Anglican Church loses 33 years legal battle to Iwaya community
The Supreme Court has put to an end 33 tortious years of legal tussle over a parcel of land in Iwaya, Lagos State, which has been in contention between Iwaya community and the Anglican Church.
The Supreme Court, which delivered the landmark judgment last Friday allowed the appeal filed by Iwaya community, against the judgments of the Lagos State High Court and the Court of Appeal, holding that without proving its due incorporation under the law, the church was without legal capacity to institute an action in court.
The Registered Trustees of the Anglican Diocese of Lagos had in 1984 dragged Sunkanmi Dairo and six others before the Ikeja High Court, claiming ownership of a vast portion of land, situate and being at Iwaya area of Lagos. The church’s claims were predicated on a deed, while Dairo and other members of Iwaya community claimed direct purchase from the Oloto chieftaincy family.
In the course of the trial, the Oloto family joined the case as the seventh defendant. But in his judgment in 1998, trial judge, Justice Fatai Adeyinka, granted the church’s claims in part and held the defendants liable in trespass.
Dissatisfied with the judgment of the High Court, Iwaya community appealed against it. The appeal was, however, dismissed in an unanimous decision in 2002 by the appellate court.
In its judgment, the apex court clarified the mode of proof of status of artificial bodies incorporated under the Companies and Allied Matters Act and also the rule of pleading. In the lead judgment, the court presided by Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour held that an incorporated company or registered trustees bear the onus to prove its incorporation once same has not been conceded by the defendant and the only way to prove its juristic personality is to produce its certificate of incorporation before the court.
Re-affirming the Supreme Court decision in the 1972 case of Registered Trustees of Apostolic Church v. A-G., Mid-Western Nigeria, the court held that even if there was an admission inter parties, as the status of the incorporated body, proof of incorporation must be established as a matter of law by the production of in evidence of the certificate of incorporation, failing which any action initiated by such body will fail, the consequence being that such plaintiff is not a juristic person capable of suing and being sued.
The Supreme Court further held the judgment entered by the Lagos High Court in favour of the plaintiff and affirmed by the Court of Appeal as a nullity and same was accordingly set aside.
A brief summary of the 33-year-case obtained by The Guardian showed that the dispute started in 1984, when the case was filed in the High Court, and judgment was delivered in 1998, 14 years after the case was filed.
An appeal was lodged at the Court of Appeal in 1998 and judgment was delivered in 2002, four years after. A further appeal was filed in the Supreme Court in 2002 leading to the current judgment delivered in 2017, 15 years after, totaling 33 years.
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