The founder of the Synagogue Church of All Nations, SCOAN, Temitope Joshua, was absent, Wednesday, at the coroner’s inquest into the collapse of a six storey building in his church.
While additional floors were being added to it, the building collapsed on September 12 killing about 115 people, most of them foreigners.
Mr. Joshua, popularly known as T.B Joshua, and the contractor handling the construction had been billed to testify on Wednesday.
However, an early morning downpour and thunderstorm led to the proceedings starting more that two hours behind schedule.
Dozens of church members and Mr. Joshua’s followers braved the inclement weather to attend the inquest, spilling out of the overcrowded court room onto the corridors.
Olalekan Ojo, the SCOAN counsel, told the court that neither Mr. Joshua nor his contractor were present because they had not been served the witness summons.
“There is need for us to make certain clarifications, with your lordship’s permission,” said Mr. Ojo.
“May I with respect inform this honourable court that as at today, no summons to appear before this court has been personally served on T.B Joshua.
“I do not want this honourable court to be misled that witness summons has been served on prophet T.B Joshua.”
Mr. Ojo said that court bailiffs had attempted to serve the summons to Mr. Joshua last Friday but were not successful.
“Unfortunately, the prophet was not around. Being the chief mourner, he has been in touch with the families.”
As for the contractor in charge of the collapsed building, Mr. Ojo said that he was also unable to be served because the court did not have his address.
The lawyer rejected the coroner’s suggestion for a substituted service – serving Mr. Joshua’s witness summons on him and he would, then, compel his client to appear before the court.
“The coroner law says the inquest is to be guided by the magistrate court law and what it says is that you, as counsel to them, we now serve you,” Oyetade Komolafe, the coroner had said.
Mr. Ojo responded that the law does not allow him to collect a witness summons because of the penalty attached to it.
Last week, Mr. Komolafe had threatened to arrest Mr. Joshua if he fails to appear before him.
“If he doesn’t come, he will be arrested, please advise him,” the coroner had told the church’s counsel.
“The sheriff said he has served him (a witness summons) and I have the evidence of that. If he cannot come on that day, he should tell us why he cannot come.”
But the next day, the coroner frowned at the newspaper headlines, berating reporters and insisting that he was only “rubbing minds” with Mr. Joshua’s lawyer and not actually threatening to arrest anyone.
On Wednesday, Mr. Komolafe’s continued his “rubbing minds” as he enquired from Mr. Ojo if Mr. Joshua could not have read newspaper reports about the day he was billed to testify.
“The man is in mourning. He couldn’t have read it,” Mr. Ojo replied.
The coroner said that the court would not want to inflict more pains on Mr. Joshua, adding that he (the coroner) would do “the needful.”
“We are not trying to prosecute or persecute anyone,” Mr. Komolafe said.
“Any prophet that claims to serve God should be obedient to the laws of the land. It is what they preach.”
Earlier, the coroner had sought to enquire from Sunday Okojie, the SCOAN Chief Security Officer, when he’d go to see Mr. Joshua so court bailiffs could come along and serve the witness summons.
“I will see him when it’s possible,” Mr. Okojie responded.
“He might go into the mountain for prayers. I cannot go there.”
BARRED AT THE GATE
Wednesday’s inquest began with the testimony of Femi Oke-Osanyintolu, the General Manager of the Lagos Emergency Management Agency, LASEMA.
Dr. Oke-Osanyintolu said that his agency got a distress call at 12.45 p.m. on September 12th and arrived at the scene 35 minutes later.
Despite arriving in a LASEMA branded Lexus jeep and dressed in the agency’s uniform, Dr. Oke-Osanyintolu said that the church’s security screened them for 15 minutes before letting them through the first barricade.
At the second barricade leading into the compound where the building collapsed, the LASEMA boss said that they were denied entrance.
“I held a meeting with the church security about our mission and to assure them that we want to do our work – rescue people,” Dr. Oke-Osanyintolu said, adding that he was also assaulted by the men at the scene of the incident.
He also said that the church refused to release the manifest of the people in the collapsed building to enable them do “resource mapping.”
“I discovered that while I was able to move through the first and second gates, my responders were not let through. I alerted the DPO (Divisional Police Officer).”
He said that his men did not have the enabling environment to work efficiently at the initial stages of the incident, and that after seven days, 131 people were rescued while 86 bodies were deposited at the mortuary.
During cross examination by Mr. Ojo, the LASEMA boss said that he had told journalists, during the incident, that church members had been cooperative to “calm the citizens of the state.”
Dr. Oke-Osanyintolu said that he was unable to recall the exact number of casualties on each of the seven days his team carried out rescue work at the site.
During his testimony last week, John Obafunwa, the Chief Medical Examiner of Lagos State, had said that some of the corpses deposited at the mortuary were dismembered.
But in his testimony, Dr. Oke-Osanyintolu said that the bodies recovered from the building collapse site were “whole and not disjointed.”
“I observed, I did not palpate, I did not percuss. He had the opportunity to palpate and percuss,” he said, trying to defend the inconsistencies between his and Prof. Obafunwa’s testimony.
The coroner’s inquest continues on Thursday with Dr. Oke-Osanyintolu’s testimony.