A lawyer walks through the compound at the Federal High Court in Ikoyi district in Lagos, Nigeria, May 8, 2018. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye
Reuters

Justice Mojisola Olatoregun of the Federal High court in Lagos has struck out a suit filed by ten prominent members of the Church of Nigeria Anglican communion, Lagos Diocese, challenging the election of the new Bishop Humphrey Olumakaiye for lack of jurisdiction.

Justice Olatoregun, who struck out the suit while ruling on the preliminary objection filed by the defendants, held that the Federal high court has no jurisdiction over the case.

The judge stated that while reviewing the claim of the plaintiffs, it not relate to causes and matter 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 court further held that the issues raised in the claims of the plaintiffs are domestic in nature and that they can be compartmentalised as internal discontent and wrangling.

“It has nothing to do with the regulations and operations of the registered body,” she stated.

Justice Olatoregun therefore held that the only thing left to be done was to make an order striking out the suit or transferring same to the state high court if parties requested, adding, that there being 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.

According to them, they sued for themselves and on behalf of concerned members of the Lagos Diocese of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion).

The defendants in the suit include registered trustees of the Lagos Diocese of the church, 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 a statement on oath of Plaintiffs’ witness sworn to by Chief Dr Oluyomi Finnih, 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.

Consequently, 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 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, the 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 4th 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, February 2018.

“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 20th 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 26th 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 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,” he said.

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 the 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 notified of the actions of Reverend Ademowo and Olumakaiye.”

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