Coroner indicts The Synagogue, contractors, others in building collapse
The Coroner Court investigating the cause of the collapse of the six-storey building belonging to the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN) in Lagos has indicted the contractors, the church and others.
It would be recalled that the building which collapsed on September 12, 2014 killed 116 people, of which 85 were South Africans, 22 Nigerians, two Benioise and two Togolese.
The Lagos State Government had inaugurated the Coroner’s Inquest under the state’s Coroner’s System Law No.7 of 2007 to investigate the cause and circumstances resulting in the death of 116 people following the building collapse, and bring its findings and recommendations to the appropriate authorities.
The Chief Magistrate Oyetade Komolafe who presided over the inquest commenced sitting on October 13, 2014 and listed various agencies, charity organizations and Prophet Temitope Joshua as witnesses.
In his verdict on the coroner inquest which lasted for ten months, Komolafe called for investigation of the church and that the relevant authorities should carry out detailed fitness test on all the structures within the premises of the church.
He said Chief Superintendent (CSP) Haruna Alaba, the Divisional Police Officer, Ikotun Police Station, should forthwith be transferred out of Ikotun because he failed to take note of what was happening in his area and had to rely on information from the. Police headquarters.
He also ordered that the structural engineers that oversaw the construction of the collapsed building, Oladele Ogundeji and Akinbela Fatiregun of Hardrock Construction Co Ltd should be tried for criminal negligence by the relevant authority.
Giving the summary of his findings, Oyetade pointed out that the death of victims of the collapsed building was consistent with multiple injury, severe cut injury, congestive heart failure, skull fracture, severe cerebral injury and conjecture cadiac failure that would normally be sustained from a collapsed building.
While giving his recommendations, Oyetade pointed out that it would be erroneous for the coroner’s court to rely only on the evidence of the medical experts, there is need to also take into consideration the evidence of other experts for the issue to be properly adjudicated.
“Structural failure due to the combination of designs and detailing errors caused the building to collapse,” he declared.
The magistrate further pointed out that the aircraft which SCOAN claimed hovered over the building minutes before it collapsed was not the cause of the collapse of the building. He held that SCOAN did not obtain the relevant building permit/approval from the Lagos State government in respect of the collapsed building, adding that the foundation failure was a remote cause of the collapse of the six- storey building.
Oyetade read out the names of the victims, giving specific information on the cause of death of each victim. He said 60 of the victims were males, 56 females, including a six-year old child, and that the time of death for all the victims was 12:30 hrs. He stated that six of the victims are yet to be identified. According to him, most of the victims sustained various injuries leading to haemorrhage, loss of limbs, crushed bones, multiple rib fractures, perforation of the lungs, destruction of left tibia vessels, strangulation, and chest wounds.
During the inquest, 32 witnesses testified and tendered a total of 45 exhibits. All the witnesses appeared before the court to give their own version of how and why the incident occurred, while the founder of the church, T.B Joshua refused to appear before the court.
Joshua was said to have dragged the Coroner, Oyetade and the Coroner court before Justice Lateefat Okunnu of a Lagos State High Court on the ground that the court lacks jurisdiction to summon him.
Justice Okunnu threw out the suit on the ground that Sections 26 and 27 of the Coroner’s System Law of Lagos State 2007, empowers the coroner to summon any witness to assist him in his fact-finding mission, adding that there was nothing unusual in the summons extended to Joshua.
Joshua then, through his lawyer, Chief Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), filed notice of appeal before Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal where the matter is still pending.
Throughout the inquest, SCOAN had insisted that the collapse of the building was caused by a military plane which hovered dangerously close to the building.
One of the witnesses, Biedomo Igunuwei, corroborated the church’s claim, informing the court that after conducting autonomous investigation into the incident, he discovered that the plane that flew over the church fired an infrasonic weapon which is a low sound radiation used as a weapon to cause structural damage and destruction to objects, subsequently causing the building to collapse.
This claim was however refuted by the Lagos State Chief Pathologist, Professor John Obafunwa who said that autopsy conducted on the bodies revealed that the victims died as a result of crush injuries also known as traumatic rhabdomyolysis.
To prevent future occurrence, Komolafe further recommended that:
• Individual /organisation must endeavour to obtain relevant building permits before commencement of any building construction; and
• individual/organisation must engage the services of qualified and competent engineers/consultant in carrying out building constructions.
Also, the court said government agencies responsible for ‘monitoring and inspection at every stage of construction should be alive to their responsibilities. “Government agency must be rid of corruption, including issuance of fake receipts and greasing of palms during inspection of construction works on site; Statutory/first responders should be adequately equipped to perform their functions effectively and efficiently.
“Government should reduce the cost of obtaining necessary building permits/ approval and remove all administrative bottlenecks in order to encourage individual/ organisation go through the due process of obtaining necessary building permits/approval before commencement of building construction(s).”
Komolafe also recommended that government should take steps to secure and preserve the site of any collapse building, so as not to compromise the conduct of investigation at the site.