An Assistant Commissioner of Police, Alaba Haruna, on Friday told a Lagos High Court that an aircraft flew over Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN) building at Ikotun-Egbe, a Lagos suburb, just before it collapsed killing 116 people in September 2014.
Among the dead were more than 80 South African churchgoers.
He said one of his patrol teams observed an aircraft flying low over the church and other buildings in the premises. Haruna testified before Justice Lateef Lawal-Akapo of an Igbosere High Court on Lagos Island as a defence witness in the trial of the registered trustees of the church and four others.
The church opened its defence in a one-count charge of building without approval brought against it by the Lagos State Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) following the dismissal of its no-case submission on March 8, 2016.
The other defendants are the two engineers who built the building: Oladele Ogundeji and Akinbela Fatiregun, and their companies, Hardrock Construction and Engineering Company and Jandy Trust Ltd.
Apart from the trustees’ one-count charge, the other defendants are facing a 110-count bordering on involuntary manslaughter. The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Haruna, Area Commander of the Eastern Ports Command, Port Harcourt, Rivers, was the Divisional Police Officer at Ikotun-Egbe at the time the building collapsed.
He was led in evidence by the trustees’ counsel, Oluseye Diyan.
Haruna said: “On that fateful day… at 12:30 pm, 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 aeroplane 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 Insp. 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 church 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.
He said onlookers kept trooping in and the crowd spilled to the roads outside the church, causing serious gridlock.
“We were overwhelmed,” Haruna told the judge, adding that he called for more policemen and were provided. According to him, the floors of the collapsed building were lying one on the other, ” the church members and others at the scene were engaged in rescue operations.
“Those I met there were church worshipers, 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.”
He said the rescue mission lasted about seven days.
During cross-examination by the prosecutor, Dr Babajide Martins, Haruna insisted that he could not recall any instance when LASEMA officials or the then Commissioner for Physical Planning, Toyin Ayinde, were prevented by the church members from gaining access to the site of the collapsed building.
He said, “Apart from the LASEMA GM who said he had a herculean task passing through the crowd, no other had problems passing through. When Martins asked him why he concluded that the rescuers were church members or worshipers, Haruna said: “Commonsense suggests that they were.”
Following the prosecution’s application for an adjournment, Justice Lawal-Akapo adjourned further proceedings until June 28.
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