Alternative path to justice for victims of Lagos, TB Joshuas’, church building collapse

6 Jul 2016


While the Nigerian legal circus continues, around the matter of the collapsed Synagogue Church of All Nations building in Lagos, ProBonoMatters went searching for alternative legal paths that can best serve the victims of the TB Joshua saga.

Multitudes stand dazed in devastation after 116 people were crushed to death in the collapse of the Lagos guesthouse on the 12th of September 2014.

The Lagos state coroner concluded that TB Joshua’s church must be prosecuted for non compliance with Nigerian building regulations. Two engineers are facing involuntary manslaughter charges in a court case that has progressed painfully slow.

A significant majority of the dead, 81, were South African pilgrims. Leaving a trail of suffering behind, their case was made more painful by the recklessness of the Nigerian authorities during the process of repatriating the dead back to South Africa. The corpses were almost past the state of decay when they finally reached South Africa after more than 2 months had passed since their death. Cant they sue the Nigerian state for this recklessness?

Their course is made complex by cross border legal dynamics which are further complicated by not so good diplomatic relations between Nigeria and South Africa. Nevertheless, in allowing for swift movement of money across states, globalisation also creates avenues for justice to be served in offshore jurisdictions if there is cross border money trails. Think of the US Tort Claim Act that has caught some corporations.

ProBonoMatters went out to search for alternative legal paths for the victims in this saga.

A civil suit against TB Joshua church is one other option. But if the Nigerian authorities are not playing ball; can the victims take legal action against the state.

And the South African victims can also take legal action against their government if they feel that it is also not playing ball.

A conversation with Professor Shadrack Gutto, from the Institute for African Renaissance at the University of South Africa, yielded the following answers.

Question: What in your mind is the best avenue for victims (families of the dead and those injured) to pursue?

A general principle that must guide us when considering this matter is that impunity for perpetrators of criminal act must not be allowed. Justice must be served.

The first place to look to for justice is the Nigerian legal system. The key thing is to determine whether the relevant parties had complied with applicable building regulations.

If non-compliance is proved someone ought to be held criminally responsible and remedy is in order.

The concerned victims have the right under Nigerian tort law to sue those responsible for damages arising from negligence.

On the criminal front, if victims feel that the Nigerian system is failing them they can explore continental legal platforms which are linked to the African Union.

African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights

The first continental stop outside Nigeria will be the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) which is located in Banjul, Gambia.

The ACHPR was established in 1987 “to oversee and interpret the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (also known as the Banjul Charter).”

The Commission’s mandate and powers are described as follows “The Charter provides for a ‘communication procedure’, under which states, organisations and individuals may take a complaint to the Commission alleging that a State Party to the Charter has violated one or more of the rights contained in the Charter. “Following consideration of complaints, the Commission can make recommendations to the State Party concerned and to the AU Assembly. The Commission’s mandate is quasi-judicial and, as such, its final recommendations are not legally binding and there is no mechanism that can compel states to abide by its recommendations. The Commission may use its ‘good offices’ to secure a settlement at any stage of the proceedings.”

African Court on Human and People’s Rights

Should the victims be unsatisfied with the performance of the Commission, they can escalate the matter to the African Court on Human and People’s Rights. Located in Arusha, Tanzania, this Court was established in 1998 to complement and reinforce the functions of the Commission. This Court can make binding decisions, including orders of compensation or reparation.

UN Human Rights Council

He said the victims have an option to proceed to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Established in 2007, the Human Rights Council is positioned to address “consistent patterns of gross and reliably attested violations of all human rights and all fundamental freedoms occurring in any part of the world and under any circumstances.”

“The complaint procedure addresses communications submitted by individuals, groups, or non-governmental organizations that claim to be victims of human rights violations or that have direct, reliable knowledge of such violations.”

Question: Has the South African government done enough to support the victims to demand justice from the Nigerian authorities?

In my view South Africa has so far not done enough to support its citizens in this matter.

Question: What can the South Africans do in South Africa to advance their course.

The South African victims are rightfully entitled to be supported by the South African state in demanding justice to be served by the Nigerian authorities. If there are traces of unwillingness by the Nigerian authority to serve justice, the South African government is duty bound to act on behalf or together with its citizens to demand justice.

Victims can tackle the South African government in local courts if they think that the government is not cooperative. They can using local courts compel the South African government to offer them the required and rightful support.

Question: Can the victims sue TB Joshua

The concerned victims have the right under Nigerian tort law to sue those responsible for damages arising from negligence.

2 Responses

  1. Pingback: Alternative path to justice for victims of Lagos, TP Joshuas', church building collapse | UJUH

  2. Pingback: Alternative path to justice for victims of Lagos, Joshuas', church building collapse | UJUH

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