TB Joshua to testify 5 Nov on building collapse

At least 115 people, most of them South African, died when a church building collapsed in September.

Nigerian preacher and prophet TB Joshua. Picture: Facebook.

LAGOS (Reuters) - Nigeria launched a court inquest on Friday into the collapse of a church guesthouse in September that killed at least 115 people including 84 South Africans and sparked a diplomatic spat between the two countries.

South African officials accused Nigerian authorities of not doing enough to investigate the 12 September accident at the church compound in Lagos of one of Nigeria's most influential evangelical Christian preachers, TB Joshua.

The accident occurred as three more storeys were being added to the two-storey church building. South Africa said Nigerian authorities did not react quickly enough to rescue those trapped under the rubble and complains that Nigeria has still not released the bodies of victims for repatriation and burial.

Pretoria also called for a formal investigation.

The Lagos State Federal High Court was expected to hear evidence from several parties, including Nigeria's National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), a pathologist representing the Lagos State Chief Medical Director, a representative of the South African government, and the church itself.

The presiding judge adjourned the hearing until 28 October, requesting that all the parties provide written witness statements.

Nigeria has a history of building collapses due to shoddy construction, with 130 reported incidents from 2007 to 2012 in Lagos alone, its vast and largest city of 21 million people.

Joshua, scheduled to testify at the court on 5 November, was not present but fans gathered outside, some with placards reading: "TB Joshua hold your peace - we are your voice" and "A collapsed building will never crush (you) into rubble!"

"We are here to show solidarity to prophet TB Joshua, he's our helper and the man has been doing so much for us," said Lagos resident Austin Chima, adding that the court should judge what happened as an accident and Joshua should not be blamed.

South Africa's High Commissioner to Nigeria, Lulu Louis Mnguni, was also in court on Friday and said his country was hoping the bodies would be identified.

"After that, death certificates can be written, repatriation can take place, so that our people can be buried," he said.