By Godwin Ifijeh
The Court of Appeal, Lagos, has reaffirmed the judgment of a Lagos High Court against the Deeper Christian Life Ministry in a land dispute with one Mr. Joseph Ebhodaghe, awarding N5 million general damages against the Church for the about 20-year trespass on the respondent’s land.
Ebhodaghe, who the Lagos High Court described as a Clergyman of the Celestial Church of Christ (CCC), instituted the case against the Registered Trustees of the Deeper Christian Life Ministry in 2005 over a piece of land, measuring about 1055.864 square metres located on Mulero Street, Off Oyewole Road, Mulero, Agege, a Lagos suburb and registered as No. 75, at Page 75, in Volume 2004 T of the Lagos State Lands Registration.
With the two parties, laying claim to the land, tracing their titles to the Olalabi Sulu Family, Ebhodaghe had filed an action by a way of writ of summons and an amended statement of claim, asking the court to declare him the owner of the disputed land, order that the Church was a trespass to the land, award him N5 million as general damages against the church for the trespass on the land, order a perpetual injunction to restrain the Church, its agents, servants and privies from further trespassing on the land and such further orders as the court may deem fit.
After about nine years of trial, Justice S.B.A Candide – Johnson of the Lagos General Civil Division, Igbosere, Lagos, on January 17, 2014, granted all the reliefs sought by Ebhodaghe, declaring in his judgment on the matter: “My overall sense of this dispute is that, at some point, the defendant Church was well aware of the prior supervening title and interest of the claimant and yet have eventually contrived to dispossess the claimant by all means other than that which is far and just and in good conscience. In the final analysis, I hold, in the balance of probability and the preponderance of evidence, that on the strength of his case and the relative weakness of the case of the Defendant, that the claimant succeeds and judgment is entered forthwith in his favour against the Defendant.’
Unsatisfied with the judgment, the Registered Trustees of Deeper Christian Life Ministry filed a Notice of Appeal dated March 27, 2015 and filed on April 14, 2015, raising 10 grounds of appeal and six issues for determination. The Church had asked the Court of Appeal to determine whether its title was not superior to Ebhodaghe’s competing title in the face of the documentary and oral evidence adduced before the court by it, whether the action of the trial court in embarking on self-examination of its survey plans with Ebhodaghe’s survey plans in chambers without calling on the parties to address him on it was right and did not amount to denying it fair hearing and justice and whether the failure of the trial court to consider at all its defence of laches, acquiescence and equitable estoppel to the judgment did not amount to denying it fair hearing and perverse judgment.
The Church also wanted the Court of Appeal to determine whether the award by the lower court of general damages of N5million for trespass, use and occupation of the land by it was not excessive without evidence to support the award, whether the award of N400, 000.00 cost was not punitive and was judicially and judiciously awarded and whether the entire judgment of the trial court was not perverse, considering the documentary and oral evidence placed before the court by both parties.
After a thorough review of the briefs of both parties, the three-man Justices of Chinwe Eugenia Iyizoba, Yargata Byenchit Nimpar and Abimbola Osarugue Obaseki-Adejumo of the Court of Appeal, Lagos Judicial Division, in their judgment read and delivered on March 30, 2016 by Justice Abimbola Osarugue Obaseki-Adejumo upheld the judgment of the lower court, declaring: “In the light of the foregoing, this appeal is unmeritorious and it is hereby dismissed. The judgment of Candide-Johnson J. of Lagos High Court delivered on 17th January 2014 is affirmed, cost is accessed at N50, 000.00 against the Appellant.”
An elated Superior Evangelist Joseph Ebhodaghe, Shepherd, CCC Victory Land Parish, Oyewole/Mulero Road, Orile-Agege, Lagos, was full of praise for the judiciary for living up to its role as the last hope of the common man, thanking God for standing by him.
According to him, the Deeper Christian Life Ministry and its Registered Trustees have oppressed him for too long. “I have done everything possible to make peace with them but to no avail. After I got the first judgment from the Lagos High Court, I made several efforts to meet with them to resolve the issue peacefully, they snubbed me, I took the matter to the then Special Assistant to Governor Babatunde Fashola on Christian Affairs, Pastor Ogedegbe, asking him to intervene and make them to see reason to make peace. The SA wrote Pastor Kumuyi and his other Registered Trustee members, they didn’t respond till today, I followed up with several visits to the Church’s programmes at Ayobo, worshiped and participated in all their programmes, thinking I could see Pastor Kumuyi after any of the programmes to draw his attention to the problem, I couldn’t, then I went to their Gbagada headquarters, I could only meet with his Secretary, one Pastor Samuel Afape, I discussed with him and he took all the documents from me, promising to get in touch with me but never did, what followed was that they went to the Court of Appeal, but God has again given me victory over them,” the man of God remarked.
The ex-soldier, who said he was in the Army for 18 years and in war front for two years, explained that he bought the land in 1973 from his retirement benefits and would never allow them to take it from him by any means other than a peaceful process.
“If they come and they say they want the land, I will give them the price, once they pay; I will relinquish it to them, other than that, no way,” Ebhodaghe said.
Several efforts made to get the Deeper Christian Life Ministry’s comment on the matter were futile with Pastor Afape at a point refusing to pick our calls.