The arraignment of the Registered Trustees of the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN) and the indicted Engineers, who are said to have supervised the building of a collapsed six-storey guesthouse belonging to the church, before an Ikeja High Court was yesterday stalled due to absence of some of the defendants in court.
Lagos State Government had charged the defendants – namely Registered Trustees of the church, Hardrock Construction Company, Jadny Trust Ltd, Oladele Ogundeji and Akinbela Fatiregun – over their indictment and subsequent recommendation for prosecution by the Coroner Inquest it set up to investigate the cause of the collapse, which led to the death of 116 people mostly South Africans on September 12, 2014.
The senior pastor, Prophet T.B. Joshua who is a member of the Registered Trustees of the church, was represented by one of the Trustees, while others were absent.
The Coroner Inquest set up by Lagos State and presided over by Magistrate Oyetade Komolafe, had in its verdict of August 7, 2015 ruled that the Synagogue Church and its contractors were prima facie negligent in the fatal collapse of the six-storey guesthouse.
Following the Coroner’s verdict, the indicted engineers, Mr. Oladele Ogundeji and Mr. Akinbela Fatiregun (4th and 5th defendants in the suit) had filed two separate suits before Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court, seeking an order restraining the police from inviting, arresting or prosecuting them over the victims’ death.
The engineers had rejected the coroner’s verdict, describing it as “unreasonable, one-sided and biased”.
They had claimed that the Nigeria Police, Council of Registered Engineers of Nigeria (COREN), and the Lagos State Government (Respondents) will act upon the Coroner’s findings by proceeding to arrest, investigate and/or prosecute them for criminal negligence.
They had also contended that if the respondents carry out these aforementioned acts, their actions would amount to a likely breach of their fundamental human rights to fair hearing, human dignity and personal liberty.
But Justice Buba, in his ruling on the defendants’ application held that the engineers “had not made a case for infringement on their fundamental human rights even on the merit of the application”, and dismissed their applications on November 11, 2015 paving the way for the trial to commence.
At yesterday’s proceedings, counsel to the 1st and 2nd defendants, Mr. Seun Abimbola informed the court that apart from his two clients, other defendants in the suit have not been served with notice for appearance.
Responding, lead prosecution counsel and Lagos State Attorney General, Mr. Adeniji Kazeem confirmed that only two of the five defendants have been served due to invalid addresses of the 3rd to 5th defendants.
The presiding judge, Justice Lawal-Akapo however directed counsel to the 1st defendant, Abimbola to help furnish the prosecution with a valid address of the 3rd to 5th defendants within 78 hours to enable the prosecution effect service them before the next adjournment.
While adjourning the matter till December 11, 2015, Justice Akapo said the matter was a sensitive criminal case and that service in any proceeding is fundamental and anything done outside of it is a nullity.
“The defence counsel is hereby directed to oblige the prosecution team with valid addresses of the 3rd, 4th and 5th defendant within 72 hours,” the judge stressed.
– Stephen Ubimago