The trial of the trustees of the Synagogue Church of all Nations (SCOAN) and the two engineers being held responsible for the collapse of a six-storey building under construction at the church which killed 116 people in September 2014 was stalled on Monday over procedural irregularities.
The SCOAN trustees representing the church, two engineers – Messrs Oladele Ogundeji and Akinbela Fatiregun and their companies, Hardrock Construction and Engineering Company and Jandy Trust Limited – were arraigned in April on a 111-count charge that borders on criminal negligence, manslaughter and failure to obtain a building permit.
As trial commenced on Monday, Lagos state director of public prosecution, Mrs Idowu Alakija, who appeared for the state, informed the court that one of the eight prosecution witnesses, Mr Adebayo Musiliu Olayinka, was in court and was ready to testify.
The lead defence counsel, Chief Lateef Fagbemi (SAN) however objected to the witness giving evidence, stating that his witness statement was not forwarded to the defence team as required by law.
He stated that among the eight witnesses listed by the state’s prosecuting counsel, only three had their statements front loaded and served on the defence team. He added that the essence of front-loading witnesses’ statements was to allow the defence to adequately prepare for the cross-examination of witnesses.
Fagbemi therefore insisted that allowing the witness to testify without a statement would amount to an ambush against the defence and cited several sections of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) to support his argument.
Counsel to other defendants in the matter, Mrs Titi Akinlawon (SAN), Chief EL Akpofure (SAN) and Olalekan Ojo, also aligned themselves with Fagbemi’s submission.
The prosecution counsel, Mrs Alakija argued in response that the fact that the witness’ statement was not filed and served on the defence does not preclude the witness from testifying in court.
The presiding judge, Justice Lateef Lawal-Akapo however upheld the argument of the defence and insisted that the witness’ statement must be filed and served on them. He subsequently adjourned the matter till June 1, 2016.