COURT DISMISSES FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS SUITS OF SYNAGOGUE ENGINEERS

Read previous post on case here.

Judgment in the fundamental rights suits filed by Oladele Ogundeji and Akinbela Fatiregun, the two engineers indicted by the verdict of the coroner’s inquest dated 8th July 2015 into the death of persons due to collapse of a building located at the Synagogue Church of All Nations Premises on the 12th of September 2014 was delivered today. The coroner in his verdict as part of his recommendations stated that Engr. Oladele Ogundeji and Engr. Akinbela Fatiregun of HardRock Construction Co. Ltd should be investigated and tried for criminal negligence by the relevant authorities. The engineers in individual actions filed at the Federal High Court, Lagos against the Commissioner of Police, Lagos State Command; the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN); The Attorney General of Lagos State and Mr. Oyetade Komolafe, the Coroner, Alimosho District of Lagos State challenged the findings and indictment of the coroner in his verdict that they should be investigated and prosecuted for criminal negligence as a breach of their fundamental rights to fair hearing, human dignity and personal liberty as enshrined in the Constitution and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights.

In the judgment delivered by Justice I.N. Buba, today the 9th of November 2015, in the suit filed by Engr. Ogundeyi, the court first determined the objection filed by the respondents challenging the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court to entertain the suit. The court upholding the objection stated that it was clear from the averments and facts in the suit that the suit challenged the proceedings and findings of the Coroner’s court headed by a Magistrate appointed by the Lagos State Government and empowered by the Coroner’s Law of Lagos State. Citing the authorities of Tukur v. Government of Gongola State; Agbaso v. Iwunze and Seatrucks of Nigeria Ltd v. Anigboro relied upon by the respondents in their arguments, the court found that though the Federal and State High Courts have concurrent jurisdiction to entertain matters relating to the enforcement of fundamental rights, it would not be right for the Federal High Court to dabble into the affairs of the Lagos State Government and start to make injunctions restraining it. The court added that despite the presence of the Commissioner of Police Lagos State as a party to the suit, it was clear that the issue submitted for adjudication has to do with matters relating to the administration and exercise of powers by the state government. The court therefore found that he lacked the jurisdiction to entertain the suit and struck out the suit on that ground.

Also determining the suit on the merits, the court held that the applicant has clearly misconceived the role of a coroner. The court stated that the coroner is not a court but a fact finding body which cannot find a person guilty and its proceedings cannot be challenged and especially not in the Federal High Court. The Honourable Judge stated that roles of the different agencies of government must be carefully interpreted in line with the constitutional doctrine of separation of powers and relied on the case of AGF v. Guardian Newspapers. The court found that the applicant has not made out a case of breach of his fundamental rights suit and dismissed the suit.

Adopting the same reasoning for striking out and dismissing Engr. Fatiregun’s suit, the Honourable Court added that though Engr. Fatiregun showed that he had been arrested and released by the police, the police in the exercise of their powers under Section 4 of the Police Act can investigate the alleged criminal offences even without the coroner’s recommendations, and would not be restrained from carrying out those duties unless they are doing so ultra vires. The court concluded that Engr. Fatiregun had also not made out a case for the enforcement of his fundamental rights.

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