The coroner conducting an inquest into the cause of the building collapse at The Synagogue Church of All Nations, SCOAN, Wednesday, threatened to order the arrest of T.B Joshua, the church’s founder, if he fails to honour the invitation extended to him.
Magistrate Oyetade Komolafe said the court does not owe anyone an explanation for its decision to invite Mr. Joshua.
Mr. Joshua, whose real name is Temitope Balogun Joshua, is billed to testify at the inquest on November 5.
Over 115 people died when a six storey guest house belonging to the church collapsed on September 12.
“If he doesn’t come, he will be arrested, please advise him,” Mr. Oyetade told the church’s counsel at the inquest.
“The sheriff said he has served him (a witness summons) and I have the evidence of that. If he cannot come on that day, he should tell us why he cannot come.”
The magistrate was responding to an earlier suggestion by Lateef Fagbemi, the church’s counsel, that only people who would be of relevance to the court ought to be invited.
“I have gone through all the depositions filed, no mention has been made of Joshua,” Mr. Fagbemi, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, had said.
“I will suggest that it is those who can be of assistance from the SCOAN that will be invited.”
To support his argument, Mr. Fagbemi cited Section 32 of the Coroner Law where the court was vested with the power to summon anyone that can give “material evidence” during an inquest.
“He must be someone who must be able to assist you. Has there been anything said against Joshua?” Mr. Fagbemi argued.
But the coroner stood his ground, reminding the lawyer that the court specifically invited Mr. Jonathan and not The Synagogue Church.
“The church is not our problem here. We summoned the prophet, we summoned the contractors. The prophet is different from the church,” Mr. Komolafe said.
Earlier, during a dramatic and somewhat belligerent cross-examination, John Obafunwa, a professor of Forensic Pathology, said that autopsy on the bodies began on October September 22, ten days after the building collapse.
“The forensic pathologists from South Africa only came for observation, they did not do any other thing,” Mr. Obafunwa responded to claims by the SCOAN lawyer that they were only allowed to take photographs and fingerprints.
“A lawyer will not come from another jurisdiction and appear in a court. Same thing is applicable in the Medical and Dental Council,” Mr. Obafunwa, the Chief Medical Examiner at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja, said.
“For a foreign forensic pathologist to practice, the person will need at least a temporary licence from MDCN (Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria). By the way, their expertise was not in doubt.”
The coroner waded in at intervals to calm the heated exchange between Mr. Obafunwa and the SCOAN lawyer.
“You are a professional. You don’t intimidate your witness. You don’t ask a question to harass a witness,” Mr. Komolafe told Olalekan Ojo, one of SCOAN’s lawyers.
Mr. Obafunwa said if a building collapsed due to explosion, death could arise from a variety of things.
“Some people might die as a result of crush effect, some as a result of fire, fire could result before or after the collapse, some could die as a result of severe blood loss due to shrapnel during the explosion.”
On the claims by the SCOAN lawyer that the embalming of the bodies could have led to the washing off of the evidence that victims died from fire, Mr. Obafunwa said that it was “not possible.”
“You don’t look for smoke inhalation outside the body. Evidence of smoke inhalation is in the lungs,” he said.
Also testifying, Oladimeji Ige, of the Nigeria Red Cross said that church members did not obstruct his men from their duties.
“I did not see NEMA and LASEMA performing search and rescue on the first day. I don’t know the people doing the search and rescue,” said Mr. Ige, Resource Development and Training Officer at the Nigeria Red Cross.
Mr. Ige said that majority of the church members who participated in search and rescue were incapable of administering basic first aid to the victims.
‘Stop the coroner’
In a related development, Olukoya Ogungbeje, a Lagos based lawyer, has approached a Federal High Court in Lagos praying for an order restraining the coroner from conducting further proceedings on the inquest.
Joined as defendants in his suit include the Lagos State Government, the Attorney General of the state, and Mr. Komolafe (the coroner) as first to third defendants.
Mr. Ogungbeje argued that the composition of the Coroner’s inquest was a negation of the principle of natural justice and Section 36 of the Constitution, and as such it was unconstitutional, null and void.
The lawyer further argued that the Lagos State government, who instituted the inquest, had already indicted Mr. Joshua and his church by claiming that he was not given approval to put additional floors on the collapsed building.
“The Lagos State Building Control Agency even went ahead to seal up the main building of the church,” Mr. Ogungbeje said.
“The General Manager of the agency even said in the papers and I quote him as follows ‘we have investigated and found that they had no approval for the additional structures. Even the main church which they have added about three floors on was sealed two days ago.’”
The lawyer urged the court to issue an order nullifying the composition of the Coroner and the proceedings so far, as well as a perpetual injunction restraining the defendants from “further proceeding, sitting, investigating, embarking on fact finding or taking any untoward action in any manner whatsoever on any facts connected to the case.”
The case is yet to be assigned to a judge.