The South African government on Saturday night airlifted 74 of the 85 corpses of the foreigners who died in the collapsed guest house belonging to the Synagogue Church Of All Nations, SCOAN.
About 115 people died on September 12 after a guest house owned by the church collapsed within its compound. Majority of the victims were South Africans.
Among the 74 people airlifted were three Zimbabweans and a Congolese who entered Nigeria using South African travel documents. The nationalities of the remaining 11 corpses will be known after the completion of the DNA tests, the spokesperson of the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, said.
The bodies were airlifted by two South African aircraft after a handing over ceremony at the presidential wing of the Murtala Mohammed International Airport. The ceremony was witnessed by NEMA’s Director of Search and Rescue Operations, Otegbade Charles; the Lagos Zonal Coordinator of the agency, Onimode Bandele; its Zonal Public Relations Officer, Ibrahim Farinloye; the Managing Director, Lagos State Emergency Management Agency, LASEMA,. Femi Okei-Osayintolu; and the Lagos State Chief Forensic Pathologist, John Obafunwa.
PREMIUM TIMES gathered that an 80-member South African team arrived Nigeria on Friday night to evacuate the corpses from the morgues at the Yaba and Isolo general hospitals following the DNA identification of 74 of them.
The team members at the Yaba General Hospital were seen in protective gears as they evacuated the bodies.
A press briefing scheduled for 2 p.m. on Saturday at the Protea Hotel, Ikeja, where the official handover ceremony was expected to take place, did not hold as journalists as well as NEMA and LASEMA officials waited endlessly.
Emergency officials later told PREMIUM TIMES, privately, that the press briefing was cancelled because Nigerian journalists were present and the South African Embassy wanted only international media at the briefing.
The bodies of the victims have now arrived at the Waterkloof Air Force Base in South Africa and are believed to have been transported to various mortuaries in Gauteng.