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Synagogue: Court Stops Lagos From Prosecuting Engineers

Posted: Jul 23, 2015 at 1:49 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

• Lawyers Hail Bid To Implement Coroner’s Verdict

By Temidayo Akinsuyi And Tunde Opeseitan, Lagos


A Federal High Court in Lagos on Wednesday temporarily restrained the Lagos State Government from implementing the recommendations of Coroner’s inquest, which ordered the criminal prosecution of two structural engineers for the September 12, 2014, collapse of a guest house at the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN) in the Ikotun area of the state, which claimed about 116 lives.

The Coroner Court headed by Magistrate Oyetade Komolafe, had on July 8, 2015 indicted the structural engineers to whom the collapsed six-storey building was contracted, Messrs Oladele Ogundeji and Akinbela Fatiregun, of criminal negligence and recommended them for criminal prosecution by Lagos State.

Komolafe had equally recommended the church for prosecution.

Upon the receipt of the coroner’s verdict, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode had disclosed the readiness of the state to implement the recommendations, including filing criminal charges against the church and the two engineers.

But Ogundeji and Fatiregun, through their lawyer, Olalekan Ojo, appeared on Wednesday before Justice Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court in Lagos with ex-parte applications seeking to restrain the police from inviting or arresting them.

They specifically filed two separate suits numbered FHC/L/CS/1095/15 and FHC/L/CS/1096/15.

However, the decision by the state government to implement the verdict of the Coroner’s inquest was commended by prominent lawyers.

Ojo, while seeking the protection of the court for the engineers, disclosed that the police had been after his clients, claiming that their constitutional rights to dignity and personal liberty were at stake, as they could no longer move about freely.

The lawyer added that the police had visited the home of Ogundeji and that when they did not see him, they arrested and detained his brother-in-law.

As for Fatiregun, Ojo said the police went to his office in Ikeja on July 16 to arrest him, but he was not around. He was, however, said to have voluntarily gone to the police station following which he was arrested and detained and asked to make written statement regarding the role that his company, Hardrock Engineering Construction Limited, played in the collapsed SCOAN building.

Ojo said the bid to arrest the engineers on July 16 followed the fundamental rights enforcement action that they filed against the respondents on July 15, challenging the coroner’s verdict.

He said arresting the engineers in the face of the pending suits would occasion injustice, saying they had raised serious issues awaiting determination by the court.

Following Ojo’s argument, the judge ordered all the parties to maintain status quo pending the determination of the applicants’ motions on notice.

The court then adjourned till August 3, 2015 for hearing.

Governor Ambode had promised that aside prosecuting the contractor and structural engineer, the state government would also prosecute the Synagogue Church for neglecting to obtain building approval before commencing the building, contrary to the provisions of the Urban and Regional Planning and Development Law, 2010.

In a chat with Daily Independent, constitutional lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Prof. Itse Sagay, who described the incident as a criminal offence, said the statement by the governor was commendable, given the fact that the church authorities and the contractors failed to obtain necessary approval before embarking on the exercise.

“The statement from the Lagos State Government is a commendable one. This is because the whole tragedy not only involved human lives; it also involved the lives of non-Nigerians creating what I will call a diplomatic incidence between Nigeria and South Africa.

“It is a major tragic development and it has become clear from the findings of the coroner that the building was not professionally constructed and they did not receive the imprimatur of the Ministry of Physical Planning before constructing it.”

He added: “The engineers who took part in the exercise ought to have demanded approval before commencing construction based on the plan given to them. It is a criminal offence and they should be punished and investigated. Also, the church authority, who actually engaged them to do the work without first obtaining physical plan permit should also be prosecuted for breaching the physical planning laws of Lagos State.”

Also, former Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Ikeja branch, Monday Ubani, applauded the decision, saying: “That is a good one from the governor.  It is heart-warming when a government official says that he will carry out the judgment of the court. Nigerians will be happy to see government follow up on their vow and promise to do the right thing.

“If the coroner has made a recommendation and the government has vowed to implement it, that is a healthy development because most times, judgement of the court are usually not followed up by government officials. Let us begin to follow our law. And the change we have voted for, let it now start from every angle. Those who have been implicated by the coroner should be prosecuted in accordance with the law,” he said.

For constitutional lawyer, Jiti Ogunye, Nigerians and indeed, Lagosians, did not expect anything less from the state government. According to him, the governor was right and deserved commendation for insisting on diligent prosecution given the disregard of relevant laws by the church authority and the contractors who handled the failed project.

“Now that statement by the Lagos State Government is welcome. We do not expect anything less. After the incident, especially during the coroner inquest, we said that the Synagogue church didn’t exhibit the expected response.

“To those who claiming the state government was witch-hunting the church, a lawyer, Ifeoluwa Olalere, said, “There is no case of witch-hunting anybody here. It is total compliance to the rule of law. Churches are supposed to be good examples to the citizens. Even the Bible encourages us to obey governmental authorities,” he said