An aviation expert, Dr Yakubu Dazhia, has told a Lagos High Court in Igbosere that an aircraft flew “very close” to a Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN) building soon before it collapsed on September 12, 2014, killing 116 people.
The dead comprised 84 South Africans, 1 Zimbabwean, among others, while many more suffered injuries.
Dazhia, who introduced himself as an aircraft engineer, aviation consultant and airline operator, said the plane had been identified as a Nigerian Air Force (NAF) Hercules C130 training aircraft.
He told Justice Lateef Lawal-Akapo that the plane was captured on Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) flying well below the 1000ft flight altitude recommended by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
But the Lagos State Government questioned Dazhia’s competence and the genuineness of his doctorate degree.
Its counsel, Deputy Directors of Public Prosecution (DPP), Dr. Babajide Martins, suggested that Albion College in Stansted, London, which issued Dazhia’s Ph.D in 2011, might not be recognised in the United Kingdom (UK).
Dazhia spoke during continuation of trial of four defendants – two engineers and their firms – for the building collapse deaths.
The defendants are: Oladele Ogundeji and Akinbela Fatiregun charged alongside their companies – Hardrock Construction and Engineering Company and Jandy Trust Ltd.
They are facing a 110-count charge of involuntary manslaughter said to contravene Section 222 of the Criminal Law of Lagos State, 2011.
A fifth defendant, the Registered Trustees of SCOAN is facing a count of building without approval.
The Lagos State Government said the Trustees violated Section 75 of the Urban and Regional Planning Law of Lagos State, 2010.
All defendants were arraigned on April 19, 2016.
They pleaded ‘not guilty’.
At the resumed hearing of the matter on Friday, Dazzhia was led in evidence by Olamilekan Ojo SAN, counsel for the Registered Trustees of SCOAN.
The witness told the court that the ICAO recommended safe altitude for flight in a congested area such as Ikotun Egbe, where the collapsed SCOAN building was located, is 1,000ft
“No aircraft, except for takeoff and landing, should fly over a congested area at a minimum of 1,000 feet or 300 metres between the aircraft and the highest obstacle in a congested area. Meaning that the distance between the aircraft and the tallest building in that area should not be less than 1,000ft,” he said.
Dazhia, an elders’ council member of Winners Chapel but who worshipped at SCOAN whenever he visited Lagos in the last 10 years, said he was in Abuja when the building collapsed but that he flew to Lagos and, the next day (September 13), alongside a Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Aviation, “assisted in the operation to rescue people that were trapped.
“On the 14th, a Sunday, we were shown the CCTV footage (of the incident). The camera was at Gate 5 of SCOAN. The distance from Gate 5 to the building was less than 500 metres.”
The witness told the judge that the CCTV’s vertical view could “not go beyond 200 metres.”
“We discovered that that this aircraft flew very close to the building. If it was flying according to regulations, the CCTV wouldn’t have captured it.”
He said he and several church members, including six or seven pilots, were told the plane was an Air Force aircraft and it was for training.
“They mentioned that training with aircraft was to be only done in Ilorin, which has the longest runway in the federation. Why were they training in Lagos?” he wondered.
When Ojo asked for his observation about the incident, Dazhia posed a question for the pilot of the aircraft.
He said: “As a professional, I insist that only the pilot knows why he was flying at a low altitude. That is all I have to say.”
But under cross examination by Martins, Dazhia agreed that although he had an engineering degree, his Ph.D “has nothing to do with aircraft engineering.”
He also noted that he was not an aircraft traffic controller, a bomb expert or accident investigator. Neither did he lodge any complaint about the incident to the Nigerian Civil Aviation Organisation (NCAO).
When Martins asked: “You didn’t inform the Air Force about your concern?”
Dazhia, amused, responded: “You wanted them to gun me down, to kill me?”
The witness also agreed with the prosecutor that measuring a plane’s altitude required special equipment.
“An individual can’t do that with the naked eyes,” he said.
Martins: “Ikotun is a flight path?
Martins: “It is not unusual for planes to pass over Ikotun as part of a flight path?
Following the conclusion of cross-examination, Justice Lawal-Akapo adjourned further proceedings till March.
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