Absence of the first witness of the Synagogue Church of All Nations on Friday stalled opening of its defence in the ongoing trial of the church’s board of trustees for their alleged culpability in the collapsed building of September 12, 2014 which killed 116 persons.
Justice Lateef Lawal-Akapo of an Igbosere High Court, Lagos, however, fixed May 10 for the church to open its defence.
The News Agency of Nigeria reports that the church was scheduled to open its defence in a one-count charge of building without approval slammed on it by the Lagos State Government following the dismissal of its no-case submission.
But counsel to the trustees, Prince Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), told the court that the witness, who was not named, was “unavailable” in spite of being served a subpoena to appear in court.
Fagbemi urged the court that it was necessary to call the witness first because he would “lay the groundwork”.
He said: “We are to open our defence today. We prepared a subpoena that was served but the witness is not around because he was transferred to Port Harcourt; he used to be at Ikotun in Egbe, Lagos.
“We are bogged down by this bureaucratic bottleneck. The witness is necessary to lay the groundwork. In the circumstances, we cannot proceed.”
Although the prosecutor, Dr Jide Martins, did not oppose Fagbemi’s application for adjournment, he observed that another witness could have been prepared to testify.
Martins said: “Without sounding pedantic, I would have thought an alternative witness would have been produced by the defence.”
Justice Lawal-Akapo ruled : “By consent of all parties, I hereby adjourn till May 10 and 11 for the defence to open its case.”
On April 19, 2016, the Lagos State Government had arraigned SCOAN’s trustees alongside the two engineers who constructed the building – Messrs Oladele Ogundeji and Akinbela Fatiregun – and their companies: Hardrock Construction and Engineering Company and Jandy Trust Ltd.
The News Agency of Nigeria reports that the trustees are facing a charge of building without approval, while the other defendants were docked on a 110-count charge bordering on involuntary manslaughter.
The defendants, according to the Lagos State Directorate of Public Prosecutions, violated 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.
All the defendants pleaded not guilty.