A Lagos State High Court in Ikeja on Friday affirmed the witness summons issued on the Founder, Synagogue Church Of All Nations, Prophet T.B. Joshua, to appear before the coroner probing the cause of death of the 116 persons, who died in the church’s collapsed building on September 12, 2014.
The presiding judge, Justice Lateefa Okunnu, also held that the coroner, Magistrate O.A. Komolafe, had the power to inquire into the cause of the building collapse in his mandate to determine the direct cause and manner of the victims’ death. The judge further held that the allegation of bias levelled against Komolafe by Joshua in the conduct of the inquest was unsubstantiated as the proofs that Joshua adduced were mere conjectures which lacked any evidential weight.
“Having read the transcripts from the proceedings, I regret that I do not share the applicants’ point of view that the respondent has been biased or unfair and has breached the principle of natural justice,” Okunnu held. The judge also struck out the coroner’s court as a respondent in the suit, on the grounds that it was not a juristic person that could be sued.
Following the collapse of the SCOAN’s six-storey guest house on September 12, last year, killing about 116 persons and injuring many, the Lagos State Government had set up the coroner’s inquest to determine the cause of death and the circumstances leading to the mishap.
But weeks into the coroner’s inquest, which began on October 13, last year, Joshua had approached Okunnu asking for a judicial review of the coroner’s proceedings.
Joshua also alleged that the coroner had shown bias against him, arguing that the coroner compromised his neutrality and demonstrated personal interest at the point when he threatened to order Joshua’s arrest for failure to honour the witness summons.
Joshua’s lawyers, Chief Lateef Fagbemi (SAN) and Mr. Olalekan Ojo, also contended that the duty of the coroner did not go beyond ascertaining the reason for the victims’ death. According to them, it is beyond the coroner to enquire into the possible reason why the building wherein the victims perished, collapsed in terms of building approval and the quality of materials used in the construction.