Synagogue: Court Stops Engineers’ Prosecution

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The Federal High Court in Lagos yesterday restrained Lagos State from prosecuting two engineers, who built the collapsed guest house of the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN).

Justice Ibrahim Buba granted an order of injunction barring the commissioner of police from arresting and detaining the applicants.

The orders, the judge said, will subsist, until the engineers’ appeal against his earlier ruling is determined by the Court of Appeal.

Ruling on the engineers’ application for injunction pending appeal, Justice Buba urged the prosecution to ensure that the appeal is heard expeditiously.

He said he could vacate the restraining order, if the engineers fail to prosecute their appeal promptly.

“In the circumstances of this case, the counter affidavit has not been able to show that I should not exercise my discretion judicially and judiciously.

“Even though the applicants had suffered defeat in this court, I am inclined to granting this application on the caveat or rider that the applicants must pursue their appeal diligently and vigorously so that justice can be done to all parties.

“The application for injunction pending appeal has merit and is granted.

“If the applicants fail to prosecute the appeal diligently, the order can be vacated by this court or the Court of Appeal depending on the situation, the time and place,” Justice Buba held.

Lagos State had preferred a 111-count charge against the Registered Trustees of SCOAN and the engineers over the collapsed building.

Their arraignment was stalled on Monday. Justice Lateef Lawal-Akapo of the Ikeja High Court adjourned till December 11 because of the state’s inability to serve three of the defendants with the charge.

The state, however, alleged that the “address given by the applicant in his testimony before the Coroner has been found to be false”.

The charge borders on the defendants’ alleged failure to obtain approval for the collapsed building contrary to Section 41 of the Urban and Regional Planning Laws of Lagos State.

They were also charged with involuntary manslaughter contrary to Section 222 of the Criminal Law of Lagos State.

The engineers – Oladele Ogundeji and Akinbela Fatiregun – had appealed against Justice Buba’s November 9 ruling on their fundamental rights suit.

They sought to prevent their trial over the collapse which occurred in September 12 last year, killing 116 persons, including South Africans.

The engineers had urged the court to restrain Lagos State government and the police from inviting, arresting or prosecuting them after they were indicted by a District Coroner, Oyetade Komolafe, a magistrate.

The Coroner held in his verdict that the building collapsed due to structural defects. He recommended the engineers for investigation and prosecution for alleged criminal negligence.

But Justice Buba dismissed the application on the basis that the engineers did not make a successful case that their rights were about to be infringed. Dissatisfied, the engineers appealed.

Arguing the application yesterday, the applicant’s counsel, Olalekan Ojo, said: “The whole essence of the application is to protect the constitutional right of the applicants by preserving the intangible res of arrest and prosecution of the applicants. The interest of justice leans in favour of the preservation of the res.”

But the state, through its lawyer Akinjide Bakare, prayed the court to refuse the application. He said it was another attempt to stop the implementation of the Coroner’s recommendations.

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