Story By Gbenga Ogunbufunmi
A Sagamu High Court, Ogun State, has fixed November 30, 2020, to rule on an application seeking to determine if Methodist Missionary Trust Association Limited, has a Legal Status, to operate as an incorporated limited company in Nigeria.
Justice Olatunde Olajinmi, who presided over the court, fixed the date after taken arguments from parties’ counsel, in a suit filed against the Methodist’s company by members of Efure Community, Offin, Sagamu.
The members of Efuru Community who are claimants in the suit are: Samuel Banjo; Emmanuel Adelesi and Kolawole Odugbesi.
While the respondents are: the Incorporated Trustees of the Methodist Church; Nigeria Sagamu Local Government; Vigilante Security Organisation; Oladega Ajelana, Wasiu Asanko and Mrs. Abosede Dauda (Members of Kajola Saw Millers); Wasiu Jebe, Alhaja Ganiyat Adebayo, Tunbosun Okubote, Yaya Okesola, Bolanle Adeboga and the Gospel Sabbatarian the True Church of God.
The claimants through their lawyer, Mr. Babatunde Oshilaja, in a suit numbered HCS/270/2017, had asked the court to nullify the Deed of Lease dated March 15, 1931 on 53.94 acres of land kept at Ogun state land registry, Abeokuta alleging that Wesley Methodist Missionary Trust Association Limited is unknown to law.
At the resumed proceedings on Thursday, the claimants’ counsel, Mr. Oshilaja informed the court of his two pending applications, which have been served on all the respondents.
He said the application is seeking leave of the court to file additional witness statement and an order to deem as properly filed.
This was opposed by counsel representing first and third respondents, Mr. A. Osakwe, who argued that “the application should have accompanied by statement of additional witness and that the name of the first claimant ought to have been expunged.
He added that claimants’ counsel ought to have informed the court that the first claimant is no more a living.
However, the claimants’ counsel, Oshilaja, submitted that he cannot asked the court to expunge the name of the first claimant due to COVID 19 pandemic, that restrained movement.
Oshilaja vehemently argued that, he heard of the death of first claimant but he had no medical report to ascertain the cause of death, when he died and some other information to furnish the court with.
On the statement of witness to be attached, Oshilaja submitted that the list of witness was attached to the application. Added that the rules does not state that is must be on the first page of the application.
“My Lord I submitted that the application brought before the court must be looked into from beginning to the end before my Lord will make pronouncement on it. It is not that the court will not go through all the pages of the application.”
In a bench ruling, Justice Olajinmi granted the claimants’ counsel’s request and ordered that the application dated January 10, 2020, be struck out and be substituted with the new list of witnesses.
The claimants in their 36-page Motion on Notice stated that only legal persons are capable of possessing legal rights and duties and since Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Trust Association limited was not a legal person registered under the Nigerian law as at March 15, 1931 or thereafter it could not acquire an interest in the leasehold land.
They added that added that Methodist Missionary Trust Association Limited has no legal status as it was not an incorporated limited company, hence there was no execution of the Deed of Lease on the disputed land.
The claimants averred that as at March 15, 1931, the Wesley Missionary Trust Association Limited was not only known to law, but also not legally capable of exercising the powers and functions of an incorporated company including the power to hold the leasehold land.
They maintained that Wesley Missionary Trust Association Limited failed to comply with general conditions laid down in the Companies’ Ordinance of 1912, or the Companies Act of 1948 and failed to obtain registration and incorporation as a limited liability company.
Besides, the claimants noted that by the provision of Section 54(1) of the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) every foreign company which before or after the commencement of CAMA was incorporated outside Nigeria and having the intention of carrying on business in Nigeria shall take all steps necessary to obtain incorporation as a separate entity in Nigeria.
They averred that Wesley Missionary Trust Association Limited not being a registered limited liability company as expressed in it name as at March 15, 1931 lacked requisite legal capacity required to enter into leasehold contract.
The claimants added that the domicile origin of Wesley Missionary Trust Association is United Kingdom where it is liable to tax laws but illegally carrying out on business in Nigeria without obtaining registration/incorporation under Nigerian Company statutory legislation.They argued that all the original rights of the lessors in the Deed of Lease are preserved to their successors and their predecessors who lived in 1931 are in law one and the same.
Consequently, the claimants asked the court for an order vesting the entire 53.94 acres of land in the claimants as successors to the lessors as deemed holders of the statutory right of occupancy under section 34(2) of the Land Use Act.
But, in its amended memorandum of appearance brought under order 9, rule 1(1), the 1st and 3rd defendants, (Wesley Missionary Trust Association Limited and the Incorporated Trustees of the Methodist Church) through their lawyer Bonajo Badejo (SAN) stated that the claimants were not known to the defendants and there was no relationship between them since 1931 when the land was acquired.
They argued that the claimants’ action has been defeated by statute of limitation, lacking reasonable cause of action and should be dismissed.
They further stated that the claimants’ case has been defeated by latches and acquiescence (unreasonable and inexcusably delay) and liable to be dismissed.