Ikeja – An Ikeja High Court fixed March 3 for ruling on a suit filed by the Synagogue Church Of All Nations against the ongoing coroner’s inquest into its collapsed guest house building.
Justice Lateefa Okunnu reserved the date on Friday after hearing the reply on points of law filed by the church’s counsel, Chief Lateef Fagbemi.
The inquest was set up by the Lagos State Government to investigate the Sept.12, 2014 building collapse which killed 116 people, mainly South Africans.
However, the church and its founder, Prophet Temitope Joshua, had sued the government and the coroner, Mr Oyetade Komolafe, over the inquest.
The applicants had asked for a judicial review of the proceedings before the coroner’s inquest which began on Oct.13, 2014.
They had asked the court to determine whether the witness summons served on Joshua to appear before the coroner did not constitute an infringement on his right to fair hearing.
The plaintiffs also asked the court to declare that Komolafe had exceeded the jurisdiction of a coroner’s court by delving into areas that were beyond its scope.
In his reply on points of law, Fagbemi faulted the submissions of the respondents’ Counsel, Mr Akinjide Bakare, who had earlier told the court to dismiss the suit.
He argued that the Lagos State Coroner’s Law 2007 only empowered the coroner to determine the cause of death and to identify the body of the deceased.
Fagbemi urged Okunnu to stop the coroner’s inquest from becoming “a floodgate for all manners of incursion under the guise of investigation.
“My lord, I submit respectfully sir, that even in the wider interpretation of the words ‘how’ and ‘manner,’ none of these words can accommodate the situation here to allow the coroner to go beyond mere investigation as to the cause of death,” he said.
According to him, taking evidence on the issues of approval and construction of the collapsed building are clearly outside the scope and jurisdiction of the coroner’s court.
Fagbemi said it was not in dispute that the coroner had invited people to come and give evidence on whether approval was sought and obtained or the kind of materials used for the building.
He said that although the coroner’s system was not adversarial, its findings could, however, be used by anybody to file a law suit against his client.
Fagbemi argued that Sections 32 and 33 of the Coroner Law did not empower the coroner to compel people to testify before the inquest.
He also accused Komolafe of bias, adding that the coroner had demonstrated personal interest in the subject matter.
The senior advocate of Nigeria, therefore, urged the court to grant the application and declare the coroner proceedings null and void.
However, Bakare, argued that the coroner had extensive powers to investigate the cause and circumstances of death to bring his findings and recommendations to the attention of appropriate authorities.
He said: “In doing this, he has all the powers of a magistrate to summon and compel the attendance of witnesses.
Bakare argued that in order to determine the cause of death, the coroner had the latitude to investigate issues pertaining to building approval, soil testing and materials used in the construction of the collapsed building. (NAN)