An Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP), Mr Alaba Yahaya Haruna, yesterday told a Lagos High Court in Igbosere that no rescuers or government official was denied access to the site of the collapsed building belonging Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN), when the structure came down on September 12, 2014.
Haruna, who was testifying at the going trial of the Registered Trustees of Synagogue Church of All Nations, (SCOAN) and the two engineers that constructed the collapsed building, said he could not recall any instance when LASEMA officials, or the then Commissioner for Physical Planning, Mr Toyin Ayinde, were prevented by the church members from gaining access to the site.
The Lagos State government is prosecuting the church and the engineers, Oladele Ogundeji and Akinbela Fatiregun on a 111 count charges of criminal negligence, manslaughter and failure to obtain building permit.
No fewer than 116 persons, mostly foreigners on religious tourism to Nigeria, were killed in the tragic incident that occurred on September 12, 2014.
Other defendants in the case are: Hardrock Construction and Engineering Company and Jandy Trust Limited.
The Lagos State Directorate of Public Prosecutions said the defendants violated Section 75 of the Urban and Regional Planning Law of Lagos State 2010, as well as Section 222 of the Criminal Law of Lagos State 2011.
They pleaded not guilty to the charge.
Haruna, now Area Commander of the Eastern Ports Command, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, was Divisional Police Officer (DPO) of the Ikotun Egbe Police Station, Lagos, at the time the building collapsed.
Led in examination-in-chief by SCOAN Trustees counsel, Mr Oluseye Diyan, the witness relived the incident.
Haruna said: “On that fateful day on September 12, 2014 at about 12:30 hours, there was a radio communication from the police control room at Ikeja that they were receiving calls from the public of an aircraft flying at low altitude over the church. I was directed by the Area Command to confirm the incident and monitor the aircraft’s activities.
“I wanted to go out and direct my men to watch out for the aircraft when I received another report of an airplane flying at a very low altitude. I went outside but I couldn’t see it, by that time it had gone. I received a call later from Inspector Lucky Ugbaja, stationed at the church, that one of the church’s buildings had collapsed.”
According to him, the radio room had earlier radioed the Police Airport Command to confirm whether it was carrying out any activity in the SCOAN vicinity.
Haruna said when he arrived at the church’s premises there was a large crowd and the few policemen there were trying to manage the situation. More onlookers kept trooping in and the crowd spilled to the roads outside the church, causing serious traffic gridlock.
“We were overwhelmed,” Haruna told the judge, adding that he called for more policemen, which was provided.
He said his men cordoned off the scene in an attempt to restrict entrance to only those who could assist the church members and other worshippers in the rescue operation.
According to him, the floors of the collapsed building were lying one on the other “and the church members and others at the scene were engaged in rescue operations.
“Those I met there were SCOAN worshippers, they were bringing out so many people from under the rubble. Most of the victims were alive. Some were injured, some were not.
“Later the Red Cross, Life Savers, National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA) arrived and joined us in the rescue.”
The witness stated that the LASEMA General Manager complained of difficulty in gaining access to the scene of the collapse because of the crowd and that the journalists in his entourage were denied access, following which he apologised and ordered his men to let the journalists in.
He said the rescue mission lasted about seven days.
During Cross Examination by prosecution counsel Dr Babajide Martins, Haruna insisted that he could not recall any instance when LASEMA officials, or the then Commissioner for Physical Planning, Mr Toyin Ayinde, were prevented by the church members from gaining access to the collapse site.
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