After 19 months, numerous sittings and adjournments, the coroner’s verdict of the cause of more than 50 deaths in a horrific accident along the Lagos-Ibadan expressway would be released on Wednesday.
On August 15, 2010, a truck belonging to Dangote Sugar Refinery Limited rammed into vehicles at the Ojodu bridge by Otedola Estate of the expressway resulting in an inferno that led to the loss of several lives.
There had been accusations and counter accusations as to the actual cause of the incident, one of the worst carnages ever on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway.
Eye witnesses blamed the police for mounting an illegal checkpoint along the expressway.
The police said that the Dangote truck driver lost control of his vehicle and ran into the cars before it.
Also, the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) in their report after the incident noted that “the Dangote truck laden with sugar, had a brake failure and rammed into other vehicles in a gridlock,” adding that “the Mack truck was not road-worthy.”
However, the management of Dangote Industries Plc insisted that all their trucks are “always in good condition.”
According to Jibrin Baba, a Workshop Manager in charge of vehicles maintenance at Dangote Sugar who testified during the inquest, the truck involved in the accident was not a Mack but a Freight Liner, and that the FRSC got the registration number wrong
A series of intrigues during previous inquests had contrived to stretch the coroner’s verdict, to almost two years, a length of time termed ‘unreasonable’ by lawyers.
“There can be no person who is reasonable that can say that 19 months is not long,” said Jiti Ogunye, a Lagos based lawyer.
“If the facts of the accidents are known, the circumstances surrounding the accidents are known, the road is there…
“There is no way a coroner’s report can take that long and thought to be a reasonable one,” Mr. Ogunye added.
At the first sitting of the inquest led by Tajudeen Elias of the Lagos Magistrate court in August 2010, the management of Dangote Industries were conspicuously absent.
During the course of the inquest, the police counsel, led by Chukwu Agwu, maintained that the poor state of the truck and the driver’s recklessness were responsible for the accident.
Mr. Agwu also claimed that Dangote Industries failed to place any document before the court to back their claim that the Salisu Lawal, the driver of the truck, was dead.
Adewale Adebayo, a Chief Superintendent of Police and the Divisional Police Officer of Isheri Police Division, corroborated Mr. Agwu’s statements adding that the driver was “on high speed.”
However, Akin Adewopo, counsel for Dangote Sugar, insisted that the evidence given by Ahmed Usman and Mr. Baba, the company’s witnesses, had shown that the driver was dead.
Also there had been claims that some amount of money and cartons of products from Dangote Industries were given to journalists covering the inquest by the company for “a favourable report” of the proceedings in the media.
But a staff of Dangote Industries identified as Mrs. Modibo denied such claims saying they “didn’t share N1.”
“Nothing like that happened. No cash or spaghetti was given to anyone,” said Mrs. Modibo, who said she was on maternity leave.
On Wednesday, the “very lenient” Mr. Elias, who himself also admitted that the report had taken an “unnecessarily long time,” would issue the final verdict of the inquest.
A source who had been following the inquest attributed the delay to the coroner trying to give all the affected parties “adequate time.”
“He is a very easygoing person who is over indulgent.
“The fact that he is a coroner as well as the Deputy Chief Registrar also contributed to the delay as there are times he wouldn’t sit because of other functions,” the source told Premium Times.
Mr. Ogunye maintained that a 19 month delay is “very inordinate.”
“The report is supposed to be out within three months from the time of conclusion of inquiries and proceedings.
“If you have a situation in which the coroner’s report is inordinately delayed, then it leads to suspicion and suggests that perhaps that report is being mysteriously withheld,” said Mr. Ogunye.