Tuesday, April 16, 2019 1:55 pm
A Federal high court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos, south west Nigeria, has struck out a suit filed by 10 prominent members of the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion, Lagos, challenging the election held by the church to select the new Bishop of the Diocese.
The presiding judge, Justice Mojisola Olatoregun, while ruling on the notice of preliminary objection filed by the defendants in the case, held that Federal high court has no jurisdiction to adjudicate over the case. She ruled that a close look at the claim of the plaintiffs does not relate to causes and matters arising from the operations of the companies and Allied Matters Act or any other enactment under same so much so that the Federal high court will have exclusive jurisdiction or otherwise.
The issues raised in the claims of the plaintiffs are domestic in nature. The issues can be compartmentalised as internal discontent and wrangling. It has nothing to do with the regulations and operations of the registered body. Consequently, Justice Olatoregun said the only thing left to do is to make an order striking out this suit or transferring same to the state high court if parties requested. Since there was no application for transfer,, same is struck out
The Plaintiffs who are prominent financial members and elders of the church are,Asiwaju Fola Osibo, Mr Modupe Alakija, Chief Dr Oluyomi Finnih, Chief Femi Adeniyi-William, Chief Layi Ajayi -Bembe, Mrs Laide Sasegbon, Mrs Modupe Sagoe, Mr Ade Abisogun, Mr Bukola Meadows, and MS Molara Otuyelu, who are suing for themselves and on behalf of concerned members of the Lagos Diocese of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion). The following parties are the defendants in the suit: The registered trustees of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion),The Lagos Diocese of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion),Reverend Dr Nicholas D. Okoh, Reverend Dr E.Adebola Ademowo, Reverend Humphrey Olumakaiye, and Reverend Dr Michael Fape.
In a statement of claim accompanied by statement on oath of Plaintiffs, sworn to by Chief Dr Oluyomi Finnih and jointly filed before a Federal high court in Lagos South West Nigeria on behalf of the plaintiffs by two Senior Advocates of Nigeria, Olasupo Shasore and Chijioke Okoli, it was alleged that due to the fact that Reverend Adebola Ademowo ‘s tenure as the Bishop of Lagos Diocese was about to expire, the trustee of the Church commenced steps towards the election of a new Bishop, Reverend Humphrey Olumakaiye and Reverend Micheal Fape were nominated for the position.
However,Dr Finnih averred that contrary to the established principles contained in the constitution of the Church which stipulates that elections are to be conducted by secret ballot, Reverend Adebola Ademowo began campaigning for the election of Reverend Humphrey Olumakaiye in earnest and took various steps to influence Reverend Nicholas Okoh, a Primate of the Church and other Bishops who were required to vote.
These steps included approval of the publication of photographs of Reverend Adebola Ademowo and Reverend Humphrey Olumakaiye in the Church calendar, wherein Reverend Humphrey Olumakaiye was described as the ‘godson’ and successor of Reverend Adebola Ademowo, the distribution of cash gifts to the Bishops who were to vote; and exercise of undue influence on Reverend Nicholas Okoh.
Asiwaju Bola Osibo and Chief Layi Ajayi -Bembe and one Mrs Bamidele Onafeko, another prominent financial member of the Church wrote a letter dated 4 April,2018 to Reverend Nicholas Okoh to complain about these breaches of the constitution of the Church. The letter was however disregarded, and election was conducted on 6th of February, 2018. Expectedly, Reverend Humphrey Olumakaiye was announced as “elected at the purported election of 6th, February2018.
Upon receiving notice of the outcome of the election, the Plaintiffs again wrote a letter dated, 15th February, 2018 to Reverend Nicholas Okoh to complain of the irregularities that marred the electoral process. In response, the Episcopal Secretary of the Church,the Church of Nigeria and the registrar jointly signed a letter dated 20 February, 2018, written on behalf of Reverend Okoh in which attempt was made to debunk the Plaintiffs’ claims and urged the Plaintiffs to desist from making such allegations. The Plaintiffs’ grievances were in essence predetermined in the said letter.
Due to the fact that the Plaintiffs’ complaints were not addressed in their letter,the Plaintiffs wrote another letter dated 26 February, 2018 to Reverend Nicholas Okoh reiterating their complaints and also stating the various acts of financial impropriety committed by Reverend Adebola Ademowo in office including causing division and hatred among members, receipt of funds from the Diocesan Board for his personal use and the placing of his family members in strategic positions. The Plaintiffs express their concern in the letter that Humphrey Olumakaiye being the “godson”of Reverend Ademowo would cover up the said act committed by Reverend Ademowo while in office.
Reverend Okoh, in his reply to the Plaintiffs’ letter, stated that the Plaintiffs letter had been forwarded to Reverend Ademowo for his reaction.
Reverend Ademowo’s reaction to the Plaintiffs’ claims was contained in his letter to Reverend Okoh, he admitted receipt of the sums of N200million and N60million for the construction of his personal residence and the purchase of a car respectively.
The Registrar of the Church of Nigeria wrote a letter to the Plaintiffs on behalf of Reverend Okoh in which he stated that the Plaintiffs’ complaints as regard the financial impropriety would be referred to the Diocesan Board of Lagos Diocese and that the Dean of the Church would constitute an independent committee to consider the allegations of Pre-electoral malpractices against Reverends Ademowo and Olumokaiye.
The Plaintiffs averred that Reverend Okoh is one of the appointors of the Dean of the Church of Nigeria, and a committee set up by him to investigate the manipulation of electoral process in which Reverend Okoh himself is implicated cannot be said to be independent or impartial.
The Plaintiffs averred further that the Diocesan Board of Lagos Diocese, to which the allegations of Ademowo’s financial impropriety were referred, was the body that released the sums admitted to have been received by Reverend Ademowo and therefore cannot possibly be relied upon to give an impartial decision on the Plaintiffs complaints.The Plaintiffs then contended that Reverend Okoh breached his fiduciary duty by failing to countenance the allegation of pre -electoral breaches made by the Plaintiffs, and failing to prevent the conduct of the election, despite having been notify of the actions of Reverend Ademowo and Olumakaiye
The Plaintiffs also averred that Reverend Ademowo breached his fiduciary duties to the Plaintiffs and members of Lagos Diocese in influencing the outcome of the election to the office of Bishop of Lagos State, Diocese, and various acts of financial impropriety committed by him
Consequently, the claim of the Plaintiffs against the defendants jointly and severally are as follows:
A declaration that Reverend Adebola Ademowo’s receipt of the sums of N200million and N60million from the Diocesan Board of the Church of Nigeria Anglican Communion, Lagos Diocese for his personal use is in breach of his duties to the Plaintiffs as a trustee of the Lagos Diocese of the Church of Nigeria Anglican Communion, therefore should be compelled to immediately return the sums of N260million with interest at the rate of 22% per annum from 1st of March, 2018 Until full and final liquidation.
An order directing the conduct of fresh election for the position of Bishop of the Lagos Diocese.
However, in a notice of preliminary objection filed by four senior Advocates of Nigeria Bambo Adesanya, Babatunde Ajibade, Wale Olawoyin and Adeniyi Adegbomire, on behalf of Reverend Adebola Ademowo, they contended that the issues raised in the Plaintiffs’ action are not justifiable in court of law as they belong to the domestic terrain of the Church of Nigeria Anglican Communion as enshrined in the constitution and canon of the Church of Nigeria and the constitution of the Diocesan Synod of the Diocese of Lagos Anglican communion
They stated further that, even if the Federal high court has jurisdiction to entertain the Plaintiffs’ action, the court would in this case, decline jurisdiction as the plaintiffs have not exhausted the remedies provided by the constitution of the Church of Nigeria and the Diocese of Lagos before filling this action. In addition, it is the high court of Lagos State that has jurisdiction to entertain the action,more so the Plaintiffs have no legal right to institute this action. Therefore they urged the court to dismiss or strike out this suit for want of jurisdiction.
In another objection filed on behalf of the registered trustee of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican communion)Lagos Diocese by a Lagos lawyer, Barrister Olumide Sofowora SAN, the Church contended that there was no meeting of the General Synod of the Church of Nigeria Anglican Communion or the Diocesan synod of Lagos Diocese where the Plaintiffs were given the authority to institute any suit on their behalf or the concerned members of the House of Laity of the Church of Nigeria in respect of all their allegations and claims in this suit. Therefore they, urged the court to also strike out the case.