Lagos - President Goodluck Jonathan offered condolences to a popular preacher on a visit on Saturday to a church guesthouse that collapsed a week ago, killing at least 80 people.
His support for popular preacher TB Joshua could widen a diplomatic rift with South Africa, which has expressed dismay at the Nigerians' reluctance to criticise the church for what looks like shoddy construction work.
South Africa has called for an investigation into the collapse, in which it says 84 South Africans, comprising three church groups that were on tour and staying in the guest house, died. The Nigerian emergency services put the confirmed death toll at 80.
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Joshua and his supporters say the collapse was an "attack" somehow linked to a mysterious aircraft they claim flew over the building before it went down.
"My coming here is to express condolences to Prophet Joshua, the Synagogue of all Nations (his church) and of course the bereaved families," Jonathan said.
T.B. Joshua's church draws thousands of followers from all over Africa and many other parts of the world, attracted by claims that he and his "wise men" can cure almost any affliction by "casting out demons" they say are responsible for everything from madness to HIV/AIDS to normally irreparable spine damage.
The regular influx of visitors from abroad for church services that can last up to a week creates demand for accommodation that the church's own guest house has been unable to meet, and often spills over into local hotels.
Analysts say the megachurch leaders are so influential that few politicians dare upset them, especially just before a national election, which Nigeria is due to hold in five months.