A Federal High Court in Lagos on Monday dismissed the fundamental rights enforcement suits filed by the engineers who built the collapsed Synagogue Church Of All Nations’ six-storey building that killed 116 persons on September 12, 2014.
The engineers, Mr. Oladele Ogundeji and Mr. Akinbela Fatiregun, had gone before Justice Ibrahim Buba, seeking an order restraining the police from inviting, arresting or prosecuting them over the victims’ death.
They had filed the suits following the verdict of the coroner’s inquest, which attributed the building collapse to structural defect and recommended the engineers for investigation and prosecution for criminal negligence.
But Buba, in his ruling on the defendants’ preliminary objection on Monday, said the engineers “had not made out a case of infringement on their fundamental rights even on the merit of the application,” and dismissed their applications.
The judge, who noted that the Coroner Law was an enactment of the Lagos State House of Assembly which is constitutionally empowered to make laws in the state, said, “The Federal High Court could not dabble into the affairs of the state and start dishing out injunctive orders.”
The engineers had, through their lawyer, Mr. Olalekan Ojo, rejected the coroner’s verdict, describing it as “unreasonable, one-sided and biased.”
They had prayed Justice Buba to make an order of perpetual injunction restraining the Lagos State Attorney General or any officer under his authority from initiating or commencing criminal proceedings against them based on the verdict of the coroner.
Ojo had argued, “The fulcrum of the applicants’ case is that they were not charged with any offence before the coroner; they merely appeared as witnesses and the coroner went on to indict them of criminal negligence and it is a nullity.
“As far as this case is concerned, there is nothing against them; then what are the police acting upon?
“The applicants are saying that their indictment by the coroner court is a nullity and being a nullity, the 1st to 3rd defendants cannot on the basis of a nullity arrest, detain or charge the applicants to court.
“We are here so that they don’t use their powers to oppress us,” Ojo had argued.
But the state, through its counsel, Mr. A.A. Bakare, filed a preliminary objection.
Bakare had argued that the engineer’s case was not fundamental rights enforcement in nature but one intending to stop government agents from performing their statutory and constitutionally recognised duties.
“Nobody has indicted the builder; all that was recommended by the coroner was police investigation and if found culpable, charge the builder to court.
“The police have invited the applicant that ‘come and tell own your side of the story.’ Does that amount to human rights violation?
“I would not want to contemplate that there is a law in this country preventing the police from inviting a citizen for questioning.
“I urge Your Lordship not to allow this applicant to pervert the course of justice,” Bakare had said.
On its own part, Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria, which was also joined a defendant in the engineers’ suit, had said the reliefs being sought by the engineers were not provided for under Chapter 4 of the constitution.
“COREN, a statutory body established by law, has the duty to investigate any of its members for professional misconduct.
“What the applicant is asking is to prevent COREN from carrying out its statutory functions; it is like asking the court not to hear a case or give judgment.
“Even the highest executives in Nigeria are not immune to being investigated. The only being that I know cannot be subjected to investigation is God or Allah Himself,” the body said.
Buba, in his ruling upheld the respondents’ preliminary objection, saying, “The coroner’s inquest is not a court of law; it does not find anybody guilty. It only recommends,” adding that the Federal High Court could not tamper with the Coroner Law, which is a constitutional enactment of the Lagos State House of Assembly.
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