The Lagos division of Appeal Court has reserved judgment in the appeal filed against the ruling of Justice Lateef Lawal-Akapo in the case of collapsed Synagogue Church of All Nations’ building (SCOAN), which killed about 116 persons.
The judge had reserved ruling to a date to be communicated to parties involved in the matter.
Justice Lawal-Akapo of a Lagos State High Court had on March 9, dismissed the ‘No case submission filed by the defendants/appellants – the two engineers, who constructed the building, Oladele Ogundeji and Akinbela Fatiregun and their companies – Hardrock Construction and Jandy Trust Ltd.
They were charged by Lagos State for alleged involuntary manslaughter, gross negligence or reckless disregard for human life over the SCOAN guesthouse that collapsed on September 12, 2014.
Justice Lawal-Akapo while ruling on their ‘No case submission, had established a prima facie case against the defendants/appellants to warrant them being called upon to enter their defence.
But dissatisfied with the ruling of the lower court, the defendants/appellants decided to approach the appellate court, asking it to upturn the ruling of the lower court.
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 counsel argued before a three man panel headed by the presiding Justice, Justice Abraham Georgewill, that there was no prima facie evidence linking the defendants/appellants with the charges filed against them.
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) argued before the appellate court that his client was charged for committing manslaughter in respect of certain named persons.
His words: “My Lord, no name of any of the deceased persons 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.”
On her part, Mrs. Titilola Akinlawon (SAN), submitted that the prosecution presented not an iota of evidence, adding that 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.”
Responding to their arguments, the DPP, Ms. Shitta-Bey, urged the court to dismiss the appeal and uphold the ruling of the lower court.
She said, “The pathologist examined the deceased and he was also in court to give evidence.”
The defendants/appellants are facing 110-count charge of involuntary manslaughter while the Registered Trustees of SCOAN was charged with one count charge of building without approval.
Their alleged offence was said to have contravened 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 and pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
The prosecution therefore 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 filed a ‘No-case submission, contending that the prosecution failed to establish a prima facie case against them.
The defence insisted that there was nothing in the evidence by the prosecution to warrant their client to proceed into any defence.