by Adedayo Ademuwagun
It’s now two months since the Synagogue church building crashed and one month since the coroner’s inquest started. So how’s the inquest coming along?
The inquest has been happening at the Lagos High Court in Ikeja. It’s an inquiry into the manner and cause of the building crash, and it’s headed by Alexander Komolafe. The purpose of the inquest is to find out the facts and establish the truth about this accident.
There’s been some controversy about the accident since it happened, and many people have clamoured for the government to take strong action concerning the matter in order to bring justice and avert a recurrence. This is the background of the inquest.
Here are the highlights of the case.
The case opens on a promising note. The coroner gets straight to business and tries to get everyone to understand the purpose of the inquest. “We’re not here to prosecute anyone,” he says. “I don’t want us to see each other as opponents. We’re all in this together. It’s not a win or lose thing. We’re here to find the cause of this incident so that it will not happen again. That’s why we’re here.”
The coroner and others visit the church to observe the collapse site. He tells the church to give the Lagos state forensic team a list of the people who were at the building before it collapsed in order to help the doctors identify the victims.
The Lagos fire brigade chief, Adebayo Musiliu, tells the court that the building didn’t collapse because of an explosion. “The collapsed building did not depict any sign of explosion or implosion,” he says. “All the bodies recovered were whole and not dismembered or burnt. There were no scattered bricks. The floors and pillars were also not shattered.”
The coroner summons TB Joshua to appear on November 5, despite objection from the church’s lawyers.
Professor John Obafunwa, Lagos chief forensic pathologist, testifies about the autopsy they’ve done. He says their autopsy showed that the dead victims were crushed to death and it showed no signs that the victims died in an explosion. He also says his team has begun DNA and dental analysis of the bodies in order to identify the people.
Ibrahim Farinloye, National Emergency Management Agency chief, tells the court that the church people harassed him and his men and impeded them from working when they got to the place on the first day. But the church’s lawyers question his narrative.
They also try to establish that the NEMA team didn’t arrive quickly enough and with all the needed equipment, and that the church had begun the rescue work before NEMA arrived.
Red Cross testifies in favour of Synagogue, saying the church’s response was “good”.
Spokesman Ige Oladimeji tells the court that the church people didn’t bar him and his team from entering the collapse site. He says they were cooperative.
“When we got to the place, we met NEMA and LASEMA there, but we didn’t see them carrying out any rescue operations. Some volunteers, presumably from the church, were already at the site evacuating victims and moving them to the hospital in ambulances. The church provided those ambulances. So what we did was to work with them in the rescue operations.”
The Lagos commissioner for physical planning and urban development, Toyin Ayinde, admits the collapsed building lacked certain government approval, but he says even if it did, it could still have collapsed.
“That a building does not have a plan is not a determinant of structural defects because there are buildings with official approval, but have collapsed. Yes, a building in Jakande Estate, Isolo recently collapsed due to structural defects even though it had a duly approved plan.”
The Lagos State Emergency Management Agency boss, Dr. Femi Osanyintolu, testifies that he and his men were fully equipped on the ground to rescue victims, but the church people impeded them. He says the police let this happen and didn’t stop the “obstructers”.
TB Joshua is expected in court today but he doesn’t turn up. His lawyers say there was a problem with the summon. With a stern caution, the coroner sets a new date to November 20.
Synagogue’s lawyers play a video clip said to have been captured by the church’s CCTV camera. The clip shows a scene where the church people cooperate calmly with LASEMA. The LASEMA boss challenges the clip.
The Ikotun police chief CSP Haruna Alaba tells the court that the police arrived at the scene on time. He says he and his men did well to control traffic and manage the crowd that trooped to the scene, so that emergency responders could do their job. He also testifies that the church’s volunteers responded well to rescue survivors before emergency people arrived.
The court sittings have been quite amicable so far with some dose of humour. For instance, a witness kept on telling the lawyer questioning him to let him comment on what happened on the third day of the accident. “I want to go to the third day, my lord.”
Later, someone at the back of the court stood up to leave the room. He told his friend, “I’ll be back soon. I want to go to the third day.”
The case will continue on November 19.