Synagogue building collapse: Court dismisses engineers’ case against coroner

Synagogue building collapse: Court dismisses engineers’ case against coroner

Monday, November 9, 2015 2:45 pm

the collapsed Synagogue building

the collapsed Synagogue building

A Federal High Court in Lagos on Monday struck out an application by two engineers to the Synagogue Church, seeking the enforcement of their fundamental rights.

The engineers: Oladele Ogundeji and Akinbela Fatiregun, had filed the suit through their counsel, Mr Olalekan Ojo, challenging the verdict of a coroner’s court which indicted them of criminal negligence in the collapse of the church’s guest house.

Joined as respondents were: the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, the Council of Registered Engineers in Nigeria (COREN), the Attorney General of Lagos State and Chief Magistrate Oyetade Komolafe, the Coroner.

The applicants sought an order of perpetual injunction restraining the Commissioner of Police in Lagos State from arresting, detaining, investigating or prosecuting them.

They also sought an order of perpetual injunction restraining the state Attorney General or any officer under his authority from initiating or commencing criminal proceedings against them, based on the coroner ‘s verdict.

Ruling on the application on Monday, Justice Ibrahim Buba held that the court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the suit.

The judge held that not every infraction constituted a breach of fundamental rights, saying the breach must be in relation to those stipulated under Chapter 4 of the constitution.

According to Buba, the Lagos State House of Assembly enacted a law setting up the Coroner’s court, adding that the Coroner’s court was not a law court, but a fact-finding body.

“The Coroner’s law is an enactment of the Lagos State House of Assembly. which is constitutionally empowered to make laws in the state.

“A Coroner’s inquest is not a court of law; it does not find anyone guilty, it only makes recommendations. Its proceedings can be challenged but certainly not before the Federal High Court; its law is constitutionally set up, and cannot be tampered with.

“The action of the coroner’s court cannot be unilaterally questioned, except where it is done contrary to the law, or where fraud characterises the action taken. The Federal High Court will not have jurisdiction to dabble into the affairs of government and start dishing out injunctive orders.

“Without re-visiting the issue of jurisdiction, I hold that the applicant has not made out a case of infringement on his fundamental rights, even on the merit of the application. This court has no difficulty in upholding the argument of the respondent that the court has no jurisdiction to hear the application.

“This application stands dismissed,’’ he said.

Nigerian pastor TB Joshua

Nigerian Pastor TB Joshua during a memorial for the victims

The court also noted that section 4 of the police Act empowered the police to carry out investigations.

The Synagogue Church had collapsed on Sept. 12, 2014, resulting to the death of 115 people, 84 of them South Africans.

Following the collapse, the Lagos State Government  initiated a coroner’s inquest, to ascertain the cause of death.

The inquest, presided over by Chief Magistrate Oyetade Komolafe, in its verdict, indicted the Synagogue Church over alleged criminal negligence and recommended that it should be prosecuted.

The Coroner also indicted the structural engineers who supervised the construction, Ogundeji and Fatiregun.

The court had recommended that they should be investigated and tried over alleged criminal negligence. The engineers  then filed the suit, challenging the verdict of the coroner’s court.

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