By Alex OLISE, Senior Investigator Reporter, Lagos.
A Lagos division of the Court of Appeal has reserved judgment in the appeal filed by the defendants appellants in the case of the collapsed Synagogue of All Church Nations building, which collapse four years ago after a strange aircraft flew over the building. Justice Lateef Lawal-Akapo, of a Lagos State High Court had on March 9, 2018 dismissed the no case submission filed by the defendants appellants. The Judge, in his ruling said that the state had established a prima facie case against the defendants appellants to warrant them being called upon to defend themselves. Dissatisfied with the ruling of the lower court, the defendants appellants: Ms. Oladele Ogundeji and Akinbela Fatiregun charged alongside their companies – Hardrock Construction and Engineering Company and Jandy Trust Ltd , approached the appellate court asking the appellate court to upturn the ruling. Four Senior Advocates of Nigeria who represented the defendants appellants: Efe Akpofure, Titilola Akinlawon, Akeem Afolabi and Olalekan Ojo, canvassed vigorously, their arguments against that of the Director of Public Prosecution, Lagos State Ministry of Justice, Ms. Titilayo Shitta – Bey. The defendants appellants lawyers, argued before a three man panel headed by the presiding Justice, Mr. Justice Abraham Georgewill, that there’s no prima facie evidence linking the defendants appellants with the charges filed against them. Besides, they contended that the state has not been able to establish the necessary ingredients of the offences against the defendants appellants. Specifically, Olalekan Ojo SAN, told the appellate court that his client was charged for committing manslaughter in respect of certain named persons. “My Lord, no name of any of the deceased person was given. Furthermore, no documentary evidence, no death certificate issued to show cause of death, as well as identity of those who died and we filed a no case submission. In the absence of these vital pieces of evidence, there cannot be any case against them”, he argued. On her part, Mrs. Titilola Akinlawon SAN, told the three man panel that the prosecution presented not an iota of evidence and up till now the prosecution has not pointed to any offense committed by the defendants appellants. “We argued before the lower court that the prosecution had no scintilla of evidence that is credible and we made a no case submission but, the court overruled us that is why we are here.”
But, responding, the DPP, Ms. Titilayo Shitta – Bey, urged the court to dismiss the appeal and uphold the ruling of the lower court. According to her: “The pathologist examined the deceased and he was also in court to give evidence.”
The Lagos State government had sued the church over the guesthouse that collapsed on September 12, 2014 which resulted in several deaths. The defendants appellants are facing 110-count charge of involuntary manslaughter while the Registered Trustees of SCOAN were charged with one count of building without approval. The Lagos State Directorate of Public Prosecutions accused the defendants of violating Section 75 of the Urban and Regional Planning Law of Lagos State 2010 as well as Section 222 of the Criminal Law of Lagos State 2011. They were arraigned on April 19, 2016, but they pleaded ‘not guilty’. The prosecution subsequently opened its case, called witnesses and tendered documents to prove the allegations against the defendants. However, upon the close of the prosecution’s case in October 2017, the defendants, rather than enter their defence, filed a ‘no-case’ submission, contending that the prosecution failed to establish a prima facie case against them. The defence insisted there was nothing in the evidence by the prosecution to warrant their client to proceed into any defence.
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