JOSIAH OWODUNNI VS REGISTERED TRUSTEES OF CELESTIAL CHURCH OF CHRIST & ORS-2000

JOSIAH OWODUNNI VS REGISTERED TRUSTEES OF CELESTIAL CHURCH OF CHRIST & ORS

(2000) LCN/2894(SC)

In the Supreme Court of Nigeria

Friday, June 30, 2000


Case Number:SC. 126/1995

 

JUSTICES:

A.B. WALI JUSTICE, SUPREME

M.E. OGUNDARE JUSTICE, SUPREME COURT

A.I. IGUH

A.I. KATSINA-ALU JUSTICE, SUPREME COURT

JUSTICE, SUPREME COURT

A.O. EJIWUNMI JUSTICE, SUPREME COURT

 

APPELLANTS

JOSIAH KAYODE OWODUNNI

 

RESPONDENTS

REGISTERED TRUSTEES OF CELESTIAL CHURCH OF CHRIST

ALEXANDER ABIODUN BADA

J. O. PASE

 

RATIO

REQUIREMENTS FOR LOCUS STANDI

“It is a common ground in all the jurisdictions of the common law countries that the claimant must have some justiciable interest which may be affected by the action or that he will suffer injury or damage as a result of the action. In most cases the area of dispute, and sometime, of conflicting decisions has been whether or not on particular facts and situation the claimant has sufficient interest or injury to accord him a hearing”- PER OGUNDARE JSC.

 

M.E.OGUNDARE, JSC. (Delivering the Judgment by the Court):

This appeals raises once again the vexed question of locus standi which, in spite of a plethora of decided cases on it, still remains a Gordian Knot. A number of judicial pronouncements have been made and academic papers written. Rather than the problem being solved, it has become more intractable as the case now on hand demonstrates. The dispute between the parties arose as a result of the demise on 10th September, 1985 of the Reverend Pastor Samuel Bilehou Joseph Oshoffa, prophet and founder of the Celestial Church of Christ, a religious Organisation duly registered in 1958 as a corporate body under the Lands (Perpetual Succession) Act, Cap. 98 Laws of Nigeria) 1958.   The Church, founded in 1942, has chapters (otherwise called dioceses in various countries of the world; including Nigeria. The Nigeria diocese has a constitution which was adopted in 1980. Section 146 of the said constitution established a body known as the Registered Trustees of the Church and comprised seven members, namely, Reverend Pastor Prophet Founder Samuel Bilehou Joseph Oshoffa who was Chairman, Supreme Evangelist Alexander Abiodun Bada (2nd Defendant in these proceedings), Superior Senior Evangelist Samuel Olatunji Ajanlekoko, Superior Senior, Leader Olayinka Afolabi Adefeso, Superior Senior Leader Josiah Kayode Owodunni (The Plaintiff in these proceedings), Superior Senior Leader Oluremi Olusoga Ogunlesi and Superior Senior Leaders Samson Olatunde Banjo, as members.

All members of the Registered Trustee, except the late Pastor Oshoffa and the Plaintiff, now constitute the 1st Defendant in these proceedings. The 2nd Defendant was equally sued in his personal or private capacity.    Following the death of Pastor Oshoffa, the 1st Defendants met in December 1985 and chose the 2nd Defendant as successor to the late Pastor, as head of the Church. The choice of the 2nd Defendant followed a message by one Amu (a non-member of the Church) transmitted to the 1st Defendants as coming from the late Pastor to the effect that he (the late Pastor) had named the 2nd Defendant as his successor. Amu also gave to the 1st Defendants a parcel said to have come from the late Pastor and containing a wooden cross, cowries shells and a stick of candle. The Plaintiff who was absent at the meeting of the Registered Trustees, on learning of what took place, opposed the choice of the 2nd Defendant as Pastor and head of the church on the ground that the procedure adopted was contrary to section 111 of the Constitution of the church in Nigeria. In spite of the opposition of the Plaintiff, the 1st Defendants during the 1985 Christmas service proclaimed before a congregation of the Church at Imeko, the 2nd Defendant as the successor to the office of the Pastor of the Church. Since his proclamation as Pastor, the 2nd Defendant has been performing the duties of that office. The Plaintiff, on 2nd October 1987 instituted the action leading to this appeal claiming by his writ of summons the following reliefs:-

‘1. A Declaration

(i) that the naming and proclamation of the Defendant Supreme Evangelist Alexander Abiodun Bada, as successor to the office of Pastor of ‘Celestial Church of Christ, (Nigeria Diocese)’ is unconstitutional, null and void and of no effect.

(ii) That the Trustees of the Celestial church of Christ (Nigeria Diocese) have no power, under the 1980 Constitution of Celestial Church of the Christ (Nigeria diocese) to name the successor to the office of Pastor of Celestial Church of Christ (Nigeria Diocese).

(iii) That any official act undertaken and or performed by the 2nd Defendant as the Pastor and/or the Successor to the office of Pastor of the Celestial Church of Christ (Nigeria Diocese) from 24th day of December, 1985 onwards, is invalid null and void and of no effect.

2. An Injunction:

(i) Restraining the defendants, their servants, agents privies, or howsoever from enthroning and/or installing the 2nd Defendant as the Pastor and spiritual Head of the Celestial Church of Christ (Nigeria Diocese) (ii) Restraining the 2nd Defendant from parading himself as a Pastor or attiring himself in the robes and regalia of the Office of Pastor of Celestial Church of Christ (Nigeria diocese).

3. An account of all money collected by the 2nd Defendant in respect of the anointment by him for members of he Celestial Church of Christ (Nigeria Diocese) from 24th December, 1985 onward.’

 Pleadings were filed and exchanged and, by orders of court, amended. In the course of the proceedings, the Defendants counter claimed for –

(i) A declaration that they are entitled to the possession, management and control of the premises and property of the Church building and premises known as the Ijeshatedo Parish.

(ii) An Injunction restraining the Defendants by Counter-claim, their servants, agents and supporters from interfering with the Plaintiff by counter-claim rights over the said premises. The defendants to the counter-claim are the Plaintiff and two others – J.O. Pase and E.O. Gbinigie who were, by order of court made on 1st December 1989, made parties to the action. In his amended statement of claim Plaintiff finally claimed.

1. A Declaration:

(i) that the naming and proclamation of the 2nd Defendant, Supreme Evangelist Alexander Abiodun Bada, as successor to the office of Pastor of ‘Celestial Church of Christ, (Nigeria Diocese)’ is unconstitutional, null and void and of no effect;

(ii) that the Trustees of the Celestial Church of Christ (Nigeria diocese) have no power, under the 1980 Constitution of Celestial Church of Christ (Nigeria Diocese) to name the successor to the office of Pastor of Celestial church of Christ (Nigeria Diocese);

(iii) that any official act undertaken and or performed by the 2nd Defendant as the 2nd Defendant as the Pastor and/or the successor to the office of Pastor of the Celestial Church of Christ (Nigeria diocese) from 24th day of December, 1985 onwards, is invalid null and void and of no effect.

(iv) That the purported enthronement and/or installation of the 2nd Defendant on the 24th December, 1987, is ultra vires, null and void.

2. An Injunction restraining the 2nd Defendant from parading himself as a Pastor and/or attiring himself in the robe and regalia of the office of Pastor of Celestial Church of Christ (Nigeria diocese).

3. An account of all money colleted by the 2nd Defendant in respect of the anointment by him of members of the Celestial Church of Christ (Nigeria Diocese) of any sum found due from the 2nd Defendant upon taking such account.   The action proceeded to trial during which evidence was led on both sides. At the conclusion of the trial, and after addressed by learned leading counsel for the parties, the learned trial Judge (Famakinwa J) in a well-reasoned judgment found:-

1. ‘it does not appear to be important to make a decision as between the Board of Trustees or the congregation who named and proclaimed 2nd defendant as PASTOR of the Church. Whichever body that named the 2nd Defendant as PASTOR could not be within the meaning and intendment of Section 111 of Exhibit PH’.

 2. ‘From the totality of the evidence adduced before me and for reasoning given in this case I declare that the naming and proclamation of 2nd Defendant as Pastor of C.C.C. is unconstitutional, null and void and of no effect.’

3. ‘The Pastor/Founder in his life time did no name anybody as his successor.

4. ‘upon a proper consideration of the whole evidence before me, I am not inclined in this action to make an order for an account in this regard against the 2nd Defendant. Plaintiff has not instituted this action in representative capacity. 2nd Defendant is not an Accounting party to the Plaintiff. More importantly, there is no shred of evidence before me that 2nd Defendant collected fees for the anointment performed by him on the members of the Church. Again (and this point is fatal to claim on this head) that the monies collected, if at all, were pocketed by the 2nd Defendant. I fail to see the rationale behind the claim for an account for the anointment performed by the 2nd Defendant.’   Upon these findings, the learned Judge entered judgment in favour for the Plaintiff on his claims 1(i) – (iv) and 2 but dismissed his claims 3 and 4 for account and payment over.  On the Defendants’ counterclaim, the learned trial Judge found that although title in the property of the Church, including the Ijeshatedo I Parish church building is vested in the Registered Trustees of the Church, he would not grant the reliefs claimed by the Defendants for the reason that to maintain peace, he should refuse the claims. He, thereupon, dismissed Defendants’ claims.    The Defendants, quite naturally, were displeased with this judgment and appealed to the Court of Appeal on a number of grounds they formulated the following issues for the determination of the appeal before that court, that is to say:

(i) Did the plaintiff have locus standi to maintain the action?

(ii) Where the Constitution of a voluntary association of member; proves totally unworkable and the same proves unamendable owing to impossibility of compliance with its existing provisions for (sic) amendment, will be /courts declared (sic) invalid a    decision taken by the generality of the membership to surmount the impossible situation?

(iii) Did the Defendants/Appellants make a case different from that made in their   pleadings?

(iv) Ought the Plaintiff to have been granted Declaratory and Injunctive remedies sought   in the circumstances of this case;  (v) Was the Court below right to refuse the declaration and Injunction sought by the Registered Trustees having regard to the fact that –

(a) their right and title to the church is not disputed;

(b) there is admitted breach of or interference with their right of management and    control of the same.

Although the appeal was fully argued, the appeal was however decided on Issue (1). And in this, the Court of Appeal was divided in its decision. The majority (Sulu-Gambari and Pats-Acholonu JJCA) allowed the appeal on issue (i) only holding that the Plaintiff had no locus standi to institute the action and made no pronouncements on the other four issues. Uwaifo JCA (as he then was who dissented held that the Plaintiff had locus standi to institute the action. he resolved issue (ii) against the Defendants and found it unnecessary to pronounce on issue (iii). He dismissed the appeal in respect of the declarations and injunctions granted by the learned trial Judge. Uwaifo J.C.A. found that judgment ought to be entered in favour of the Defendants on their counter-claim and allowed the appeal as regards the counter-claim only. The Plaintiff has now appealed to this Court against the majority decision that he lacked locus standi to institute the action. the Defendants too, further appealed to this court against the failure of the majority of the Court below to pronounce on the other issues placed by them before that Court.   Pursuant to the Rules of this court the parties filed and exchanged their respective briefs of argument. The Defendants filed an amended brief incorporating arguments on their cross-appeal, to which the Plaintiff filed a reply brief. In his brief plaintiff set out two questions as calling for determination of this appeal.   These are:

(i) Whether the Majority Justices of the Court of Appeal stated and applied the law on locus standi correctly.

(ii) Whether the plaintiff had the locus standi to institute the action.  The Defendants, in their amended brief, compress these two questions into one, to wit:  ‘Does a Plaintiff who merely pleads his interest in the subject-matter of a suit but does not claim relief for himself in respect of the Subject-matter of the dispute have locus standi to challenge any alleged irregularity in respect of the subject-matter of the suit.’ Having regard to the judgment appealed against and the arguments in the briefs, I think the question as formulated in the brief of the Defendant is to be preferred.    In respect of their own appeal, the Defendants have posed the following questions:

1. Should the Court of Appeal not have allowed the 1st Defendant’s appeal against the refusal of the High Court to grant their counter-claim?

2. Should the election of the 2nd Defendant/Respondent by unanimous decision of the congregation of the CCC have been declared invalid, unconstitutional, null and void as being contrary to Constitution of the CCC?

3. Should the Court of Appeal not have allowed the Defendants’ appeal against the grant of the Declaration and an Injunction.

The Plaintiff, in his brief, questioned the competence of the above questions on the ground that they did not arise out of the grounds of the cross-appeal. I have examined those grounds and I am satisfied that the questions raised properly arise from those grounds. There is no substance in the Plaintiff’s objection and I hereby dismiss it.  I now proceed to consider the questions raised in the two appeals by taking first the Plaintiff’s appeal where the only issue is the question of locus standi of the Plaintiff to institute the action.

1. LOCUS STANDI  The Plaintiff, both in his brief and in the oral submissions of his learned leading counsel, Kehinde Sofola Esquire, SAN, has argued that the majority Justices of the Court below were in error when they held that the Plaintiff lacked standing to sue because he did not claim any relief for his own personal benefit. It is submitted that all the authorities cited in the lead judgment of Sulu-Gambari, JCA did not support this conclusion. It is further submitted that the minority decision of Uwaifo JCA represents the correct law. We are urged to allow the appeal, set aside the majority judgment of the Court below and restore that of the trial High Court.    The Defendants, on the other hand, both in their amended brief and in oral arguments of their learned leading counsel Chief G.O.K. Ajayi, SAN have argued strenuously in support of the majority judgment of the Court below on the question of locus standi. In summary, they contended –

1. As the Plaintiff did not raise any claim for the determination of his rights, he lacked standing to institute the present action;

2. Adesanya v. President & Anor. (1981) 12 NSCC, 146; (1981) ANLR 1; (1981) SC. 112 is still good law and its application precluded the Plaintiff from suing; and

3. To open wide the doors to let in a class of litigation not contemplated by section 6(6) (b) of the 1979 Constitution (now section 6(6) (b) of the 1999 Constitution) would lead to an unwarranted departure from the spirit and the letter of the Constitution.   In his amended statement of claim Plaintiff pleaded, inter alia, as follows:

’16. The Plaintiff avers that as a member of the Church he is interested in the office of the Pastor and that he has a right under Section 111 of the Constitution to be named and proclaimed the successor to the office of Pastor.

17. The Plaintiff avers that during his lifetime, Papa S.B.J. Oshoffa the Pastor/Founder of the Church often made it known in his words and actions that his successor as Pastor was none other than the Plaintiff.

25. The Plaintiff therefore contends that he is the only person rightfully entitled to be named and proclaimed the successor to the office of the Pastor and that the purported proclamation of the 2nd Defendant as the successor is, not only unconstitutional, illegal, null and void but also a violation of the Plaintiff’s civil right and obligation not only to be the one to be named the new Pastor but also to ensure, that the appointment of the successor to the office of Pastor of the Church is in strict accordance with the provisions of the Constitution of the Church.    He has in diverse paragraphs pleaded that the late Pastor Oshoffa had his (Pastor’s) preference for him (Plaintiff) to succeed as Pastor. On the strength of these averments Sulu-Gambari JCA who delivered the lead judgment of the Court below with which Pats-Acholonu JCA agreed, observed: ‘It is incontrovertible that by the contents of paragraphs 16, 17 and 25, the plaintiff has clearly stated his interest in the matter.’  One would think that with this finding the learned justice of Appeal would conclude that Plaintiff had locus standi to sue. On the contrary, he went on to ask the question:  ‘Has he showed that his rights and obligations have been trampled upon by claiming that the 2nd appellant is not entitled to be proclaimed and enthroned as Pastor?’   To which question he proffered the following answer: ‘Without claiming or praying in his relief that he is the rightful person to be so proclaimed as the Pastor and by asking for an order that all the monies collected by the 2nd appellant for anointments should be paid not to him for the asking but that they should be paid to the Treasurer of the Celestial Church of Christ (Nigeria diocese), will not be tantamount to showing that his rights and obligations have been trampled upon by a particular individual.’ The learned Justice of Appeal then pronounced: ‘A person may have sufficient interest. What claims he makes of that sufficient interest or what issues he made out of that particular interest upon which he is invoking the powers of the court to adjudicate upon between himself and his adversary would constitute his right to invoke  the powers of the court to adjudicate between hi

COUNSELS

Kehinde Sofola, Esq. SAN. (Miss M.O. Amadi-Obi & A.R. Fatunde with him) for the Appellant/ Cross-Respondent.

Chief G.O.K. Ajayi, SAN, (with him are L.O.Fagbemi, SAN, O.I. Olorundare, a.O. Okeaya-Inneh, Miss O.T. Morohundiya and J. Ogar ) for the 1st and 2nd Respondents/Cross-Appellants.

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