The National Association of Nigerian Students has protested the ongoing coroners’ inquest into the collapse church building belonging to T.B. Joshua, founder of the Synagogue Church of All Nations
| By Anayo Ezugwu | Feb. 23, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT |
THE National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS, on Tuesday, February 24, was involved in a show of shame as the halted the activities at the Ikeja High Court, Lagos. The students were protesting the ongoing coroner’s inquest into the collapse of the guest belonging to T. B. Joshua, founder, Synagogue Church of All Nations, SCOAN. The collapsed building killed more than 100 persons, last year. The students argued that the coroner’s inquest was an aberration in dealing with a natural disaster involving the church building.
The students, who carried placards, stormed the court chanting several anti-government songs to buttress their demands. Simon Awodola, president, NANS, Ondo State chapter, said setting up an inquest into a natural disaster was to victimise the church and the owner, Joshua. “Setting up coroner inquest is not acceptable to us. We believe that there are corruption, abduction and other cases that should have been looked into. But they were swept under the carpet. This is a natural disaster. Imagine when an earthquake happens in Alausa who will Lagos State Government sue for it. The Lagos State Government should abolish the inquest and focus on other developmental issues. We are appealing to the federal and state governments to look into the issue critically and look into the claim of the church especially as it concerns the plane that hovered on the structure before it collapsed,” he said.
The court had on Friday, February 20, fixed March 3, for ruling on the suit filed by the SCOAN against the coroner inquest. Justice Lateefa Okunnu reserved the date on Friday after hearing the reply on points of law filed by Lateef Fagbemi, counsel to the church. The church and its founder had sued the Lagos State government and the coroner, Oyetade Komolafe, over the inquest.
The church asked for a judicial review of the proceedings before the coroner’s inquest, which began on October 13, 2014. They asked the court to determine whether the witness summons served on Joshua to appear before the coroner did not constitute an infringement on his right to fair hearing. They also asked the court to declare that Komolafe had exceeded the jurisdiction of a coroner’s court by delving into areas that were beyond its scope.
In his reply on points of law, Fagbemi faulted the submissions of Akinjide Bakare, counsel to state government, who had earlier told the court to dismiss the suit. He argued that the Lagos State Coroner’s Law 2007 only empowered the coroner to determine the cause of death and to identify the body of the deceased. Fagbemi urged Justice Okunnu to stop the coroner’s inquest from becoming a floodgate for all manners of incursion under the guise of investigation. “My lord, I submit respectfully sir that even in the wider interpretation of the words ‘how’ and ‘manner,’ none of these words can accommodate the situation here to allow the coroner to go beyond mere investigation as to the cause of death,” he said.
According to Fagbemi, taking evidence on the issues of approval and construction of the collapsed building are clearly outside the scope and jurisdiction of the coroner’s court. He said it was not in dispute that the coroner had invited people to come and give evidence on whether approval was sought and obtained or the kind of materials used for the building.
He said although the coroner’s system was not adversarial, its findings could, however, be used by anybody to file a law suit against his client. Fagbemi argued that Sections 32 and 33 of the Coroner Law did not empower the coroner to compel people to testify before the inquest. He also accused Komolafe of bias, adding that the coroner had demonstrated personal interest in the subject matter. He urged the court to grant the application and declare the coroner proceedings null and void.
On its part, Bakare argued that the coroner had extensive powers to investigate the cause and circumstances of death to bring his findings and recommendations to the attention of appropriate authorities. “In doing this, he has all the powers of a magistrate to summon and compel the attendance of witnesses,” he said, arguing that in order to determine the cause of death, the coroner had the latitude to investigate issues pertaining to building approval, soil testing and materials used in the construction of the collapsed building.