The applications filed by a defendant in the suit brought by the Lagos State government against Richard Nyong, the managing director of Lekki Gardens Ltd, and nine others over a building collapse last year, stalled the arraignment of the defendants, Wednesday, before a Lagos Division of the Lagos State High Court.
Sola Olumofe, the second defendant, had filed a preliminary objection challenging the court’s jurisdiction and another one seeking to dispense with his appearance until the hearing of his application.
Messrs Nyong, Olumofe, Taiwo Odofin, Omolabake Mortune, Marius Agwu, and Omotilewa Joseph are facing a six-count charge of involuntary manslaughter and failure to obtain approval for the collapsed building contrary to Section 75 of the Urban and Regional Planning and Development Law of Lagos State.
The other defendants include Lekki Gardens Estate Ltd, GT Rich Ltd, and HC Insight Solutions Ltd.
At least 30 people died when a five-storey building belonging to the defendants collapsed in the early hours of March 8 last year.
Nearly a year later, in February this year, the Lagos State government announced it had charged the defendants to court over the incident.
On Wednesday, when the matter came up for arraignment, Messrs Olumofe and Agwu and their company, HT Insight Solutions Ltd were not in court.
As a result, the pleas of the rest of the defendants present could not be taken.
The second, sixth and tenth defendants Sola Olumofe, Marius Agwu and Artech Insigna Limited were not in court.
Counsel to Mr. Olumofe informed the court that his client did not need to appear before the court until the determination of his two applications, as doing so would mean that he has submitted himself to the Court’s jurisdiction, which is one of the legs of his applications.
Citing a plethora of authorities to support his applications, he stated that the Supreme Court said the best time to challenge the jurisdiction is before the plea is taken.
Responding, the counsel representing Lagos State, Adeniji Kazeem, who is Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, told the court that the business of the day is the arraignment of the defendants, and that it is after they have submitted themselves to the court that they can then raise an objection to their trial.
Mr. Kazeem added that the operational law guiding criminal proceedings is Administration of Criminal Justice Law of Lagos State.
He added that Section 235 of ACJL stated clearly that if a defendant refuses to appear before the court to take his plea, and did not give sufficient reason as to the cause of his absence, the ACJL empowers the trial judge to issue a bench warrant against him.
Mr. Adeniji therefore urged the court to issue bench warrant against the 2nd, 6th and 10th defendants who were not in court.
After the hearing of the second defendant’s application, counsel to Mr. Nyong, Wole Olanipekun, applied to the court to allow his client continue to enjoy the earlier bail granted him by a Chief Magistate’s Court, where he was earlier charged for the same allegation.
In the same vain, lawyers representing the other defendants aligned themselves with Mr. Olanipekun’s submissions.
Having listened to counsel from both sides, Justice Sybil Nwaka, adjourned the matter till June 1 for ruling on the application to dispense with the appearance of the second defendant.
The judge also ordered that the other defendants continue to enjoy the bail earlier granted them.
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