Yesterday, the Coroner court which was set up by the Lagos State government to investigate the circumstances surrounding the collapse of a building at the Synagogue Church of All Nations, SCOAN, Ikotun Lagos, visited the scene of the incident and requested families of the victims to come for identification in order to avoid mass burial.
The Coroner Judge, in support of a request made by the state Chief Medical Examiner, Prof. John Obafunwa for the manifest of the people in the building when it collapsed, stated that the government would have no choice than to give the deceased mass burial if there was no proper identification.
According to him, “We want to be able to identify all the victims because those bodies will not be released to their relatives if we cannot identify them. They will be given mass burial, which is not appropriate.”
The inquest team led by Mr Oyetade Komolafe as well as the Lagos State Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Mr Toyin Ayinde and the state’s Chief Medical Examiner, Prof. John Obafunwa was present.
The group which was received by the Chief Security Officer of the church, Mr. Sunday Okojie, who conducted them around the scene of the incident, also included Mr Akingbolahan Adeniran, Lagos State Counsel and representatives of the Nigeria Police Force, Red Cross Society and the Lagos State Emergency Management Authority.
Magistrate. Komolafe maintained that his team was there to examine the scene of the incident, in order to arrive at a just conclusion.
“I said at the inaugural sitting, we are not here on a witch-hunt or to convict anybody. We are here for a fact-finding purpose and how we can ascertain the cause of the incident,” he noted.
He directed the church to give the list of the people who lodged in the collapsed building to the Lagos State forensic team led by Obafunwa to assist in identification of the victims.
“What we are saying about the manifest is that we will need it to be submitted to the Chief Medical Officer, CMO, to identify the corpses. Also, families of victims have to come forward for samples to be taken so as to identify the bodies. Can that be made available?” he queried.
Responding, Prince Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, counsel to the church said, “I think on the issue of identification of the corpses, we do not need any blood sample. If the families can come and identify the bodies, there is no need for blood samples.”
Then the Chief Medical Examiner, Prof. Obafunwa, handed over a formal letter requesting for the manifest from the church noting that it was needed for proper identification of the victims.
He said, “In an investigation of this nature, we need to carry out our own tests. DNA analysis will not give you a name. There is nothing wrong with what we are asking for.
“For the purpose of disaster victim identification, we will need the manifest. What we are trying to identify is for us to know who and who was in the building, it is just for that purpose. You cannot investigate a plane crash, for instance, without having the names of the passengers on the aircraft.”
Not satisfied with the request, the church lawyer maintained that DNA of all the families involved in the incident was submitted to the pathologists earlier, while reiterating the church’s readiness to cooperate with the inquest to unravel the cause of the building collapse.
“The DNA of all the families involved have been submitted as far back as two weeks ago. Our position is that families involved have submitted their DNA test results. The list (manifest) has not been asked for, so let us not give the public wrong impression. Whatever they ask for will be supplied. Let them direct it to the church and it will be done.” Lateef maintained.
Therefore upon arrival at the court, the Coroner judge declared that he will not hesitate to invoke the law to compel whoever refused to appear before it.
The court adjourned till Friday, October 24th for further hearing.