The crisis that erupted after the ecclesial election of the Lagos Diocese of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) has snowballed into legal hostility as ten aggrieved prominent financial members and elders of the church have dragged the trustee of the church and five others before a Federal high court in Lagos.
They are not only alleging that the election conducted by the church was manipulated but one of the trustees of the church and the current Bishop of Lagos Diocese Reverend Dr Adebola Ademowo should be ordered to refund N260 million he allegedly collected from the Diocese and used for his personal purpose.
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).
Defendants in the suit are 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 Adebola Ademowo, Reverend Humphrey Olumakaiye, and Reverend Dr Michael Fape.
In a statement of claim accompanied by statement on oath of plaintiffs witness sworn to by Chief Dr Oluyomi Finnih and jointly filed before a Federal High Court in Lagos Southwest Nigeria on behalf of the plaintiffs by two Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SAN, 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 is 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, 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 6 February, 2018. Unexpectedly Reverend Humphrey Olumakaiye was announced as “elected at the purported election of 6 April, 2018.
Upon receiving notice of the outcome of the election, the Plaintiffs again wrote a letter dated, 15 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 an 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 expressed their concern in the letter that Humphrey Olumakaiye being the “godson” of Reverend Ademowo would covered 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 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 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 urge 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 there behalf of 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 urge the court to also strike out the suit.
The Presiding judge Mojisola Olatoregun has adjourned till Monday 21st of May, 2018 for hearing to commence.