The Synagogue Church building which collapsed early September killing 116 people was never registered or approved by Lagos State authorities, a hearing into the cause of the disaster, heard Thursday.
The Lagos State Government said the collapsed guest house within the premises of the church, had no building permit. The building collapsed on September 12, killing more than 100, majority of them South Africans.
The Lagos State Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Olutoyin Ayinde, made the information known while testifying at the ongoing Coroner’s inquest into the incident.
Mr. 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.
The commissioner also expressed safety concerns over the additional floors being constructed at the church auditorium.
“In the ongoing construction, there is a lift shaft that is being developed and one of the columns is not taking off from the ground floor. It is erected on a water tank.
“I don’t know if an engineer certified that but it should be investigated,” he said.
He added that the state government had developed an electronic document management system, EDMS, that captured all the building plans in the state from 1990 to 2012.
Mr. Ayinde said that following the visit to the church on September 21, his ministry wrote to the church requesting the architectural drawing of the collapsed building, names and addresses of the contractors, sub-contractors, consultants, and engineers; as well as evidence of laboratory test on the structure.
“Till date, we’ve not had a reply from the General Overseer,” he said.
According to the commissioner, other on-going construction at the church, during their visit, were of concern to his team.
“By the additional construction we saw on site, we are inclined to express some fears because we also saw some few things that were not right in the construction industry,” said Mr. Ayinde.
“One of the columns in the eight storey is resting on a water tank, not from the ground level. I don’t know which engineer allowed that to happen.”
Three days after the building collapse, Mr. Ayinde said officials from his ministry were sent to the church to check the coordinates of the site.
During cross examination by Olalekan Ojo, SCOAN’s lawyer, Mr. Ayinde said he did not have an offhand knowledge of the number of collapsed buildings in Lagos State.
Mr. Ayinde, however, admitted that approval plans had nothing to do with the structural stability of a building.
“Buildings do not stand firm or fall because there is no plan or building approval, unless you have conducted a test,” he said. “The mere fact that a person was granted a driver’s licence is not a guarantee he will drive safely. But if you do not have a plan for your building, you have created an avenue for the building to fail.”
Joseph Agbenla, the Surveyor-General of Lagos State, also testified before the coroner on Thursday.
Earlier, the South African High Commissioner, who had been billed to testify on Thursday requested for more time to conclude negotiations for legal representation. The coroner agreed.
Also, a lawyer attempted to remind the court that the coroner was joined in a suit challenging the composition of the inquest at the Federal High Court, Lagos. A visibly unimpressed Oyetade Komolafe, the coroner, asked the lawyer to leave the court room.
Olukoya Ogungbeje, a Lagos based lawyer, had approached a Federal High Court in Lagos praying for an order restraining the coroner from conducting further proceedings on the inquest. Joined as defendants in his suit were the Lagos State government, the attorney general of the state, and Mr. Komolafe (the coroner) as first to third defendants.
The matter is yet to be assigned to a judge. The inquest continues on November 5.