Thanks to a well connected reader, we have managed to get our hands on the official Coroner’s report on the September 12th building collapse at SCOAN. It makes for interesting reading alongside SCOAN’s official statement. What we discover is that SCOAN’s statement is a mixture of lies padded out with a great deal of irrelevant but misleading information. The report is far more comprehensive and conclusive than SCOAN would like you to believe, it leaves the reader in no doubt that the building collapsed due to not one, but multiple structural deficiencies. We have numbered SCOAN’s statements below and respond to each in turn with information from the Coroner’s report. The full report with victim details redacted is embedded at the end of this post.
The Synagogue, Church Of All Nations (SCOAN) rejects the verdict of the coroner on the grounds that it is unreasonable, one-sided and biased. The church maintains its stand that the incident was as a result of sabotage.
From the verdict given today, we would like the public to take note of the following:
1) There was no finding that the church engaged the services of unqualified or incompetent professionals for the construction of the building.
Misleading: While it is true that the coroner’s report did not directly accuse SCOAN of using unqualified or incompetent professionals, the report states that three separate government agencies found the structure to be inadequate in numerous ways (see response to statement #6 for more details), so you could deduce from this that the contractors were either unqualified, incompetent or criminal.
2) There was no finding that the church procured substandard materials for the construction of the building, as confirmed by officials of the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) who gave evidence at the coroner and certified the materials used were all approved and of good quality.
Misleading: The report did not explicitly accuse the church of procuring substandard materials, but procuring good quality materials that are inadequate for the job is just as bad, for example reinforcing a column using 10 x Y20 bars instead of the required 12 x Y25 (see response to statement #6 for more details).
3) There was evidence that the church had started processing the relevant building approval before the incident, which had been approved and assessed for payment by the appropriate government bodies.
False: The report claims that SCOAN has only ever received approval for one building, the auditorium in 2004, and even that now has an additional 3 floors and an engine room without approval (Ref: Section 6.00). It seems unlikely that the church had started to process the building approval for the collapsed building before the incident, but even if it were true it would not exonerate them because they were already using the building without approval.
4) There was no finding that connected the incident with the lack of a building permit.
Misleading: This statement is ridiculous, how could the lack of a building permit directly cause a building to collapse? They know full well the relevance of the building permit.
5) There was no finding that church members prevented the statutory responders from carrying out their rescue duties.
Possibly true: During the rescue operation, National Emergency Management Authority (NEMA) spokesman Ibrahim Farinloye told the press that “The church is not co-operating with emergency workers at all, for the first three days of the incident, the church people were very hostile and prevented rescue officials access to the site. It was after the visit of the (Lagos state) governor (Babatunde Fashola) when he threatened to close down the church that we were allowed to work. Perhaps if we had had early access to the place we would have been able to save more lives.” However, SCOAN strongly denied this, and it was not mentioned at all in the coroner’s report.
6) The church disagrees most vehemently with the finding that the incident was due to structural failure. The church considers it strange that the coroner did not refer in its verdict to the evidence of the COREN-registered structural engineer and contractor used by the church nor did it evaluate the conflicting evidence given by civil and structural engineers as to whether or not the incident was as a result of structural failure.
Misleading: Section 5.01 of the coroner’s report does contain a statement from Engr. Dr. Joseph I. Folayan, FNSE, FA Eng who was summoned to court at the request of SCOAN, it is not clear if this is the COREN-registered structural engineer their statement refers to, but it’s difficult to imagine any evidence having countered the substantial evidence pointing to structural failure as the cause of the collapse. For example, three independent agencies (the Nigeria Building And Road Research Instititute (NBBRI), the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN) and the Building Collapse Prevention Guild (BCPG)) provided a litany of serious structural failings, for example:
- Inadequate beams of 750mm by 225mm (should have been 900mm by 300mm)
- Inadequately reinforced columns (should have been reinforced with 12 x Y25 bars or 20 x Y20mm bars. Instead they used 10 x Y20 bars (as seen in the video released by SCOAN).
- Inadequate bearing pressure for the central column due to the 2m x 2m x 0.9m foundations.
- Failure to introduce rigid zones for bracing the structure and did not design the frames as an unbraced structure.
- Failure to provide movement joints that could have absorbed any movement due to creep, contraction, expansion and differential settlement etc..
- 8 out of the 12 main beams of the structure failed because they were undersized, under-reinforced (both in tension and shear), the tension bars were poorly anchored to the column supports and 8 x Y20 was used instead of 14 x Y20.
- The ground floor columns were slender and readily gave in to buckling
7) It was a one-sided verdict which left many issues unaddressed and questions unanswered. The church disagrees with the findings concerning the aircraft that hovered over the six-storey building because there was evidence before the court that the incident could have been brought about by external forces such as controlled demolition or an explosion.
False: The report addressed the aircraft, the infrasonic weapon theory and the controlled demolition theory. It is completely false and misleading to claim any of these possibilities were unaddressed, over 3 pages were dedicated to these claims. The aircraft was identified along with its altitude and flight path. The aircraft was flying at an altitude of 1100 feet, equivalent to 109 floors, meaning the aircraft was 103 floors higher than the 6 storey building. Additionally, the flight path shows a horizontal distance of 137 metres between the plane and the building at its closest point. From this they concluded that contrary to SCOAN reports, “[there was] no direct hovering of the aircraft over the subject site that would have caused the collapse of the building”.
As for the infrasonic weapon, this madcap theory was dismissed because the witness had only read about this kind of weapon in books, had not practiced or witnessed the use of the weapon and could not show how it could have caused the collapsed building to come down. What else were the court meant to do with such a bizarre theory?
Regarding the possibility controlled demolition or an explosion, The Lagos State Fire Service carried out a 360 degrees survey and found no evidence of explosives. The Investigating Police Officer said there was no evidence of the use of explosives at the site of the collapsed building, nor perception of any smell of explosives. The Chief Medical Examiner said there was no trace of carbon monoxide seen in the lungs of the deceased and none of the bodies were charred or burnt (Ref 5.00).
8) The verdict did not even refer to the CCTV footage which showed the 6-storey building falling in less than 4 seconds – a manner consistent with controlled or externally induced demolition – nor did it refer to the interim report and investigation by the Nigerian police force which pointed to sabotage by external forces.
False: The NBRRI specifically mentioned the vertical collapse shown in the CCTV footage stating that “…the building failed as a result of the ground columns yielding due to excessive weight on the 750mm by 300mm columns and the 10 x Y20mm bars as measured on the site and evident by the vertical collapse of the building captured by the CCTV of the Synagogue Church”. The BCPG report said that a sudden and complete collapse was inevitable because the building was not robust or stable enough (Ref 5.01b), and that a column failure by buckling can result in a sudden collapse like the one witnessed, more so because there were no rigid zones within the structure (Ref 5.01e). Regarding the possibility of controlled demolition, see response to statement #7.
9) The church also disagrees with the finding that foundation failure was a remote cause because that is contrary to the overwhelming expert evidence of the structural engineers invited to the coroner who eliminated foundation failure as a possible cause.
Misleading: Foundation failure was only a small factor out of many structural failures, and it’s not even mentioned as a primary cause. See response to statement #6 for more details.
10) The recommendation for the investigation and prosecution of the contractors and structural engineers used by the church for criminal negligence is premature because it gives the impression the coroner has found them guilty when a coroner is not allowed in law to make any finding of civil or criminal liability against anybody.
Possibly true: Although the coroner’s report showed substantial evidence that SCOAN and the contractor were criminally negligent, the coroner arguably overstepped his authority by calling for SCOAN to be prosecuted. Perhaps someone better versed in Nigerian law could comment further on this?
11) The recommendation for the investigation of The SCOAN for not possessing the relevant building permits is unwarranted because it did not take into account the evidence that the church had started processing the relevant building approval before the incident. As a matter of fact, the amount payable for the processing had already been assessed by the appropriate government agencies.
Misleading, probably false: As mentioned in response to statement #3, no other building on the SCOAN campus had up to date approval, so this seems unlikely, but even if true it is irrelevant. They were housing guests in a building prior to receiving approval.
12) The recommendation that statutory responders should be adequately equipped was informed by the fact that the statutory responders who carried out rescue operations in this case were ill-equipped and ill-trained, and that it was the church that mobilised human and material resources to ensure a successful rescue operation.
Misleading: This line is just scapegoating. There is a clear disconnect between the accounts of SCOAN and the emergency responders, but it was clear that SCOAN were in full “cover-up mode” in the first few days after the tragedy, so their statements should be taken with a bucketful of salt. Ultimately, regardless of how prepared or not the emergency responders were, the coroner’s report makes it clear that the disaster they were trying to respond to was caused by the criminal negligence of SCOAN, let’s not allow SCOAN to deflect blame here.
13) Finally, the coroner recognised that the conduct of the investigation of the incident was compromised by the failure of the appropriate government agencies to take necessary steps to secure and preserve the scene of the incident, which calls into question the integrity and reliability of the entire investigation.
Misleading: It’s difficult to imagine who they needed to secure the scene of the incident from if not SCOAN themselves. Nevertheless, the findings related to the structural integrity of the building could not have been compromised by a poorly preserved site. Are they wanting us to believe that foundations were reduced in size and reinforcing bars were removed in order to implicate SCOAN and cover up the real cause of the collapse? The fact that SCOAN attempt to use this minor and irrelevant point to call into question the integrity and reliability of the entire investigation is shocking and revealing as it shows how desperate they are to bury this.
14) We repeat: No matter how long a lie is sustained, the truth will someday prevail!
Truth! Finally, this is something we wholeheartedly agree on, and the coroner’s report is a great step in the right direction. Support for SCOAN is rapidly eroding as people see how much they have been misleading the general public.
What happens next?
Just days ago, Lagos State Governor Akinwunmi Ambode released a statement supporting the coroner’s recommendation and vowing to prosecute SCOAN and the contractor. The big question that remains unanswered is: Why are the government still allowing SCOAN to operate? The structural integrity of the collapsed building had been so seriously compromised by poor building practices, why should we believe that the other buildings are safe? The report specifically states that no building on the SCOAN compound had approval, except for the auditorium which had since had three additional floors and an engine room built without approval. Every building on the site could be as much of a deathtrap as the doomed one was, why does the government still allow thousands of people to gather there each week?