A Federal High Court in Lagos on Thursday adjourned to November 10 hearing in a suit seeking to stop the ongoing inquest into the Synagogue building collapse.
On September 12, a six-storey building within the premises of the Synagogue Church of All Nations collapsed in Lagos; causing the death of 116 people, most of whom were foreigners, with several others injured.
The Lagos State Government, on September 26, constituted a coroner’s court to unravel the circumstances leading to the incident and Magistrate Oyetade Komolafe was appointed as the coroner. The inquest is still ongoing.
A Lagos-based lawyer, Olukoya Ogungbeje, on October 28, filed a suit seeking an order restraining further proceedings in the inquest pending the determination of a substantive suit at the FHC.
Listed as respondents in the suit are the Lagos State Government, the Attorney-General of the State, Ade Ipaye, and Magistrate Oyetade Komolafe.
At the resumed hearing of the case on Thursday, the counsel representing the respondents, Akinjide Bakare, informed the court that he had just filed his counter affidavit to the applicant’s processes. He said that he had served the counter-affidavit on the applicant in the open court.
In response, counsel to the applicant, Nelson Okedinachi, confirmed service of the respondent’s processes on him in court, but said that he would require time to file his response.
Consequently, Justice Ibrahim Buba adjourned the suit till November 10 to enable parties regularise, before hearing of the suit.
At the last adjourned date, Mr. Buba had refused to grant an application by Mr. Ogungbeje for an interim order restraining the coroner’s court from further sitting until the suit was heard.
The judge had held that he would, rather, hear the case on its merit since all parties were duly represented in court.
In his suit, the applicant claimed that the composition of the coroner’s court was a negation of the principle of natural justice and Section 36 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He said that it was, as such, unconstitutional and void.
According to the applicant, the inquest was constituted by the Lagos State Government after agencies of the state government had indicted the Church of erecting additional structures on an already existing building without approval.
He argued that if allowed to continue, the proceedings of the coroner inquest would occasion a miscarriage of justice, as the coroner would base its decision on the testimonies of the same government agencies.
The lawyer alleged that the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency, the Lagos State Building Control Agency and the Lagos State Fire Service had made prejudicial reports.
He said that they had said that the building collapsed due to the erection of additional structures on the existing one.
Mr. Ogungbeje said that the contention of the Church that the building collapsed as a result of an aircraft hovering round the building moments before it collapsed was ignored.
He claimed that the Lagos State Building Control Agency went ahead to seal up the main building of the church.
The lawyer is, therefore, seeking an order nullifying the composition of the coroner and its proceedings so far.
He also wants as an order of perpetual injunction restraining the defendants jointly and severally from further proceedings.
The applicant had asked that every sitting, investigation, fact finding, or any action in any manner whatsoever on any facts connected to the case be put on hold until the suit was determined.
There has been widespread outrage since the collapse of the building, which Mr. Joshua blamed on a hovering aircraft.
PREMIUM TIMES had reported how Lagos building officials told the coroner that the collapsed building, inside the church premises, had no approval.
The Lagos State Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Olutoyin Ayinde, told the inquest chaired by Oyetade Komolafe that investigations carried out by the ministry showed that the six-storey building had no approval.
“From our records, we saw the approval in the name of Synagogue Church of All Nations dated Jan.26, 2004,” he said. “The approval was just for the main auditorium of the church. It was an approval for a five-floor development.”
He said on a visit to the site, a government team discovered that the building had been raised to an eighth floor; making the additional three floors illegal structures.
“For the collapsed building, we did not find anything relating to it in our records. It does not have our approval,” Mr. Ayinde said.