By Samuel Ogundipe
There is more trouble for Prophet T.B. Joshua of the Synagogue Church of All Nations. Apart Justice Lateefat Okunnu of a Lagos High Court who on Friday dismissed a suit filed by the controversial pastor, some lawyers spoken to by WESTERN POST also insisted Pastor Joshua must appear before the Coroner’s inquest on the 2014 building collapse.
Joshua had approached the court to stop the Coroner’s inquest into the building collapse in his church premises from compelling him to appear before it.
But Justice Okunnu dismissed the case for being premature and lacking in merit, arguing that there’s no evidence that the plaintiff’s fundamental rights have been breached by the properly constituted inquest.
“The issue for determination is whether the Coroner (Chief Magistrate Oyetade Komolafe) has acted contrary to the rules of natural justice by not granting the applicants a fair hearing and whether he has exceeded the scope of a Coroner’s court,” the judge opined in her ruling.
She held that Komolafe as a coroner had the prerogative to take evidence from any witness he deemed relevant to reaching his conclusions.
“I find therefore the present application lacks merit and has failed in its entirety. It is accordingly dismissed,” Okunnu said.
About 166 people, mostly foreigners, died in the collapse of the six-storey guest house within the church premises on September 12, 2014,
Joshua is expected to appeal the case, but lawyers are unanimous in their position.
All the legal minds who spoke with WP at the weekend agreed with the ruling and recommended that the litigant must appear because he’s a key witness in the case.
The first to react to the matter was Barrister Onyekachi Ubani, former Chairman of Nigerian Bar Association, Ikeja Branch.
“I was skeptical about a witness refusing to testify in a case of this magnitude,” he said. “If you’re summoned by a properly constituted panel of inquiry or a tribunal or anything that was set up by law, you’re bound to appear before it.”
Another Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Liborous Oshoma, said the applications are cheap tactics aimed at slowing down the process of the inquest.
“Basically, all of these are what we call frivolous applications in law,” he said.
“When the disaster happened happened, Joshua made comments in the media. He needs to appear at the Coroner’s inquest now to substantiate his claims in the media. If the building was a structural defect or remote demolition, he must come and tell us.”
He also admonished the clergyman not to see the inquest as a witch hunt.
“This is just an inquest and I don’t see why TB Joshua will refuse to appear before a properly constituted panel investigating the death of more than a hundred people. The inquest is just to find out what happened and was not set up to witch hunt anybody.”
In his own reaction, Mr. Victor Okhai, a Lagos-based lawyer and human rights activist, said Mr. Joshua is a human being and not a spirit, hence the need for him to appear before a legally constituted panel.
“Obviously nobody is above the law. T.B. Joshua is a human being and not a spirit, therefore, he must appear before Coroner Oyetade,” he said.
He added that, “Joshua must tell Nigerians what he knows about the tragedy because he’s obviously a key player in the matter. We know he’ll appeal the matter, but he doesn’t have a chance.”