Monday, February 8, 2016 12:13 pm
A Lagos High Court sitting in Ikeja, Monday ruled that Trustees of Synagogue Church of All Nation, SCOAN, headed by Prophet T.B Joshua must face trial on 18 February over the collapsed building that killed 116 persons in 2014.
Justice Lateef Lawal-Akapo in his ruling struck out the application, filed by SCOAN trustees and the two engineers who constructed the collapsed building, seeking to stop their arraignment.
The Lagos State Government had late last year slammed a 111 count criminal charge against Trustees of the church, the two engineers, Messrs Oladele Ogundeji and Akinbela Fatiregun and their companies, Hardrock Construction and Engineering Company; and Jandy Trust Limited
But the engineers challenged the legality of the court processes effected on them by the Lagos State government.
The court, had on December 11, 2015 granted an application by the prosecution to serve the 4th and 5th defendants, the engineers, through substituted means after several attempts to serve them were not successful.
Justice Lawal-Akapo ordered the prosecution to paste the court papers on the front doors of the 4th and 5th defendants’ addresses in the Alagbado and Ikeja areas of Lagos respectively.
The judge also ordered the prosecution to file a photographic evidence featuring the sheriff pasting the court papers.
But the defendants through their lawyers, Chief E.L. Akpofure (SAN) and Mrs. Titi Akinlawon (SAN), contended that the order to serve them by substituted means was wrongfully granted by Justice Lawal-Akapo.
They described the judge as functus officio and urged him to set aside the order for substituted service because it was obtained in breach of the relevant laws.
Akpofure argued that in the absence of a valid service everything done by the court would be a nullity.
The Senior Advocate had also argued that the Lagos State Attorney General, Mr. Adeniji Kazeem, ought not to have filed the charge in the first place as he had on December 2, 2015 been restrained by Justice Ibrahim Buba of a Federal High Court in Lagos not to prosecute the engineers pending the outcome of an appeal they filed against Buba’s judgment in their fundamental rights enforcement suits.
The Senior Advocate also pointed out that the engineers were charged based on the July 8, 2015 verdict of a Lagos Coroner Court presided over by Mr. Oyetade Komolafe, which he said was against the provisions of relevant laws.
Counsel to Fatiregun and Jandy Trust Limited, Mrs. Akinlawon in her submission also agreed with Akpofure’s line of argument and urged Justice Lawal-Akapo to “stop the Attorney General of violating a subsisting court order.”
But the prosecution team, led by the Lagos State Director of Public Prosecutions, Mrs. Idowu Alakija described the defendants’ application as frivolous and urged the court to dismiss them.
She argued that once Justice Lawal-Akapo had made the order, he could not overrule himself, stressing that only an appellate court could set aside the order of substituted service already granted.
According to the DPP, what the defendants were asking the court to do was to grant a stay of proceedings, which, according to her, had been outlawed by the provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015.
She maintained that the law was clear on the authority of the Attorney General to prosecute.
Ruling on the application today, Justice Lawal-Akapo said the essence and importance of service to judicial system in criminal matter cannot be over-emphasised.
He said the purpose of service is to afford the person being charged to court to react, adding that there is provision for substituted service in the law of the country.
On the issue that Lagos State Attorney General ought not to have filed the charge in the first place as he had on December 2, 2015 been restrained by Justice Ibrahim Buba of a Federal High Court’s ruling, the judge held that the order of an High Court, whether state or federal, cannot bind another High Court.
He held that both the federal and state high courts are court of same coordinate jurisdictions and so Justice Buba’s ruling cannot stop the proceedings in his court.
“The order of a high court cannot be binding on another high court, be it federal or state because they are both court of coordinate jurisdictions.
“The order of Buba J cannot bind this court and cannot stop this proceedings. I find no merit in the two applications and they are hereby dismissed”, the judge held.
Justice Lawal-Akapo however fixed February 18, 2016 for the arraignment of the defendants.