Finally, Synagogue Church trustees, engineers arraigned for manslaughter
The long awaited arraignment of the trustees of the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN), the two engineers who constructed the collapsed six-storey guest house belonging to the church and their companies finally took place yesterday before an Ikeja High Court.
Justice Lateef Lawal-Akapo ordered their arraignment after dismissing separate applications filed by the defendants through their counsel seeking to stay proceedings of the High Court pending their appeal at the Court of Appeal.
The judge also remanded the two engineers, Oladele Ogundeji and Akinbela Fatiregun, in Kirikiri Maximum Prison.
The Lagos State Government had, late last year, slammed a 111-count criminal charge against the trustees of the church, the two engineers, and their companies – Hardrock Construction and Engineering Company and Jandy Trust Limited – for their involvement in the September 12, 2014 collapse of a six-storey guest house belonging to the church, which led to the death of 116 persons.
But the defendants had deployed several tactics to stall their arraignment by filing various pre-trial applications.
The 111-count charge brought against the defendants borders on criminal negligence, manslaughter and failure to obtain a building permit.
Justice Lawal-Akapo in his ruling said: “Section 273 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) states that subject to the constitution, an application for a stay of proceedings in respect of a criminal matter before the High Court should not be entertained before the court.
“I find no merit in the two applications, they are lacking in merit and substance. This is a clear case of abuse of court processes to the irritation and annoyance of the court.”
Immediately after Justice Lawal-Akapo’s ruling, the lead counsel representing the defendants made several attempts to convince the court not to proceed with the arraignment.
While Chief Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), representing SCOAN, argued that it would be improper to proceed with the arraignment since the day’s business of the court was for ruling, Chief Efe Akpofure (SAN), representing Hardrock Construction Company, said he had just lost his mother and would not be able to proceed.
The judge however overruled them and ordered that the charges be read to the accused persons.
The case was adjourned to April 26 for hearing of the defendants’ bail applications.
The defendants had in their applications dated February 17 and March 3 prayed for an order adjourning further hearing pending the determination of their application before the Court of Appeal.
Mrs. Titi Akinlawon (SAN), counsel to Fatiregun, had argued that “the essence of the application for adjournment is that the High Court ruled that the hearing notices served on the fifth defendant were proper, a ruling we are appealing at the higher court.
“We also have before the court an application for stay of proceedings to await the decision of the Court of Appeal. On this strength, I appeal that an adjournment be granted by this court”.
Counsel to Ogundeji and Jandy Trust, Akpofure, had objected to the inclusion of Jandy Trust as one of the defendants.
Akpofure argued that there was no evidence against the second defendant (Jandy Trust Limited) and it was never mentioned by the witnesses for the state.
“There is nowhere it was stated that the second defendant was awarded the building contract.
“The argument of the state that the trial of the second defendant to go on holds no water.
“I urge your lordship to quash this information relating to the second defendant as there was no mention of my client in the proof of evidence,” he submitted.
Counsel to the trustees of SCOAN, Fagbemi, agreed with the submission by Akpofure that Jandy Trust Limited should be excluded from the charge.
But Mrs. Idowu Alakija, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in Lagos State, objected to their applications for adjournment, adding that Section 273 of the ACJA should guide the proceedings of the court.