By Kazeem Ugbodaga
A Lagos High Court in Igbosere on Thursday dismissed a motion by the Executive Director of Lekki Gardens Estate Limited, Mr Sola Olumofe seeking to quash the criminal charges filed against him and others by the Lagos State Government over alleged negligence in the events leading to the collapse of a building in Lekki area of the State on March 10, 2016.
Olumofe, the Managing Director of Lekki Gardens, Richard Nyong and others are standing trial before Justice Sybil Nwaka over the building collapse which reportedly claimed 34 lives.
Other defendants are Odofin Henry Taiwo, Omolabake Mortune, Omotilewa Oluwatosin Joseph, Lekki Gardens, Get Too Rich Investment Limited and HC Insight Solution Limited.
Olumofe, through his lawyer, George Oguntade (SAN) had urged the court to quash the charge against him on the grounds that the criminal charge disclosed no prema facie case against him, and that the prosecution failed to invite him for questioning before the charge was filed.
In response, the State Government had faulted the application, saying even Olumofe admitted in his supporting affidavit that there was nexus between him and the matter, being the lead technical professional in the making of decisions with respect to the construction of the collapsed building.
The Government had further argued that aside the fact that the Attorney General of the State has the constitutional duty to file criminal charge against anyone reasonably suspected to have committed a crime, the said Olumofe was invited by the police and the Building Collapse Prevention Guild set up by government to investigate the matter, but he failed to present himself for questioning.
In her ruling, Justice Nwaka held that from the facts of the matter before the court, there were sufficient materials linking the defendant with the alleged crime, and that it would be out of place to deny him the opportunity to proof his innocence.
“I have critically looked at the information and proof of evidence, as well as the counter affidavit. I have also looked at the further affidavit of the applicant.
“I am of the opinion that sufficient linkage exists in the proof of evidence to connect the applicant with the information.
“The era of technicality is dead and buried; courts are expected to do substantial justice,” Justice Nwaka ruled, and thereby dismissed the application, and as well ordered arraignment of the defendants.
But midway into the arraignment, the defence team led by Wole Olanipekun (SAN) raised an objection on the ground that there was no seal of a legal practitioner as required by Rule of Professional Conduct, and as such urged the court to refuse to go on with the matter.
Olanipekun admitted that the proof of evidence contained the seal but argued that it was not contained in the information, saying that such was fatal to the case.
Responding, the prosecution team led by the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr Adeniji Kazeem said aside the fact that the seal was contained in the information, Section 77 (1) (e) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law was unambiguously clear as to how to commence a criminal trial which had been duly complied with in the case.
Kazeem said it was unfortunate that a simple matter such as seal was allowed to delay the matter, and therefore urged the court to dismiss the objection and proceed with the case.
The court consequently adjourned to July 3, 2017 for ruling and further directive.
Tragedy had struck on 10 March, 2016 when a six-storey building under construction by Lekki Gardens in Lekki area of the State collapsed and killed 34 people.
The developer was said to have added additional floor to the building against what was approved by government for construction.
Specifically, the defendants are facing six-count charges for failure to obtain building approval for the collapsed building and involuntary manslaughter, offences contrary to and punishable under Section 75 (1) of the Urban and Regional Planning and Development Law of Lagos State 2010, and Section 229 of Criminal Law of Lagos State, 2015 respectively.
The government also listed some of the victims to include William Akpati (M), Kazeem Ilesanmi (M), Raphael Ezeh (M), Saminu Umar (M) and Sunday Ezeh (M).