PREMIUM TIMES:Building collapse: Lagos won’t prosecute Synagogue Church for “criminal negligence”

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The Lagos State government has chosen not to prosecute the Synagogue Church of All Nations for criminal negligence as recommended by a coroner’s court which investigated the September 12, 2014 collapse of the church’s guest house.

The crash killed 116 people.

A statement released by Habib Aruna, the chief press secretary to Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, on Thursday, said the church will only be prosecuted for failure to obtain requisite permit before converting the originally two-storey building, to a six-storey structure.

Last week, the coroner, Oyetade Komolafe, after listening to several testimonies during the inquest that lasted 10 months, indicted the church and the building’s engineers, and said they be prosecuted for criminal negligence.

“The church was culpable because of criminal negligence resulting in the death of the victims,” Mr. Komolafe said, while reading the verdict of the inquest. “Structural failure due to the combination of designs and detailing errors caused the building to collapse.”

However, in an obvious selective application of the coroner’s recommendations, Mr. Ambode said only the engineers will be prosecuted for criminal negligence.

“Will cause the prosecution of the contractor, Engineer Akinbela Fatiregun of Hardrock Engineering Company Limited and Structural Engineer, Oladele Ogundeji, who constructed and supervised the collapsed building respectively at the Synagogue Church of All Nations for professional negligence,” Mr. Ambode said.

If charged as stated by the state government, the church may only be required to pay a paltry fine if found guilty for not obtaining the requisite building permit. The engineers however are likely to be sent to prison.

A Lagos-based lawyer, Jiti Ogunye, said the government could have opted for a stiffer charge against the church.

“It is not just an urban and regional planning issue,” he said. “In the Criminal Code Law of Lagos State there are provisions that govern that kind of conduct. If you are in-charge of a building like church you have responsibility to ensure that that place does not harm people who are passing through it. If it is being operated and if you check that there is a criminal liability and the sentence is not a fine.”

Sections 304 of the Criminal Code Act, Cap C38, Vol. 4 LFN, 2004 stipulates that “It is the duty of every person who has in his charge or under his control anything whether living or inanimate, and whether moving or stationary, of such a nature that, if the absence of care or precaution in its use or management, the life, safety or health of any person may be endangered, to use reasonable care and take reasonable precautions to avoid such danger; and he is held to have caused any consequences which result to the life or health of any person by reason of any omission to perform that duty.”

Sections 317 and 325 of the Criminal Code Act stipulates that, a “person who unlawfully kills another in such circumstances as not to constitute murder is guilty of manslaughter”; and “any person who commits the offence of manslaughter, is liable to imprisonment for life.”

Mr. Ogunye said due to the international concerns generated by the collapsed building, and for justice to be served to the dead and their families, “the Lagos State government now has a duty under that report to prosecute the persons and entities recommended to be prosecuted under the relevant laws”.