As proceedings continue at the Coroner’s Inquest into the cause of the building collapse at The Synagogue, Church Of All Nations (SCOAN), more clarifications are emerging concerning the true circumstances surrounding the sad event of September 12, 2014. On Wednesday, October 29, 2014, marking the fourth day of the inquest, two witnesses testified under cross-examination on major grey areas concerning the collapse.
The state pathologist, Professor Obafunwa who was cross-examined under oath by one of the counsels to The SCOAN, Ojo Olalekan, upheld that it was not appropriate for anyone to state categorically whether or not there was a blast leading to the collapse, contrary to reports in some sections of the media claiming that he had ruled out the theory of explosion as cause of the collapse. He added that it was premature to make conclusions since the final report was still being expected. The pathologist also admitted to have conducted autopsies on only two bodies on the 22nd of September, 2014, precisely ten days after the incident. Reacting to the question as to whether he took samples of debris from the site of the collapse to ascertain the cause, Prof Obafunwa posited that it was not his duty to ascertain the cause of the collapse.
According to Olalekan, any attempt at preempting the complexion of the final report amounts to speculation, which negates the essence of the inquest. The session which commenced at exactly 9:04 am had the courtroom filled to capacity with counsels from The SCOAN, the Lagos State Government, representatives of interested parties as well as journalists from the local and international media.
The presiding magistrate, Justice Oyetade Komolafe maintained that the inquest is purely a fact-finding mission aimed at preventing future recurrences of building collapse. He urged the witnesses to testify in good faith and with the greatest regard to their conscience, observing that there was no intention to witch-hunt or prosecute anybody. Similarly, while expressing his satisfaction with proceedings at the sitting, lead counsel to The SCOAN, Lateef Fagbemi (SAN) observed: “I am just relying on the assurances by the coroner that they are not prosecuting anybody but on a fact-finding mission. And we have responsibilities and duties to assist in that area. And that is what we are doing”.
Meanwhile, the witness representing the Nigerian Red Cross, Mr. Oladimeji Ige, while testifying, affirmed that during rescue operations after the collapse, he and his team enjoyed the co-operation of members of The SCOAN, who had thronged the scene of the incident passionately assisting in the rescue efforts. He also refuted widespread allegations in some quarters that members of the church barred rescue operators from carrying out their statutory duties at the scene of the incident:
“Immediately I got the emergency calls, I beckoned on my team and about 45 people responded to the clarion call. Personally, I got there at 5pm but my members had been on the site working ahead. When I got to the main entrance, the church officials quickly let me in and at the entrance of the gate to the site, I saw officials of relevant agencies like NEMA and LASEMA. We worked all round the clock. Sincerely, the church assisted us by providing 10 ambulances because the only one we had came to the scene on the second day which was Saturday, 13 September, 2014. Yes, I admit that the church authorities were good and helpful to us. They were so passionate about the rescue operations. And I can tell you categorically that they never stopped us from doing our job. Rather, their efforts really covered our inadequacies”. Ige’s version of events contradicted the account of Mr Ibrahim Farinloye who alleged that NEMA and other rescue operators were barred from performing their duties by members of The SCOAN.
Interestingly, different groups of people, including the disabled and destitute, stormed the court premises with different placards requesting the court not to be a tool in the hands of some mischievous people who might want to scuttle the truth. Some of the placards had inscriptions such as “TB JOSHUA IS THE REAL VICTIM, STOP ADDING TO HIS PAINS”, “GIVE US ANSWERS ABOUT THE MISSING JETS THAT HOVERED OVER THE STRUCTURE” and “STOP CHASING SHADOWS AND FACE THE FACTS”.
The sitting was adjourned to the following day being Thursday, October 30, 2014.
Mr Nosa Osazuwa – freelance journalist