A suit filed at a federal high court in Lagos has caused the case to be halted.
By Ben Ezeamalu
The Coroner’s inquest into the cause of the June 3 Dana Air crash in Lagos has been postponed “indefinitely” after a group filed a suit challenging the jurisdiction of the coroner.
In a suit filed at the Federal High Court in Lagos, the Civil Aviation Round Table Initiative stated that the Lagos State Coroners’ System Law is not applicable to deaths arising from aviation accidents.
Joined in the suit are Oyetade Komolafe, the coroner; the Lagos State Chief Judge; the Attorney Generals of Lagos State and the Federation.
Also joined are the Federal Ministry of Aviation; Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority; Federal Airports Authority; Accident Investigation Bureau; Nigeria Air Space Management Authority; and Dana Air Lines.
In the matter which would be heard before Justice Okon Abang on September 6; Dele Ore, a retired pilot, who filed the suit on behalf of the group, also asked the court to determine whether the Lagos State Chief Judge is not acting ultra vires by setting up a coroner’s inquest into the cause of the Dana air crash.
Stop the coroner
Mr. Ore, the president of the group, argued that with Nigeria having ratified and domesticated the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Chicago 1944 Act, the coroner’s inquest into the Dana air crash is “unconstitutional, null and void and of no effect whatsoever”.
He further urged the court to declare that the Coroners’ Law does not apply to aviation related matters as well as deaths arising from aviation accidents.
“It will be in the interest of justice and continuing pursuit of safer air travel in Nigeria for passengers and users of the Nigerian aviation sector to stop the abuse going on in the name of inquest,” Mr. Ore, a retired pilot, added.
Also urging for the proceedings of the inquest to be “set aside”, Mr. Ore asked the court to “nullify any or all steps taken either by way of summoning and or invitation of witnesses to testify or give evidence, either by way of expert opinion or otherwise”.
In an affidavit supporting his originating summons, the Aviation Round Table noted that the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB), who is still investigating the cause of the air mishap, has released an interim report on the air crash.
“I know that in aviation technology, there are several causative factors that can lead to engines malfunctions and accidents; the list is in-exhaustive, and it is a thorough post-accident investigations by the experts in aviation technology that apply scientific investigation techniques that can ascertain the probable or exact cause of each air crash,” Mr. Ore said.
He said that the coroner had during the inquest, summoned people to give evidence relating to technical matters on the cause of the air crash.
He also accused the coroner of delving into technical issues relating to the crash as well as ordering the AIB to produce, at the inquest, the crashed plane’s Black Box and Technical Log Book.
“The coroner has listened and interrogated several experts on issues of air worthiness of the plane that crashed,” Mr. Ore said.
“He has also scheduled appointment to visit the Control Tower at the Murtala Mohammed Airport to see how the Air Traffic Controllers carry out their duties.”
Lagos fights back
Responding to the Aviation Round Table’s calls for the Coroner’s inquest to be declared unconstitutional; the Lagos State government maintained that the Coroner is not limited to the determination of the cause of death of the Dana crash victims.
It listed the Coroner’s duties to include the cause of death, identity, place of death, and the manner of death of victims.
It also denied delving into technical issues relating to the air crash.
“The coroner has received evidence from witnesses relating only to the circumstance of death of the victims of the Dana crash and not the technical issues of the operations of the aircraft,” Olawunmi Osibanjo, a Senior State counsel in the Lagos State Attorney General’s office, said in her counter affidavit.
“The findings of the AIB is limited to the remote and immediate causes of air crashes and not relating to emergency procedures and other ancillary matters.
“The provisions of annexure 13 of the ICAO convention specifically states that the result of AIB investigation cannot make findings to indict any person for actions or in-actions that might have led to the air accident,” Ms. Osibanjo added.
The Lagos State government urged the court to dismiss the order for injunction. It also stated that the group filing the suit is not a body created by the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority and, therefore, does not have any constitutional role.