The lawyer of The Synagogue Church of All Nations, Olalekan Ojo, Wednesday, told a Federal High Court in Lagos that police officers were after the two engineers who handled the construction of the church’s guest house which collapsed last year.
The accident led to the death of about 116 people: namely 85 South Africans, 22 Nigerians, two Beninoise, one Togolese, and six unidentified persons.
Filing two suits before Justice Mohammed Idris on behalf of the engineers, Oladele Ogundeji, a structural engineer, and Akinbela Fatiregun of Hardrock Engineering Company; Mr. Ojo sought an ex-parte application to restrain the police from inviting or arresting the duo for questioning.
Joined as respondents in the suits were the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria, the Attorney General of Lagos State, and Oyetade Komolafe (the coroner).
“The police have been after the engineers and their constitutional rights to dignity and personal liberty as enshrined in Sections 34 and 35 of the constitution are at stake as they could no longer move about freely,” said Mr. Ojo.
A coroner’s inquest, instituted by the Lagos State government following the collapse of the building in September last year, delivered a verdict blaming the accident on the church’s “criminal negligence”.
“The church must be investigated and prosecuted for not obtaining the relevant approval before embarking on the construction of the building,” Mr. Komolafe, the coroner, said.
The Lagos State government had responded to the coroner’s recommendations by stating that only the engineers who handled the collapsed building would be prosecuted for criminal negligence.
Kenneth Nwosu, a spokesperson for the Lagos State Police Command, told PREMIUM TIMES on Wednesday that it was a normal procedure for police to charge the indicted engineers to court.
“One of them (the engineers) is with us now, it is the other one we are looking for,” said Mr. Nwosu over the telephone.
“I don’t know if he is at large but I know we are looking for him.”
Addressing the court on Wednesday, Mr. Ojo said the police had visited the home of Mr. Ogundeji, but arrested his brother-in-law when they did not meet him.
The lawyer also said that the police visited Mr. Fatiregun office at Ikeja on July 16 to arrest him but didn’t see him.
“He was, however, said to have voluntarily gone to the police station following which he was arrested and detained and asked to make written statement regarding the role that his company played in the collapsed building.”
Mr. Ojo said the move to arrest the engineers on July 16th followed a fundamental rights enforcement action they filed against the respondents on July 15th challenging the coroner’s verdict.
After listening to Mr. Ojo’s submissions, the judge ordered all the parties to mantain the status quo pending the determination of the applicants’ motion on notice.
He adjourned till August 3 for hearing.
In their motion, the applicants are seeking, among other reliefs, a declaration that the findings and recommendations of the coroner indicting them be declared invalid, null and void.
They are also urging the court to declare that the Lagos State police commissioner lacks the power to act on the coroner’s verdict to investigate or prosecute them.
They are also asking the court to grant a perpetual injunction restraining the Lagos State Attorney General or any other officer under his authority from initiating criminal proceedings against them based on the coroner’s verdict.