The founder of Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN), Temitope Joshua, was absent in court on Monday at the start of the trial over the collapse of a refurbished six-storey building inside his church premises in 2014. The building collapse killed 116 people, mostly South Africans.
In July, Oyetade Komolafe, a coroner, indicted the church and the engineers in charge of the building of “criminal negligence” leading to loss of lives, and recommended that the church and its engineers be prosecuted for manslaughter.
The case kicked off a year and 18 days after the incident, and after several injunctions by some of the defendants failed to stop it from going ahead. Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court in Lagos dismissed a fundamental human rights enforcement suits filed by the engineers (who are listed as defendants), who constructed the collapsed six-storey building.
Though Mr. Joshua was not directly named as a defendant in the trial at a Lagos State High Court in Ikeja, as a member of the church’s board of trustees, he was expected to be in court.
The board of trustees merely sent a representative. When asked why Mr Joshua was not in court, Oluseun Abimbola, the church’s counsel said the board of trustees is a legal entity which could be represented by anybody and not necessarily the church founder.
Lagos State government originally stated that while the engineers would be charged for manslaughter, the church would be charged for a lesser offence of failure to obtain requisite permit before refurbishing the building that was originally a two-storey structure into six storeys.
However, in an email on Sunday, the government said the church’s board of trustees would be the charged alongside the engineers.
Charges where not read to the defendants because the trial could not take off as planned over the failure of the prosecutor, Lagos State government, to serve some of the building engineers.
Therefore, the trial judge Lawal Akapo, adjourned the case to December 11, to allow the state government serve the engineers, Oladele Ogundeji and Akinbela Fatiregun, notice of the trial.
The Attorney General of Lagos State, Adeniyi Kazeem, who led the state’s legal team, said the two defendants couldn’t be served as their addresses were invalid. Mr. Abimbola stated that the defendants were served notices in a related case at a magistrate court that the government should have sent the notice to the same addresses.
Mr. Kazeem said they were served through their lawyers in the previous case, but because this is criminal case, they wanted to serve them directly. Mr. Akapo, who was initially furious that only one of the five defendants wad in court, ruled that it was necessary that the defendants be properly served before trial could commence.
“Service in any proceeding with civil or criminal is very fundamental and anything done in the absence of service is said to be a nullity,” he ruled.
He there gave Mr. Abimbola, who had indicated he could get the correct address of the two defendants, 72 hours to make it available to the government so they can be properly served.
While adjourning the case, Mr. Akapo stated that due to the sensitive nature of the case, he would dispense with it as quickly as possible.
“Cases of this nature should be given accelerated attention and if possible on a day to day bases.”