Magistrate Oyetade Komolafe, the coroner conducting an inquest into what caused the fatal collapse of a huge guesthouse at the Synagogue Church of all Nations (SCOAN), yesterday led a delegation of interested parties to the site of the collapsed structure.
More than 115 people died when the building collapsed in September, with scores more sustaining injuries of varying degrees of seriousness. Most of the dead and injured were South Africans.
The coroner’s visit came as it remained clear that the agenda of the church, which is led by a self-styled Prophet T.B. Joshua, is to cover up the incident and sabotage any serious probe.
To serve this agenda, the church has hired high-priced lawyers to challenge all legal actions, offered so-called “fuel” money to reporters to shape their reporting, and “holy” water with financial compensations to bereaved families in exchange for their silence.
As inquest opened last Monday, a cartel of high-powered lawyers representing the Synagogue church used technical arguments to oppose the coroner's visit, questioning its purpose and demanding a delay of the visit.
Lateef Fagbemi, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) who led a team of counsels, argued on Monday that the Church needed to prepare for the coroner’s visit after he had failed to receive an injunction against the coroner’s visit.
Aside from Lateef Fagbemi, another team of lawyers led by Ebun Adegboruwa, also appeared in defense of the Synagogue Church. Even as the coroner visited today, the Synagogue's lawyers loudly questioned the need for the visit.
However, the coroner defended the visit stating that it was necessary to see the subject of the inquest and to determine what questions would require clarification about the collapsed structure. He also said that the visit would better guide and inform the process.
The coroner emphasized that his inquest was not targeting anyone nor was it intended to prosecute the “prophet.” He asked for the church’s cooperation to enable his inquest to determine the actual cause of the fatal collapse, assuring the church’s lawyers that their client, Prophet T.B. Joshua, was not on trial at the inquest.
Mr. T.B. Joshua did not appear during today’s visit. Earlier, his lawyers had indicated that they would be protecting him from attending the inquest, even as his own explanation might be required. Lead counsel, Fagbemi, had emphasized at the open inquest that the Church is a corporate entity and would nominate persons to represent it other than the “Prophet” himself.
At the site of the collapsed building, the church officials told the coroner that the building had served partly as an office and partly as a guesthouse.
The church's lawyers refused to release the manifest of deceased victims in the collapse. They questioned the coroner’s request for the manifest. The coroner responded that the manifest would be needed by medical officers to take samples from families of the deceased and identify the bodies.
The Church counsel insisted that the church had submitted the DNA of all the families involved two weeks ago. The distraught coroner asked, “Are you saying that the DNA was done somewhere else and submitted to the Chief Medical Officers?” to which the lead counsel answered “Yes.”
Incensed, the coroner informed the counsel that the sole authority that can carry out identification of the deceased “are the pathologists that are so appointed by the state,” adding, “Something done elsewhere cannot be used.”
Since the beginning of the inquest on Monday, no family of deceased persons has shown up. A source close to one of the bereaved families stated that Mr. T.B. Joshua had silenced the families through financial compensations and other promises of spiritual help.
The self-styled prophet has reportedly continued bribing reporters to downplay reports of the tragic collapse.