, LAGOS, November 20 – Lawyers for Nigerian preacher TB Joshua said Thursday they had mounted a legal challenge against a coroner who has ordered him to testify about a fatal building collapse at his Lagos megachurch.
Joshua has been summonsed twice to give evidence at an inquest examining the circumstances of the September 12 tragedy in which 116 people were killed, but failed to appear on both occasions.
The latest no show by the popular televangelist on Thursday angered coroner Oyetade Komolafe, who said he would order his arrest.
But the pastor’s lawyer, Olalekan Ojo, told reporters after the hearing: “We have gone to the high court to challenge the jurisdiction of the coroner to issue a witness summons.
“The coroner has unconsciously exceeded his jurisdiction in that he has started inquiring into matters that are not causative of deaths.”
Komolafe was furious that Joshua, known to his followers as “The Prophet” or “The Man of God”, was not present for the start of proceedings on Thursday after failing to appear on November 5.
On that occasion, Ojo said Joshua had been “unavoidably absent” and failed to receive the summons. “We don’t want the impression to be created that The Prophet is avoiding the court,” he said.
On Thursday, Komolafe said: “Any of the witnesses who is not in court today will be arrested. I think the court has been lenient enough.”
– ‘Milk of human kindness’ –
Joshua, who counts presidents and powerful politicians from across Africa among his flock, has claimed the collapse was caused by a mysterious aircraft seen “hovering” over the building at the time.
The self styled miracle worker and seer has also suggested that it was a deliberate attack.
But expert witnesses have ruled out the theory of aerial sabotage or an explosion.
The hearing has been told instead that the stricken guesthouse did not have planning permission and that a number of other buildings at Joshua’s Synagogue Church of All Nations complex were structurally unsound.
A total of 81 South Africans were among the dead. Seventy four bodies were repatriated from Lagos last weekend.
Ojo confirmed that his client had received the latest summons and added that his appearance was conditional on the outcome of the high court challenge.
“The Prophet has respect for the law of the land and will not do anything that will hurt the law,” he said.
“If at the end of the day, it is appropriate for The Prophet to appear he will be in court. We do not intend to abuse the legal process.
“Besides, The Prophet has a milk of human kindness. He is still grieving over the horrendous loss of lives. Coming to court is not proper. It is not a good way of showing respect for the dead.”
There have been calls for Joshua to be prosecuted over the building collapse after the Lagos State authorities suggested it was caused by the illegal addition of extra floors.
But Komolafe has said that the inquest was not a criminal court.
“We are here to find facts, find out what has happened, why, where, when and how so as to prevent a recurrence,” he said on the opening day of the hearing on October 13.