Lagos: One of Nigeria`s most popular preachers failed to appear at a coroner`s inquest on Wednesday to explain how 116 people died in a building collapse at his Lagos megachurch.
TB Joshua had been summoned to give evidence at the hearing into the September 12 tragedy at his Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN), which left 84 South Africans among the dead.
Coroner Oyetade Komolafe said last week that Joshua, known to his followers as "The Prophet" and "The Man of God", would be arrested if he failed to show.
But the self-styled miracle worker did not appear on Wednesday to be questioned over his claims that sabotage from a low-flying aircraft and a terror attack may have caused the tragedy.
"The Man of God has not been personally served the witness summons," his lawyer, Olalekan Ojo told the court when asked about his client`s whereabouts.
"He was unavoidably absent when the sheriff went for the service. We don`t want the impression to be created that The Prophet is avoiding the court."
Expert witnesses at the hearing have previously ruled out the theory of aerial sabotage or an explosion and the court has been told that the guesthouse did not have any planning permission.
Inspections indicated that other structures on the site, including the church`s main auditorium which Joshua claims was designed by the Holy Spirit, were structurally defective.
Ojo refused to accept the witness summons on behalf of Joshua, saying he was not authorised to do so, but promised to tell the court when his client would be available.
Similarly, the building contractors did not receive their summonses because they could not be identified or located, he added.
Komolafe said: "We want Prophet Joshua to know that the court is not persecuting anybody but (trying) to find the truth. He should come.
"As a prophet of God that he claims to be, he must not do anything that will make him to be at variance with the law."Earlier, the inquest was told that Joshua`s followers attacked emergency service workers, preventing them from accessing the stricken guesthouse.
"The first three days (after the collapse) were marred by the so-called church sympathisers and the crowd," said the head of the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency, Femi Oke-Osanyintolu.
"By the time we attained momentum after 96 hours a lot of things had gone bad."
Osanyintolu told the hearing that it was only after the intervention of the Lagos State governor that rescue workers could get to the building on the sprawling SCOAN compound.
The LASEMA general manager said there was "no effective crowd control" in the aftermath of the collapse, which engineers have blamed on the illegal addition of extra floors to the guesthouse.
"The crowd impeded our operation. They did not allow our personnel and equipment to come in. They frustrated the emergency workers at the scene," he added.
Instead of allowing trained rescue workers with specialist equipment to search for survivors, only church members and volunteers were allowed to pick through the rubble, he said.
"There were restrictions of emergency responders to the scene of the collapse. On the first day, we were assaulted, especially my humble self," he continued.
"We were not allowed to do documentation. Photographs of the incident were not allowed.
"We asked for the manifest to know the number and identities of the people in the building, we were not given. We asked for the building plan, we were not given."
Osanyintolu, a medical doctor, also rejected the theory of a blast: "On observation, bodies were not mutilated. They were not disjointed... the bodies were not burned."