SA vs Nigeria: How many South Africans exactly perished in the Nigerian church collapse?


On Tuesday evening, the President, Jacob Zuma, announced that sixty-seven (67) South Africans perished when the guesthouse building at the Synagogue Church of All Nations compound in Lagos, Nigeria, collapsed last Friday.

However, the Nigerian government officials have raised questions about that figure saying that only a total of 70 people have died in the collapse so far.

The question is does nobody know how to count?

“67 is the number that has been confirmed and reconfirmed that whole day by our officials on the ground and 20 is the number given to us about those who have been hospitalised, so I am not going to get into speaking on behalf of our friendly nation’s information.

“I’m sure they could focus on just assisting us to deal with this situation,” said International Relations Minister, Nkoana-Mashabane.

Nigeria's National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), however, told Reuters while it was too early to know how many people had been killed; South Africa had overblown the figure.

"The president (Zuma) is not in Nigeria. We are working on what we have," NEMA spokesman Ibrahim Farinloye reportedly said, adding that since the church management had not provided an estimate or a register of those unaccounted, everything was just a matter of “blind guesswork until we get to the last rubble."

Pretoria still defends its count saying it is based on records and information on the ground from five tour groups that had arranged for South African worshippers to go to Lagos.

"This number is based on credible information," International Relations Spokesman, Clayson Monyela said.

Could this just be a small-scale version of a bigger rivalry between South Africa and Nigeria – both with potential to sway affairs continental?

In 2012, South Africa deported 125 Nigerians over suspicions that their yellow fever certificates were fake. Nigeria responded by briefly refusing South Africans entry into its country and branding Pretoria xenophobic. The highlight could be when this year Nigeria overtook South Africa as the continent's largest economy - effectively heightening the rivalry between the two countries.

The question is will a bigger number serve the South African government well? But, for what purpose?

On the other hand, a smaller number would obviously be preferred by the Nigerian government. Which nation would want foreign tourists and pilgrims and their big purses to suddenly shun its shores because of suspect infrastructures and lax enforcement of proper construction standards?

The truth about how many South Africans died in Lagos will probably only come out in the coming weeks. 

Photo caption: TRAGEDY... The site of the collapsed guesthouse building at the Synagogue Church of All Nations compound in Lagos, Nigeria. Image: Al Jazeera.