Engineers ask High Court to reject Coroner's verdict

Chief Magistrate Oyetade Komolafe, who conducted an inquest into the deaths of the 116 persons in the collapsed building had on 8 July, 2015 indicted Ogundeji and Fatiregun of criminal negligence and recommended them for criminal prosecution by Lagos State

Rubble of the collapsed building at Synagogue Church Of All Nations in Lagos on Saturday

The hearing of two two separate suits seeking to reject the coroner’s verdict on the September 12, 2014 collapse of Synagogue Church Of All Nations building has been adjourned by a Federal High Court sitting till 3 August, 2015.

P.M. News reports that the two separate suits, numbered FHC/L/CS/1095/15 and FHC/L/CS/1096/15, were filed by the two structural engineers to whom the collapsed six-storey building was contracted, Messrs Oladele Ogundeji and Akinbela Fatiregun, respectively.

The Lagos coroner, Chief Magistrate Oyetade Komolafe, who conducted an inquest into the deaths of the 116 persons in the collapsed building had on 8 July, 2015 indicted Ogundeji and Fatiregun of criminal negligence and recommended them for criminal prosecution by Lagos State.

However, upon the receipt of the coroner’s verdict, the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, last week disclosed the readinesss of the state to implement the coroner’s verdict including filing criminal charges against the church and the two engineers.

Ogundeji and Fatiregun, through their lawyer, Mr. Olalekan Ojo, on Wednesday appeared before Justice Mohammed Idris with an ex-parte application seeking to restrain the police from inviting or arresting them for questioning.

Ojo, while seeking the protection of the court for the engineers, said the police had been after them, claiming that their constitutional rights to dignity and personal liberty, enshrined in sections 34 and 35 of the constitution, were at stake as they could no longer move about freely.

The counsel added that the police had visited the home of Ogundeji, and when they did not see him they arrested and detained his brother-in-law.

In the case of Fatiregun, the police went to his office in Ikeja on 16 July to arrest him but he was not around but voluntarily went to the police station following which he was arrested and detained and asked to make a written statement regarding the role of his company, Hardrock Engineering Construction Limited, played in the collapsed SCOAN building.

Ojo contended that the move to arrest the engineers on 16 July followed the fundamental rights enforcement action that they filed against the respondents on 15 July, challenging the coroner’s verdict.

He said arresting the engineers in the face of the pending suits would amount to injustice, as they have raised serious issues awaiting determination by the court.

Following Ojo’s argument, the judge ordered all the parties to maintain the status quo pending the determination of the applicants’ motions on notice.

He adjourned till 3 August, 2015 for hearing.

The respondents in the suits are the Lagos State Commissioner of Police (CP), the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria, the Attorney General of Lagos State and the coroner, Mr. Oyetade Komolafe.

In the said motion on notice, the engineers are seeking, among other prayers, a declaration that “the findings and recommendations of the 4th respondent as contained in the 4th respondent’s verdict dated 8 July, 2015 as they relate to the applicants’ indictment for prosecution for criminal negligence and recommendation for prosecution for criminal negligence by the 1st to 3rd respondents are invalid, null and void and of no effect, whatsoever.”

They are also urging the court to declare that the Lagos CP lacks the power to act on the coroner’s verdict to investigate or prosecute them.

They asked for a perpertual injunction restraining the Lagos State Attorney General or any officer under his authority from initiating or commencing criminal proceedings against the applicants on the basis of the findings and recommendations of the coroner.

The 12 September, 2014 tragic incident claimed the lives of 85 South Africans, 22 Nigerians, two Beninoise, one Togolese and six unidentified persons.

Sixty of the victims were males while 56 were females.

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