AFTER 10 months of sitting, the Lagos Coroner’s Inquest into the collapse of a six-storey building belonging to the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN), yesterday, in Ikeja indicted the church for “criminal negligence” and recommended that it be prosecuted. 116 people died in the tragic incident.
The court said the Church did not get the necessary permit or approval before commencing construction of the building.
The Lagos State Government inaugurated the Coroner’s Inquest under the state’s Coroner’s System Law No. 7 of 2007 to investigate the cause and circumstances leading to the death of 116 people, mostly South Africans, following the building collapse of September 12, 2014, and bring its findings and recommendations to the appropriate authorities.
The Coroner’s Court, presided over by Chief Magistrate Oyetade Komolafe, in its verdict, held that the “death of victims of the collapse was consistent with blunt force trauma that would normally be sustained from a collapsed building.”
Komolafe noted that most of the victims sustained various injuries ranging from haemorrhage, loss of limbs, crushed bones, multiple rib fractures, perforation of the lungs, destruction of left tibia vessels, strangulation, and chest wounds.
He said the alleged aircraft which SCOAN claimed hovered over the building minutes before it collapsed was not the cause of the collapse of the building.
Mr. Komolafe called out the names of the 116 victims and gave specific details on the causes of their deaths. He said 60 of them were males while there were 56 females, including a six-year-old child. He said six of the victims were yet to be identified. Eighty-five of the victims were South Africans, 22 Nigerians, two Beninoise and two Togolese nationals.
The Coroner’s Court also held that structural failure due to combination of designs and detailing errors were the cause of the building collapse.
It added that the state government should as a matter of urgency carry out detailed ‘fitness for habitation test’ on all the structures/buildings within the premises of the Synagogue Church of All Nations, situated at Segun Irefin Street, Bolorunpelu, Egbe, Lagos State.
On the conduct of the Police at the scene of the accident and the testimony given by the Police at the Coroner’s Court, Magistrate Komolafe recommended that the DPO attached to Ikotun Division of the Nigeria Police, CSP Haruna Alaba, be replaced immediately because he has become too compromised to lead a credible investigation. He said Mr. Alaba failed to take note of what was happening in his area and had to rely on information from the Police headquarters.
He equally charged the government to reduce the cost of obtaining necessary building permits/approvals as well as removing all administrative bottlenecks to encourage individuals/organizations go through the due process of obtaining necessary permits before commencement of building construction.
Komolafe said: “Alleged aircraft was not the cause of the building collapse. Building permits/approval was not obtained in respect of the collapsed building. The foundation failure was a remote cause of the collapsed building.”
The court said that the contractors Oladele Ogundeji and Akinbela Fatiregun, both engineers) of HardRock Construction Co. Ltd., who handled the collapsed building project for SCOAN be investigated and tried for criminal negligence by the relevant authority.
Magistrate Komolafe pointed out that government agencies must be rid of corruption, including issuance of fake receipts and “greasing of palms” during inspections on construction sites.
The recommendations read in part: “Synagogue Church of All Nations be prosecuted by the relevant authorities for not possessing necessary building permits.
“Individuals/Organizations must endeavour to obtain relevant building permits before commencement of any building construction.
“Individuals/Organizations must engage the services of qualified and competent Engineers/Consultants in carrying out building constructions.
“Relevant authority should carry out detailed ‘fitness for habitation test’ on all the structures/buildings within the premises of the Synagogue Church of All Nations, situated at Segun Irefin Street, Egbe, Lagos State immediately.
“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’ be outsourced to competent professional body that will detect violation of building law and regulations early before any failure.
“Statutory/First Responders should be adequately equipped to perform their functions effectively and efficiently.
“The Government, NGO’s and other ancillary bodies should educate and sensitize the public on the need to always allow the statutory/first responders perform their duties during rescue operations/emergency cases and not take over the duties.
“Government should make it mandatory for professionals involved in the design and supervision of major structural building constructions to have professional indemnity.
“Government should take steps to secure and preserve the site of any collapsed building, so as not to compromise the conduct of investigation at the collapsed site.”
Reacting to the judgement, Mr Olalekan Ojo, counsel to the church and Pastor T. B. Joshua said no findings were made about the church by the coroner and that it never indicted the church for the collapsed building.
Ojo said: “Yes, the court said the church building collapsed due to structural failure but never said the church was guilty of any offence. So, with the situation I never doubt my client may challenge the verdict of the coroner.”