Synagogue Church Building Collapse: Court dismisses TB Joshua’s application to stop inquest

A Lagos State High Court in Ikeja on Friday affirmed the witness summons issued on the Founder of Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN), Prophet T.B. Joshua, to appear before the Coroner probing the cause of death of the 116 persons in the church’s collapsed building on September 12, 2014.

The presiding judge, Justice Lateefa Okunnu, also held that the Coroner, Magistrate O.A. Komolafe, had the power to inquire into the cause of the building collapse in his mandate to determine the direct cause and manner of the victims’ death.

The Judge further held that the allegation of bias levelled against Komolafe by T.B. Joshua in the conduct of the inquest was unsubstantiated as the proof that T.B. Joshua adduced were mere conjectures which lacked any evidential weight.

“Having read the transcripts from the proceedings, I regret that I do not share the applicants’ point of view that the respondent had been biased or unfair and had breached the principle of natural justice,” Okunnu held.

The Judge also struck out the Coroner’s court as a respondent in the suit, on the grounds that it was not a juristic person that could be sued.

Following the collapse of the SCOAN’s six-storey guest house on September 12, last year, killing about 116 persons and injuring many, the Lagos State Government had set up the Coroner’s inquest to determine the cause of death and the circumstances leading to the mishap.

But weeks into the Coroner’s inquest, which began on October 13, 2014, T.B. Joshua had approached Okunnu asking for a judicial review of the Coroner’s proceedings.

In the said application, the prophet asked Okunnu to determine whether the witness summons served on him to appear and testify before the Coroner was not a breach of his right to fair hearing when no material fact had been placed against him before the Coroner.

He also asked the Judge to determine whether it was not beyond the power of the Coroner to venture into the possible cause of the building collapse.

T.B. Joshua also alleged that the Coroner had shown bias against him, arguing that the Coroner compromised his neutrality and demonstrated personal interest at the point when he threatened to order Joshua’s arrest for failure to honour the witness summons.

T.B. Joshua’s lawyers, Lateef Fagbemi (SAN) and Olalekan Ojo, also contended that the duty of the Coroner did not go beyond ascertaining the reason for the victims’ death.

According to them, it was beyond the Coroner to enquire into the possible reason why the building, wherein the victims perished, collapsed in terms of building approval and the quality of materials used in the construction.

They, therefore, urged the court to stop the Coroner from further extending his inquisitions into areas beyond his statutory scope.

They further asked the court to pronounce as null and void, all previous proceedings already conducted by the magistrate in excess of jurisdiction.

But Okunnu, on Friday, resolved all the issues raised in favour of the Coroner.

The Judge held that it was up to the Coroner to determine what types of material evidence and witnesses that would be relevant to his findings, adding that he had unlimited power to summon anyone in the execution of his duty.

“It is the Coroner himself that largely hunts for the evidence that he considers to be useful to him,” Okunnu held, adding that the Coroner “is a master of his own proceedings.”

The Judge added that by virtue of Section 26 and 27 of the Coroner System Laws of Lagos State, 2007, the Coroner was empowered to compel the attendance of any witness he considered to be useful to his inquisitions, including Joshua.

She held, “The Coroner has the prerogative of calling witnesses who he believes would be of assistance to his fact-finding mission.”

In the final analysis, the Judge adjudged Joshua’s application to be lacking in merit and consequently dismissed it.

Meanwhile, a Structural Engineer and Consultant to the Lagos State Material Testing Agency, Saheed Ariyori, on Friday told the Coroner that his examination revealed that there were no signs of stress on the building prior to its collapse.

The witness, who had earlier asserted that faulty or inadequate foundation was responsible for the collapse, however, admitted that he was not a professional in the field of sub-soil investigation, adding that there was an error of calculation in the report he tendered before the Coroner.

Further hearing in the inquest has been adjourned till March 12, 2015.

Credit: Channels