The Synagogue rejects coroner court’s verdict in building collapse
The Synagogue, Church Of All Nations (SCOAN) has rejected the verdict of the coroner court that investigated the cause of collapse of its six-storey building in Ikotun area of Lagos on September 12, 2014, describing the judgment as “unreasonable, one-sided and biased.”
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.
The Chief Magistrate Oyetade Komolafe who presided over the inquest commenced sitting on October 13, 2014. In his verdict on the 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 that CSP Haruna Alaba, the Divisional Police Officer, Ikotun Police Station should forthwith be transferred from the said Ikotun Police Station because he failed to take note of what was happening in his area and had to rely on information from the Police headquaters. He also ordered that the structural engineers that supervised the construction of the collapsed building should be tried for criminal negligence by the relevant authority.
Oyetade declared that “Structural failure due to the combination of designs and detailing errors caused the building to collapse.” He further pointed out that the alleged 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 is a remote cause of the collapse of the six-storey building.
While rejecting the verdict yesterday, the church, in a statement, maintained that the incident was a result of sabotage. The statement read in part: “From the verdict given, we would like the public to take note of the following:
• there was no finding that the church engaged the services of unqualified or incompetent professionals for the construction of the building; • there was no finding that the church procured substandard materials for the construction of the building, as confirmed by officials of the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) who gave evidence at the coroner and certified the materials used were all approved and of good quality;
• there was evidence that the church had started processing the relevant building approval before the incident, which had been approved and assessed for payment by the appropriate government bodies;
• there was no finding that connected the incident with the lack of a building permit; and that
• there was no finding that church members prevented the statutory responders from carrying out their rescue duties. In the statement issued by SCOAN’s counsel, Olalekan Ojo, the lawyer said “the church disagrees most vehemently with the finding that the incident was due to structural failure.
The church considers it strange that the coroner did not refer in its verdict to the evidence of the COREN-registered structural engineer and contractor used by the church nor did it evaluate the conflicting evidence given by civil and structural engineers as to whether or not the incident was a result of structural failure. “It was a one-sided verdict which left many issues unaddressed and questions unanswered.”
According to Ojo, “The church disagrees with the findings concerning the aircraft that hovered over the six-storey building because there was evidence before the court that the incident could have been brought about by external forces such as controlled demolition or an explosion. “The verdict did not even refer to the CCTV footage which showed the 6-storey building falling in less than 4 seconds – a manner consistent with controlled or externally induced demolition – nor did it refer to the interim report and investigation by the Nigerian Police which pointed to sabotage by external forces.”
Ojo said the church also disagreed with the finding that foundation failure was a remote cause “because that is contrary to the overwhelming expert evidence of the structural engineers invited to the coroner who eliminated foundation failure as a possible cause. “The recommendation for the investigation and prosecution of the contractors and structural engineers used by the church for criminal negligence is premature because it gives the impression the coroner has found them guilty when a coroner is not allowed in law to make any finding of civil or criminal liability against anybody.”
The counsel noted that “recommendation for the investigation of The SCOAN for not possessing the relevant building permits is unwarranted because it did not take into account the evidence that the church had started processing the relevant building approval before the incident.
As a matter of fact, the amount payable for the processing had already been assessed by the appropriate government agencies. “The recommendation that statutory responders should be adequately equipped was informed by the fact that the statutory responders who carried out rescue operations in this case were ill-equipped and ill-trained, and that it was the church that mobilised human and material resources to ensure a successful rescue operation.”
Finally, the coroner recognised that the conduct of the investigation of the incident was compromised by the failure of the appropriate government agencies to take necessary steps to secure and preserve the scene of the incident, which calls into question the integrity and reliability of the entire investigation.”