SYNAGOGUE: Coroner Dismisses Joshua’s Prohibition Application
The presiding judge of a Lagos State Coroner’s Court sitting in Ikeja, Chief Magistrate Oyetade Komolafe, yesterday, dismissed the prohibition application moved by the Registered Trustees of the Synagogue Church of All Nations, SCAON, alongside its founder, Prophet Temitope Joshua, asking it to stay proceedings pending determination of a substantive motion of judicial review before Justice Lateefa Okunnu of the state’s high court.
Dismissing the prohibition application, Magistrate Komolafe ruled that the proceeding before the Coroner’s court is a judicial inquiry into the cause of the collapsed guest house belonging to SCOAN which claimed the lives of 116 persons.
While stating that there is no party before the court, the judge declared that all the authorities cited by counsel while adopting their written addresses has nothing to do with coroner proceedings.
“This court cannot adjudicate on this motion on notice as doing so would amount to operating outside the scope of a coroner’s court,” Magistrate Komolafe held.
Describing the application as an abuse of court process, the Coroner declared that there is no automatic appeal against the findings and conclusions of a coroner’s court.
The coroner judge also held that Justice Okunnu who is currently adjudicating on the motion ex-perte brought by the applicants has not issued a restraining order against further proceedings of the inquest, saying “this application is incompetent and lacking in merit. Same is hereby dismissed accordingly.”
Further proceeding on the matter has been adjourned till December 12, 2014.
Joshua through his lawyer, Mr Olalekan Ojo, had filed a substantive application before Justice Lateefa Okunnu of Lagos State High Court, challenging the invitation of Prophet T.B. Joshua by the coroner court.
“This court (Coroner) being a lower court to the High Court cannot speculate on the outcome of a higher court. The best legal position is to adjourn this cause of proceeding till outcome of the application before Justice Okunnu. Where a higher court has taken position courts in the lower hierarchy must bow. If the High Court does not agree with us, then we resume at the coroner.
“The jurisdiction of this court to enquire into certain areas have been challenged before a higher court. The concept of jurisdiction is multi-faceted in nature, just like in the case of Doyin Okupe vs. Federal Board of Inland Revenue, FBIR. Asking questions on how engineering defects brought collapse to the building are outside the jurisdiction of the coroner’s court. A person acting within a jurisdiction can exceed its jurisdiction unconsciously when asking questions outside its jurisdiction,” Ojo said.
According to him, on November 17, 2014, the High Court of Lagos State sitting at the Ikeja Judicial Division presided over by Justice Okunnu granted leave to the applicants in suit No. ID/188/MJR/2014 to apply for a judicial review of the proceedings in the Suit No. CR/AL/101/2014 which is still pending.
Judicial review before High Court
Ojo told the coroner court that in the judicial review before the High Court, the applicants (Prophet T.B. Joshua and Synagogue church) are praying the High Court to determine whether the statutory jurisdiction of the Coroner’s Court under the Coroner’s System Law 2007 particularly sections 15 and 40 of the Coroner’s Law is limited to conducting inquest into the cause and manner of death and does not extend to inquiry into matters that are not directly causative of the death or deaths being inquired into.
Other prayers are: “Whether or not the Honourable Court acted within its powers in issuing witness summons on the 2nd applicant (Prophet T.B. Joshua) at the time when the Coroner had not commenced sitting or taking evidence.
“Whether or not the respondents to the application for judicial review ought to be prohibited from continuing with the conduct of the inquest into the tragic death of unknown persons in the collapsed building at the Synagogue Church of All Nations on September 12, 2014 on grounds of bias or likelihood of bias on the part of the Honourable Court.”
Replying on point of law, a senior State Counsel, Mr Akingbolahan Adeniran, argued that in line with Section 40 of the Coroner’s System Law 2007, the major interest is on how a death occurred and there is no definition in Coroner Law that restraints the how.
“This is not the forum to argue an application before Justice Okunnu. The sole issue for determination in this application is whether the applicants has placed sufficient evidence in its favour. There is currently no order by Justice Okunnu for stay of proceeding, which she would have done if she needed to do so. The ground for stay of proceeding is not automatic. It is because the applicants filed an application that there should be a stay of proceeding,” Adeniran argued.
The State Counsel noted that till date the applicants have not presented any witness before the court and the request for the name of the contractor took almost three months of the collapsed building. He urged the court to dismiss the application because the applicants have not presented sufficient material before the coroner court for it to decide in the applicants favour.