The coroner’s inquest, which investigated the circumstances that led to the collapse of a six-storey guest house belonging to the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN), yesterday indicted the church founded by Mr. Temitope Balogun Joshua for the collapse.
The 10-month long inquest, presided over by Chief Magistrate Oyetade Komolafe, in its verdict, also indicted the structural engineers – Messrs Oladele Ogundeji and Akinbela Fatiregun of Hardrock Construction – who supervised the construction of the building, and recommended that they should be investigated and tried for criminal negligence.
The coroner further recommended that the church should be investigated and tried for not obtaining the necessary permit before constructing the collapsed building, which resulted in the death of 116 people including several South African nationals.
The Lagos State Government had inaugurated the coroner’s Inquest under the state 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 on September 12, 2014.
Komolafe also recommended that CSP Haruna Alaba, the Divisional Police Officer, Ikotun Police Station, should forthwith be transferred from the said station because he failed to take note of what was happening in his area and had to rely on information from the police headquarters.
“The Synagogue Church of All Nations should be investigated and prosecuted under the law by the relevant authority for not possessing the necessary building permits.
“The relevant authority should carry out a detailed ‘fitness for habitation test’ on all the structures/buildings within the premises of the Synagogue Church of All Nations situated at Segun Irefin St., Ikotun, Lagos State,” the coroner stated.
The inquest, which commenced sitting on October 13, 2014 and also visited the scene on October 16, took evidence from 32 witnesses including the Lagos State Building Control Agency, Lagos State Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development, Lagos State Ministry of Works, the surveyor-general of the state, SCOAN building contractors, Standard Organisation of Nigeria and Lagos State Ministry of Tourism.
Also called to testify were the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Lagos State Emergency Management Agency, Nigerian Red Cross, Lagos State Fire Service and Lagos State Transport Management Authority (LASTMA).
The general overseer and founder of SCOAN, Joshua was also invited to testify, but never showed up.
Joshua, instead, had challenged the jurisdiction of the court by filing an application before the High Court, seeking a judicial review of the coroner’s inquest into the building’s collapse.
He had asked the court to declare that the coroner had exceeded the jurisdiction of a coroner’s court by delving into areas that were beyond its scope.
Even though Justice Lateefa Okunnu dismissed Joshua’s application, Joshua refused to appear before the coroner’s court, as his counsel appealed the lower court’s ruling at the Court of Appeal.
Komolafe, in his verdict yesterday, said of the 116 persons who died as a result of the collapsed building, six were yet to be identified by the medical examiners.
“A total of 85 victims were of South African origin, 22 Nigerians, two Beninoise and one Togolese.
“The dead comprised 60 males and 56 females; among the male victims was a child of about six years.
“The varying injuries seen on the victims were consistent with blunt force trauma that would normally be sustained from a collapsed building,” Komolafe said.
The chief magistrate also dismissed the suggestion by the church and its witnesses that the collapse was caused by a mysterious aircraft which allegedly hovered over the said building moments before it went down.
He said from the CCTV footage of the incident and the testimony of witness from the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), the said aircraft flew over 1,100 feet above the building.
“The aircraft was 103 floors above the collapsed building. There was no direct hovering of the aircraft above the building and people could be seen going about their normal activities when the incident occurred,” the coroner said.
He also dismissed the testimony of an explosives and weapons expert, Mr. Biedomo Iguniwei, who testified that the building may have collapsed due to infrasonic radiation.
According to him, there was no carbon monoxide found in the lungs of any of the victims to have suggested that there was a bomb blast or fire incident.
Komolafe added that the reports tendered by Nigerian Building and Research Institute, Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN) and the Building Collapse Prevention Guild all pointed to a structural defect in the construction of the building.
He said the agencies had in their reports averred that the building collapsed due to under-sizing of its beams and columns.
The coroner also recommended that individuals/organisations must endeavor to obtain the relevant building permits before the construction of buildings.
He advised that individuals/organisations must engage the services of qualified and competent engineers/consultants in carrying out building construction.
“Government agencies responsible for monitoring and inspection at every stage of construction should be alive to their responsibility and vigilant.
“Alternatively, the function of monitoring and inspection should be outsourced to a competent professional body that will detect any violation of building laws and regulations before failure.
“In addition, statutory/first responders should be adequately equipped to perform their functions effectively and efficiently,” he said.
Komolafe also urged the government and other ancillary bodies to educate and sensitise the public on the need to always allow statutory/first responders perform their duties during rescue operations and not take over their duties.
He called for a reduction in the cost of obtaining necessary building permits in order to encourage individuals/organisations to go through the process of obtaining them before construction.
The coroner further advised the government to take steps to secure and preserve the site of any collapsed building, so as not to compromise the conduct of investigation at the site.