Collapsed Building: Court Rejects Lagos, Lekki Gardens’ Out Of Court Agreement

Justice Sybil Nwaka of the Lagos State High Court in Ikeja on Tuesday rejected an out of court settlement entered between the state government and the management of Lekki Gardens Estate over the 2017 building collapse, which claimed five lives.

Justice Nwaka rejected the “Plea and Sentence Agreement” because of family members of the victims were not part of the negotiations and the eventual agreement.

The judge also queried the two parties for not specifying the names of family members who would receive the N10 million compensation for the five persons the company insisted were the only casualties of the building collapse.

She further faulted the amended charge arising from the out-of-court-settlement for leaving out the criminal aspects of the original charges preferred by the state government against the property development company.

The Lagos State government had docked the Managing Director of Lekki Gardens Estate, Richard Nyong and seven others before the court on a six-count charge of failure to obtain building approval and manslaughter.

Others arraigned before the court are: Henry Odofin, Molabake Mortune, Omotilewa Joseph, Lekki Gardens Estate Ltd, Get Too Rich Investment Ltd and Artech Insignia Ltd.

At the resumed hearing of the case on Tuesday, After hearing from the defence and prosecution counsel, Justice Nwaka berated the lawyers for tendering a ‘Plea and Sentence Agreement’ and an ‘amended charge’ before the court without observing due diligence.

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She stated: “The new charge is not before the court as far as I am concerned, we are still on the entire charge.”

The prosecution counsel, Babajide Taiwo had earlier informed the court that after the last proceedings, all the parties involved had “bargained on an agreement on January 23, 2020.

He said, “All the parties signed the amended charge and the plea and sentence agreement.”

Also the defence lawyer, Bode Olanipekun, who represented Nyong and the sixth and seventh defendants, said the parties explored the possibility of a resolution without going into a full-court trial, which led to a plea and sentence agreement and an amended charge.

He said the parties had found a common ground for the compensation of the families of the deceased as well as the state government.

Ayomide Adebayo, who represented the 3rd and 8th defendants; and Emmanuel Ihaoda, who represented the 4th and 5th defendants, told the court they were parties to the agreement and the amended charge.

The lawyers, therefore, urged the judge to enter the agreement as the judgement of the court.

Justice Nwaka, who initially requested time to go through the agreement, became furious after seeing that the amended charge left out some cogent parts of the criminal charges against the defendants.

She said, “The amended charge is talking just about the failure to obtain building permits and other building approvals. The amended charge did not contain negligence, loss of lives and others.

“Many lives were lost, breadwinners of many families,” she said furiously.

In their defence, Olaonipekun said there were frank engagements on both sides before an agreement was reached.

“My Lord, there were responsible deliberations which led to the agreement,” he said.

The lawyer further submitted that at the stage the agreement was reached, the prosecution took cognisance of the absence of certificates of deaths and post-mortem results of the deceased.

“Some families wanted compensation and the agreement caters for monetary compensation for the families of the deceased listed in the agreement,” he said.

Justice Nwaka, while reviewing the agreement, said it was the first time it was presented to the court and she could not give any verdict without thoroughly going through them.

Olanipekun highlighted that five persons were listed in the agreement and N10 million would be paid to the estate of each of the deceased, while N100 million would be paid to the state government.

“Are you saying you are paying more to the state government than the deceased families? Five families will get N50 million while the state will get N100 million?” the judge asked.

Olanipekun further clarified that the families of people involved in the accident received intervention in the form of monetary support paid by the defendants.

“If there were supports, they should be in the copy of this agreement, you need to bring more facts to assist the court,” the judge held.

After asking the counsel whether the families of the deceased who are to receive the compensation were present when the agreement was signed, the court realised that the families were neither present nor were their names listed in the agreement.

“It is the state government that will administer the disbursement. We have no direct contact to the families of the deceased, ” Olanipekun said in defence.

“You cannot just give money in a vacuum, and you expect me to agree to this agreement? It is easy to put names. It is not just to put the names of the deceased, who are you giving the N10 million to? Who are the dependants or persons to receive the money? They should be identified,” the judge said.

Mr Taiwo, the prosecution counsel, told the court that the families and all parties were duly notified. “It is one thing to notify them, it is another thing for them to be present in court.”

The judge said she had not requested their presence in court but added that it was not acceptable for the names of the families or those that will receive the N10 million not to be mentioned.

“They could give the money to people who are not related to the deceased. I know government, yes, they are going to get the N100 million, but I must identify the families,” the judge said.

“And you want me to agree to this? I refuse, I am not satisfied, I thereby refuse the agreement,” Justice Nwaka stated.

The judge then ordered that the counsel get the names of the family members that will receive the compensation and must also present them in court.

“Go and do your work learned SAN, this is not a wishy-washy thing, lives are involved. Trace their families and bring them to court,” she ordered.

She then adjourned the case was till March 10 for furtherhearing.

21st June 2024
Nigerian Pantagraph