…As court sends accused persons to prison
The Lagos State Government on Tuesday arraigned the Trustees of the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN) and two engineers who constructed the collapsed six-storey building within the premises of the church before a Lagos High Court in Ikeja on 111 counts criminal charge bordering on manslaughter and failure to obtain relevant building approval.
The building which collapsed on September 12, 2014 within the premises of the church in Ikotun area of Lagos had led to the death of 116 persons, most foreign nationals from South Africa.
The accused were arraigned before Justice Lateef Lawal-Akapo despite spirited efforts by the defence team to impress it on the court to reschedule the arraignment.
The two engineers who constructed the collapsed building – Messrs Oladele Ogundeji and Akinbela Fatiregun and their companies – Hardrock Construction and Engineering Company and Jandy Trust Limited were also arraigned alongside the trustees.
The State Government, through the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Adeniji Kazeem had filed the criminal charge against the accused persons since September, 2015 containing but the arraignment could not hold owing to several applications filed by the defence team challenging the competence of the charges.
But at the resumed hearing on Tuesday, the accused persons were specifically arraigned on charges bordering on failure to obtain building approval contrary to Section 75 of the Urban and Regional Planning Law of Lagos State 2010 and involuntary manslaughter causing death contrary to Section 222 of the Criminal Law of Lagos State 2011.
Since the charges were filed, the defendants had deployed several tactics to stall their arraignment by filing several applications including the instant applications which was dismissed by Justice Lawal-Akapo to pave way for the arraignment.
The lead counsel representing the defendants had made several efforts to convince the court not to proceed with the arraignment, but same was rejected by the court.
On his part, Chief Lateef Fagbemi (SAN) representing SCOAN argued that it would be improper for the court to proceed with the arraignment, since the business of the day was for ruling, while Chief E. L. Akpofure (SAN) representing Hardrock Construction Company said he would not be able to proceed because he just lost his mother
Mrs. Titilola Akinlawon (SAN) and Olalekan Ojo who represented the 3rd-5th defendants also aligned themselves with the argument canvassed by Fagbemi.
Justice Lawal-Akapo, however, overruled them and ordered that the charges be read in court to the accused persons, noting that criminal trials are to be heard expeditiously in line with Section 8 of the National Judicial Policy and that there was nothing stopping him from proceeding with arraignment.
The defendants in the suit are: the Registered Trustees of Synagogue Church of All Nation (SCOAN), Hardrock Construction and Engineering Company, Jadny Trust Limited, Oladele Ogundeji and Akinbela Fatiregun.
Those in court for the arraignment included the representative of the SCOAN Trustees, Mr. Niyi Jegede, Oladele Ogundeji and Akinbela Fatiregun who equally represented their companies.
They all pleaded not guilty after the charges were read to them, while the Prosecution team led by Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), Mrs. Idowu Alakija applied for the defendants who are not corporate bodies to be reminded in prison custody.
Based on the DPP’s application, the court ordered that Ogundeji and Fatiregun be remanded in Kirikiri prison pending trial.
The matter was subsequently adjourned to May 19th, 20th, 23rd, June 1st, 2nd and 3rd for trial.