Friday, December 5, 2014 8:02 pm
A coroner on Friday put on hold an inquest into the deaths of 116 people in a church building collapse in Nigeria’s commercial hub after hearing an application to suspend proceedings.
The inquest in the city has been hearing from witnesses involved in the investigation into the September 12 tragedy at the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN).
Eighty-one South Africans were among the dead and their relatives had also been due to give evidence.
But lawyers for the head of SCOAN, preacher and televangelist TB Joshua, have challenged the coroner’s powers to call the pastor as a witness, arguing that he had overstepped his mandate.
Coroner Oyetade Komolafe on Friday heard submissions from Joshua’s lawyers and the Lagos State government.
“I will rule on this application on Wednesday December 10. I will not do any other thing until this issue is resolved,” Komolafe told the court.
Joshua, a self-proclaimed miracle worker who counts presidents and politicians from across Africa among his flock, has claimed outside court that the collapse may have been caused by sabotage.
But he has twice failed to appear at the inquest to be questioned on his claims, despite being summonsed.
Expert witnesses have largely dismissed the theory of a controlled explosion or an aerial attack from a “mystery aircraft” that Joshua and his followers have claimed was seen above the building.
Joshua’s lawyer Olalekan Ojo urged the coroner to suspend proceedings until a ruling was delivered on the same application at the Lagos High Court.
Ojo argued that witnesses should not be compelled to give evidence on building approval, structural defects, soil and material testing at the inquest.
But Lagos State government lawyer Akingbolahan Adeniran said the application should be dismissed as it lacked merit.
The church had not yet called any witnesses, so the coroner did not have enough material to determine what was admissable or not, he submitted.
The case was adjourned until Wednesday. No date has been set for the high court hearing.