A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos yesterday dismissed a fundamental right enforcement suit seeking to stop the coroner’s inquest into the September 12 Synagogue building collapse, which killed about 116 people.
A Lagos-based lawyer, Olukoya Ogungbeje, had filed the suit contending that the composition of the coroner was in negation of natural justice as preserved by Section 36 of the Constitution.
The lawyer had argued that the Lagos State Government, through its Attorney General, setting up a coroner to probe the building collapse, could not be a judge in its own case.
Besides, he had argued that the agencies of Lagos State Government that were giving testimonies before the coroner had already made indicting statements against the Synagogue Church of All Nations and its founder, T.B. Joshua prior to the inquest.
But Justice Ibrahim Buba, in a judgment delivered yesterday, said the applicant completely misconstrued the essence of the coroner’s inquest and the roles of the government agencies.
The judge, who held that the coroner was a fact-finding body rather than a litigation court, said it was in the interest of the public to know the circumstances surrounding the death of building collapse victims.
The judge held that more harm would be suffered by the public if the inquest was stopped as opposed to what the SCOAN and Joshua could possibly suffer if it was allowed to go on.
Besides, Justice Buba noted that the coroner was a creation of the law of Lagos State, and stopping the inquest would amount to usurping the power of the executive arm of the Lagos State Government.
“The Coroner Law was made pursuant to the constitutional power of the Lagos State House of Assembly and the court cannot interfere in the administrative arm of the executive, this is because of the fact that Nigeria operates by the system of separation of power,” Justice Buba held.
The judge, while overruling the applicant’s locus standi to institute the action, said neither Joshua nor SCOAN had been shown to be incapacitated to complain in their personal capacity if they felt that their rights were violated.
Justice Buba held, “Prophet T.B. Joshua and the Synagogue Church Of All Nations are not on the moon, they are on earth and they live in Nigeria.”
The judge finally held, “The conclusion of this court is that after a careful consideration of all the issues and arguments, the applicant has failed to make a case of fundamental rights violation. The case lacks merit and it is hereby dismissed.”
The applicant had sued the Lagos State Government, the state’s Attorney General and the coroner set up to probe the cause of the collapse of SCOAN’s six-storey building.
He had contended that a miscarriage of justice would be occasioned against Joshua and SCOAN if the coroner’s inquest was not stopped.