Nigeria church collapse: Govt denies arms for bodies deal

Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe at the scene of the Lagos church collapse. (Siyabulela Duda)

Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe at the scene of the Lagos church collapse. (Siyabulela Duda)

Government on Friday rubbished claims that Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe promised weapons to Nigeria in return for the repatriation of the bodies of South Africans killed in a building collapse in Lagos.

“Government places it on record that no form of bartering with Nigeria was conducted during the repatriation process,” government spokesperson Phumla Williams said in a statement.

The Mail & Guardian reported that Radebe allegedly bartered with Nigeria to secure the return of the bodies by promising to ensure that an arms sale worth about R100-million, which had been blocked by South Africa, would proceed.

Nigeria apparently wanted the arms, including helicopters and ammunition, to fight against Islamic extremist group Boko Haram.

The M&G reported seeing two letters penned by Radebe in which he seeks to assist Nigeria get the weapons.

“Government is disappointed with the Mail & Guardian’s attempt to discredit the collaborative efforts of the South African and Nigerian governments to repatriate the bodies of South Africans that died in Nigeria,” said Williams.

“The Mail & Guardian report, which clearly holds no water, ignores the fact that South African citizens died outside our borders, and therefore we had to work within the framework of Nigeria’s laws and policies.”

Williams said the use of unnamed sources in the article was tantamount to bringing the repatriation process into disrepute.

On September 12, 116 people, among them 84 South Africans, were killed in the collapse of a multi-storey guest house attached to the Synagogue Church of all Nations in Lagos. 

The remains of 74 of them arrived in South Africa on November 16.

At the time, Radebe said a health department employee who was assisting with the repatriation in Nigeria had also died after contracting malaria. An inquest into the deaths began in mid-October in Nigeria.

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