An Ikeja High Court has dismissed T.B Joshua, founder of the Synagogue Church of All Nations’ case seeking to prevent him from appearing before the coroner’s inquest into his collapsed church building which killed 116 people for lack of merit. Ironically, a group has also acknowledges the cleric as one of the influential persons in the world
| By Anayo Ezugwu | Mar. 23, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT |
IT WAS a week of mixed blessings for Temitope B. Joshua, founder and overseer of the Synagogue Church of All Nations, SCOAN, who has been in public eye since the collapse of the one of his church building which killed about 116 people, mostly South Africans last year. While an Ikeja High Court dismissed Joshua’s case seeking to stop the coroner’s inquest into the collapsed building for lacking merit, the Society for the Recognition of Famous People acknowledged him as being influential.
In her ruling, Justice Lateefa Okunnu ordered Joshua to appear before the coroner inquest and held that the coroner’s court was not known by law and could not, therefore, be sued. But she added that the coroner, on the other hand, could sue or be sued. “The issues for determination are whether the coroner (Oyetade) has acted contrary to the rules of natural justice by not granting the applicants a fair hearing and whether he has exceeded the scope of a coroner’s court.”
The judge, who relied on the works of Christopher Dorries, a British coroner’s law expert, held that the coroner’s court was inquisitorial in nature. Okunnu said Sections 26 and 27 of the Coroner’s System Law of Lagos State 2007, empowered the coroner to summon any witness to assist him in his fact-finding mission. According to her, the summons extended to Joshua to testify was not unusual because he was listed in the applicant’s affidavit as the “Founder and General Overseer” of the church.
She also dismissed the allegation that the coroner, Oyetade Komolafe had been biased against the applicants in the proceedings, adding that there was no evidence before the court to support the claim. “Having read the transcripts from the proceedings, I regret that I do not share the applicants’ point of view that the respondent has been biased or unfair and has breached the principle of natural justice,” Okunnu said.
The judge further noted that under Section 34 of the Coroner’s Law, the coroner was not bound by the Rules of Evidence applicable in the adversarial courts. On whether Komolafe had exceeded the scope of a coroner’s court, she held that a coroner had the prerogative to take evidence from any witness he deemed relevant to reaching his conclusions. “In the event, I am of the firm view that the issues raised by the applicants are premature. I find, therefore, the present application lacks merit and has failed in its entirety. It is accordingly dismissed.”
The inquest was set up by the Lagos State government to unravel the cause of the September 12, 2014, building collapse which killed people, mainly South Africans. The church and its founder, Prophet Joshua, had sued the coroner’s court and the coroner, Oyetade Komolafe, over the inquest. The applicants had asked for a judicial review of the proceedings before the coroner’s inquest which began on October 13, 2014.
They had asked the court to determine whether the witness summons served on Joshua to appear before the coroner did not constitute an infringement on his rights to fair hearing. Joshua 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.
He also accused the coroner of bias and had asked the court to restrain him from going further with the proceedings.
Lateef Fagbemi, counsel to Joshua, had also canvassed arguments that the coroner’s court and the coroner were ‘juristic persons’, who can sue and be sued.
Opposing the application, Akinjide Bakare, counsel to Lagos State government, argued that the coroner had extensive powers to investigate the cause and circumstances of death. Bakare maintained that the coroner had the powers of a magistrate to summon witnesses, including medical examiners, and required them to give evidence, produce documents or present other relevant materials.
He said in order to determine the cause of any 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. He, therefore, asked the court to dismiss the application.
Nonetheless, The Society for the Recognition of Famous People on its websites archives the lives of highly influential people in various spheres of life, the majority of whom are posthumously honoured, added Joshua’s biography to their list of world-renowned individuals.
The write-up declares Joshua as “one of the most influential personalities in Africa”, chronicling his journey from a poverty-stricken background to the head of an internationally acclaimed Christian ministry in the heart of Lagos, Nigeria.
Almost 6000 famous individuals have so far been documented by the website, pooled from an impressive array of business people, scientists, writers, musicians, sports persons, painters, physicians, singers, dancers, film and theatre personalities, activists, intellectuals, academics, fashion icons, media personalities, leaders, lawyers, engineers and inventors.
Only four other Nigerians have so far been noted by the society, these being Nnamdi Azikwe, Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka and President Goodluck Jonathan. Joshua was included in the section of ‘spiritual and religious leaders’ with the likes of the Dalai Lama, Pope Francis, Martin Luther King Jr and Mother Teresa.