The Lagos State coroner’s inquest into the collapse of building belonging to the Synagogue Church of All Nations indicts and recommends the prosecution of the church for criminal negligence among other things
| By Anayo Ezugwu | Jul 20, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT |
AT last, the Lagos Coroner Inquest has indicted the Synagogue Church of All Nations, SCOAN, for criminal negligence which led to the collapse of the church building which killed 116 people in September 12, 2014. The coroner, in his verdict, recommended that SCOAN should be prosecuted by the state government for the collapse of its six-storey building which killed many foreigners because it did not get the necessary permit or approval before commencing construction of the building.
The Coroner’s Court, presided over by Oyetade Komolafe, chief magistrate on Wednesday, July 8, held that the death of victims of the collapse was consistent with blunt force trauma that would normally be sustained from a collapsed building. Komolafe noted that most of the victims sustained various injuries ranging from haemorrhage, loss of limbs, crushed bones, multiple rib fractures, perforation of the lungs, destruction of left tibia vessels, strangulation, and chest wounds.
He said the alleged aircraft which hovered over the building was not the cause of the building collapse as “building permits/approval was not obtained in respect of the collapsed building,” adding, “The foundation failure was a remote cause of the collapsed building.”
Komolafe called out the names of the 116 victims and gave specific details on the causes of their deaths. Sixty of them were males while 56 were females, including a six-year-old child. Six of the victims were yet to be identified while 85 of the victims were South Africans, 22 Nigerians, two Beninoise and two Togolese nationals.
The Coroner’s Court also held that structural failure due to combination of designs and detailing errors were the cause of the building collapse. It added that the state government should as a matter of urgency carry out detailed fitness for habitation test on all the structures/buildings within the premises of the Synagogue Church of All Nations, situated at Segun Irefin Street, Bolorunpelu, Egbe, Lagos State.
According to Komolafe, the conduct of the police at the scene of the accident and their testimony during the hearing show they were working on assumption. He, therefore, recommended that Haruna Alaba, the divisional police officer, DPO, attached to Ikotun Division of the Nigeria Police, should be replaced immediately because he had become too compromised to lead a credible investigation. He said Alaba failed to take note of what was happening in his area and had to rely on information from the police headquarters.
The coroner also urged the government to reduce the cost of obtaining necessary building permits/approvals as well as removing all administrative bottlenecks to encourage individuals/organisations go through the due process of obtaining necessary permits before commencement of building construction.
The court said the contractors Oladele Ogundeji and Akinbela Fatiregun, both engineers of HardRock Construction Co. Ltd., who handled the collapsed building project for SCOAN should be investigated and tried for criminal negligence by the relevant authority. Komolafe pointed out that government agencies must be rid of corruption, including issuance of fake receipts and “greasing of palms” during inspections on construction sites.
His recommendations read in part: “Synagogue Church of All Nations should be prosecuted by the relevant authorities for not possessing the necessary building permits. Individuals/Organisations must endeavour to obtain relevant building permits before commencement of any building construction. Individuals/Organizations must engage the services of qualified and competent Engineers/Consultants in carrying out building constructions.
“Relevant authority should carry out detailed ‘fitness for habitation test’ on all the structures/buildings within the premises of the Synagogue Church of All Nations, situated at Segun Irefin Street, Egbe, Lagos State immediately. Government agencies responsible for ‘monitoring and inspection’ at every stage of construction should be alive to their responsibility and vigilant. Alternatively, the function of ‘monitoring and inspection’ should be outsourced to competent professional body that will detect violation of building law and regulations early before any failure.
“Statutory/First Responders should be adequately equipped to perform their functions effectively and efficiently. The Government, NGO’s and other ancillary bodies should educate and sensitise the public on the need to always allow the statutory/first responders perform their duties during rescue operations/emergency cases and not take over the duties. Government should make it mandatory for professionals involved in the design and supervision of major structural building constructions to have professional indemnity. Government should take steps to secure and preserve the site of any collapsed building, so as not to compromise the conduct of investigation at the collapsed site.”
Nevertheless, SCOAN still insists that it is not guilty as charged by the coroner. Reacting to the coroner’s report, Olalekan Ojo, counsel to the church, said no findings were made by the coroner that indicted the church over the collapsed building. “Yes, the court said the church building collapsed due to structural failure but never said the church was guilty of any offence. So, with the situation I never doubt my client may challenge the verdict of the coroner.”
SCOAN, on its official Facebook page rejected the verdict of the coroner on the grounds that “it is unreasonable, one-sided and biased,” adding that the church was maintaining its stand that the incident was as a result of sabotage. “From the verdict given today, we would like the public to take note of the following: There was no finding that the church engaged the services of unqualified or incompetent professionals for the construction of the building. There was no finding that the church procured substandard materials for the construction of the building, as confirmed by officials of the Standards Organisation of Nigeria, SON, who gave evidence at the coroner and certified the materials used were all approved and of good quality.
“There was evidence that the church had started processing the relevant building approval before the incident, which had been approved and assessed for payment by the appropriate government bodies. There was no finding that connected the incident with the lack of a building permit. There was no finding that church members prevented the statutory responders from carrying out their rescue duties.
“The church disagrees most vehemently with the finding that the incident was due to structural failure. The church considers it strange that the coroner did not refer in its verdict to the evidence of the COREN-registered structural engineer and contractor used by the church nor did it evaluate the conflicting evidence given by civil and structural engineers as to whether or not the incident was as a result of structural failure.”
Ojo insisted that the judgement was a one-sided verdict which left many issues unaddressed and questions unanswered. The church, therefore, disagrees with the findings concerning the aircraft that hovered over the six-storey building because there was evidence before the court that the incident could have been brought about by external forces such as controlled demolition or an explosion.
“The verdict did not even refer to the CCTV footage which showed the 6-storey building falling in less than 4 seconds – a manner consistent with controlled or externally induced demolition – nor did it refer to the interim report and investigation by the Nigerian police force which pointed to sabotage by external forces. The church also disagrees with the finding that foundation failure was a remote cause because that is contrary to the overwhelming expert evidence of the structural engineers invited to the coroner who eliminated foundation failure as a possible cause.
“The recommendation for the investigation and prosecution of the contractors and structural engineers used by the church for criminal negligence is premature because it gives the impression the coroner has found them guilty when a coroner is not allowed in law to make any finding of civil or criminal liability against anybody. The recommendation for the investigation of The SCOAN for not possessing the relevant building permits is unwarranted because it did not take into account the evidence that the church had started processing the relevant building approval before the incident. As a matter of fact, the amount payable for the processing had already been assessed by the appropriate government agencies.
The recommendation that statutory responders should be adequately equipped was informed by the fact that the statutory responders who carried out rescue operations in this case were ill-equipped and ill-trained, and that it was the church that mobilised human and material resources to ensure a successful rescue operation. Finally, the coroner recognised that the conduct of the investigation of the incident was compromised by the failure of the appropriate government agencies to take necessary steps to secure and preserve the scene of the incident, which calls into question the integrity and reliability of the entire investigation. We repeat: No matter how long a lie is sustained, the truth will someday prevail.”
It should be remembered that from the onset the SCOAN never accepted responsibility of the disaster. Instead T.B Joshua, founder of the church, blamed it on terrorists who wanted to kill him. He told members of his church during the Sunday service, on September 14, that the attack was targeted at him and not at them.
Joshua justified his claim by showing his congregation on the Emmanuel TV the chronology of events shortly before and after the incident as captured by the church’s close circuit television, CCTV. “I received a phone call immediately I got here, just 10 minutes later when I was in the church, that there was a jet hovering over the mountain where I had just left. They said it was hovering at a close range. Before I knew it, I received another phone call that the same jet was now at the church hovering over the building, passing it four times at a very close range before the building collapsed,” he said.
Sequel to the collapse, the Lagos State government inaugurated the Coroner’s Inquest under the state’s Coroner’s System Law No. 7 of 2007 to investigate the cause and circumstances leading to the death of 116 people, mostly South Africans, following the building collapse of September 12, 2014, and bring its findings and recommendations to the appropriate authorities.
With Joshua refusing to accept responsibility, it is yet to be seen whether the Lagos State government would muster enough courage to prosecute those responsible for the collapsed building as recommended by the coroner or even take over the piece of land hosting the collapsed building as stated in its law. Nigerians and, indeed, the world are watching.