by Deji Abiodun
A coroner investigating the collapse of a church building in Lagos in which 116 people died was within his rights to summon the head preacher to give evidence, a high court judge said Friday.
Judge Lateefat Okunnu dismissed an attempt by lawyers for the popular televangelist TB Joshua to limit the scope of the inquest on the grounds that the coroner had exceeded his powers.
“The application is without merit. It fails in its entirety and is hereby dismissed,” Okunnu told the hearing at the Lagos High Court.
Joshua, whose followers at the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN) call him the “Prophet” and “Man of God”, was ordered three times to appear before the inquest probing the collapse.
But on each occasion he failed to show, prompting warnings from coroner Oyetade Komolafe that he would be arrested and brought to court to give evidence.
A number of expert witnesses have dismissed Joshua’s claims that a guesthouse for foreign followers of the SCOAN collapsed because of sabotage, instead pointing to shoddy construction work.
Eighty-one of those killed on September 12 last year were South African.
Judge Okunnu said in her ruling that the coroner had legal powers to call anyone who may assist in determining the identities of the victims, as well as how, when and why they died.
“I don’t think it unusual for him (Komolafe) to summon the head of the church,” she added, backing the coroner to sanction anyone who hinders the investigation.
Allegations of bias against the coroner were also unfounded, she added.
“He is very much on the driving seat and master of the proceedings,” she said.
Lagos State government lawyer Akinjide Bakare welcomed the ruling and said it opened the way for Joshua to appear at the hearing.
Olalekan Ojo, representing Joshua, described the judgment as “a novelty”, adding: “It is appealable but the client will give necessary instructions.”
Joshua is a self-styled miracle worker and seer who counts powerful politicians, including African former heads of state among his flock.
Komolafe said on Tuesday that he would give his verdict into the causes of the tragedy in the next two weeks.