lagos—Hearing in the suit challenging the decision of the Lagos State Government to enforce the recent Coroner’s indictment of the Synagogue Church of all Nations will commence before the Federal High Court in Lagos on Monday, October 19.
It will be recalled that 116 persons including South Africans died in a building collapse disaster at the Synagogue Church on September 12, 2014. There were local and international calls for a thorough investigation and possible prosecution to give justice to the victims.
After over a year of legal twists and turns initiated by the Synagogue Church, the Coroner’s inquest into the building collapse delivered a ruling which amongst other things indicted the Synagogue Church of all Nations for criminal negligence and recommended that it be prosecuted.
Immediately after the Coroner’s verdict, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode in a determined move, pledged to enforce the verdict to the letter vowing to seek justice for the victims of the disaster no matter the circumstances. He ordered the Law enforcement agencies to immediately arrest the indicted persons and enforce the verdict.
But in a move to forestall the enforcement, the indicted Engineers of the Synagogue Church approached the Federal High Court seeking the enforcement of their fundamental human rights to fair hearing, human dignity and personal liberty as provided under Sections 34, 35 and 36 of the Constitution
They argued that the Nigerian Police, Council of Registered Engineers of Nigeria (COREN) and the Lagos State Government (Respondents) will act upon the Coroner’s findings by proceeding to arrest, investigate and/or prosecute them for criminal negligence. They also contended that if they are arrested and prosecuted it would amount to a likely breach of their fundamental human rights to fair hearing, human dignity and personal liberty. The indicted Engineers are therefore praying the court for a nullification of the Coroner’s verdict, as well as a perpetual injunction restraining the Nigerian Police from arresting or interrogating them. They also want a perpetual injunction restraining COREN from causing them to appear before any investigatory or disciplinary panel.
The Lagos State Government has however filed a counter affidavit and preliminary objections to the suit contending amongst other things that Synagogue Church were granted audience at the Coroner’s Court and availed the opportunity of tendering their depositions and making oral evidence. It also contended that the Coroner did not issue a “judicial indictment” on the Applicants but made recommendations that the Applicants be investigated and if found culpable, prosecuted for criminal negligence.
Lagos State also filed a Notice of Preliminary Objection on grounds that the Synagogue’s Engineers’ complaints are a challenge to the Coroner’s verdict and not for the enforcement of their fundamental human rights and the Court lacks the jurisdiction to adjudicate over this suit since the Respondents are not agencies of the Federal Government.
However, sources at the Lagos State Ministry of Justice disclosed that in line with Governor Ambode’s pledge to the citizens, the government will pursue the enforcement of the Coroners verdict until its logical conclusion to ensure the victims of the disaster get justice.