The trial of the trustees of the Synagogue Church of all Nations
(SCOAN) and the two engineers involved in the construction of the collapsed six-storey guest house that left over 116 dead, started on a shaky note monday as a prosecution witness scheduled to testify in the matter was disallowed by the court.
The SCOAN trustees, two engineers, Messrs Oladele Ogundeji and Akinbela Fatiregun and their companies, Hardrock Construction and Engineering Company and Jandy Trust Limited – were last month arraigned on a 111-count charge for their involvement in the September 12, 2014 collapse of a six-storey guest house belonging to the church, which led to the death of 116 persons.
The 111-count charge preferred against the defendants by the Lagos State Government borders on criminal negligence, manslaughter and failure to obtain a building permit. At the scheduled commencement of the trial yesterday, Mrs. Idowu Alakija, the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), informed the court that one of the eight prosecution witnesses, Adebayo Musiliu Olayinka, was in court and was ready to testify. But the lead defence counsel, Chief Lateef Fagbemi (SAN) objected to the witness giving evidence, stating that his witness statement was not forwarded to the defence team as required by law. Fagbemi argued that in criminal proceedings, the proper practice is for the prosecuting team to serve the defence with a list of witnesses and their statements. 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. Fagbemi held that the essence of front-loading witnesses’ statements was to allow the defence to adequately prepare for the cross-examination of witnesses. He insisted that allowing the witness to testify without a statement would amount to an ambush against the defence. Fagbemi quoted several sections of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) to support his argument and urged the court to dismiss the witness until his statement was served on the defence.
Counsel to other defendants in the matter, Mrs. Titi Akinlawon (SAN), Chief E.L Akpofure (SAN) and Olalekan Ojo, also aligned themselves with the submission of Fagbemi. Responding to the argument of the defence team, Mrs. Alakija insisted that the fact that the witness’ statement was not filed and served on the defence does not preclude the witness from testifying in court. Ruling on the objection, Justice Lateef Lawal-Akapo 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.