throughout her interview with the BBC. She keeps her daughter's room as she left it, including a giant teddy bear on the bed. Her daughter was buried alive and helpless. 

This story is republished from BBC. This Africa Eye investigation was conducted by Charlie Northcott, Helen Spooner, Maggie Andresen, Yemisi Adegoke, and Ines Ward.

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