The Federal High Court in Lagos yesterday dismissed applications by the two engineers who built the collapsed six-storey guest house of the Synagogue Church Of All Nations (SCOAN).
Justice Ibrahim Buba dismissed their rights enforcement suits which sought to prevent their arrest, saying they lacked merit.
Oladele Ogundeji and Akinbela Fatiregun had sought to prevent their trial over the fatality which occurred last September 12, killing 116 persons.
They urged the court to restrain the Lagos State government and the police from inviting, arresting or prosecuting them after they were indicted by a District Coroner, Oyetade Komolafe.
After an inquest, the coroner held in his verdict that the building collapsed due to structural defects.
Ogundeji and Fatiregun filed two suits against the Commissioner of Police, the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN), the Lagos Attorney-General and Komolafe.
The applicants prayed the court to declare that the police lack the power to act on the coroner’s verdict to investigate or prosecute them.
Among others, they wanted the court to perpetually restrain the Attorney-General or any officer under his authority from initiating or commencing criminal proceedings against them on the basis of the coroner’s findings and recommendations.
The engineers had, through their lawyer, Mr. Olalekan Ojo, rejected the coroner’s verdict, describing it as “unreasonable, one-sided and biased.”
But the respondents, in a preliminary objection, contended that the applicants’ main complaint is not for enforcement of their fundamental human rights but to challenge the Coroner’s verdict.
Dismissing the application, Justice Buba held the engineers did not make a successful case that their rights were about to be infringed.
He ruled on one of the applications and adopted it for the second engineer’s similar application.
According to him, the Coroner’s Law was an enactment of the Lagos State House of Assembly constitutionally empowered to make laws.
“The Federal High Court cannot dabble into the affairs of the state and start dishing out injunctive orders,” said the judge.
Upholding the respondents’ preliminary objection, the judge added: “The coroner’s inquest is not a court of law. It does not find anybody guilty. It only recommends.”
Arguing the application, Ojo had said: “The fulcrum of the applicants’ case is that they were not charged with any offence before the coroner; they merely appeared as witnesses and the coroner went on to indict them of criminal negligence and it is a nullity.
But the respondents, through a senior state counsel Mr. A. Bakare argued that the engineers’ case was not about fundamental rights enforcement but intended to stop government agents from performing their statutory duties.
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Source: The Nation