Court to Determine Suit Against Methodist Mission Expeditiously

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Tobi Soniyi

Justice Olatunde Oyajinmi of an Ogun State High Court has vowed to hear expeditiously a suit by the Efure community, in Offin Sagamu against Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Association Limited seeking to set aside a ninety nine year lease of 54 acres of land on the ground that Methodist misled it into signing the lease agreement.

In the suit filed by Mr Babatunde Oshilaja before the Ogun State High Court sitting in Sagamu on behalf Samuel Banjo, Emmanuel Oladunni Adelesi, Kolawole Odugbesi for themselves as members and representatives of Efure Community Offin, Sagamu, the plaintiffs asked the court to nullify 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 was unknown to law.

The judge, however, declined an application by the plaintiffs praying the court to determine whether Methodist Missionary Trust Association Limited has legal status as an incorporated limited company in Nigeria.
In refusing the application, the judge held that determining the juristic personality of Methodist Missionary Trust Association lLimited at an interlocutory stage would amount to delving into the merits of the case.

The judge consequently urged all the parties to file all necessary documents and avoid unnecessary delays.
The judge warned that once the hearing of the substantive matter begins, he would not entertain superfluous applications warning that “a moving train waits for no one”.
The plaintiffs had asked the court to declare Wesley Methodist Missionary Trust Association Limited as a non juristic personality that did not exist in law.

They also asked the court to determine whether Methodist Missionary Trust Association limited has legal status as an incorporated limited company in Nigeria.
The claimants in their 36-page Motion on Notice stated that only legal persons were 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.

The community added that 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 stated that as at March 15, 1931 the Wesley Missionary Trust Association Limited was not known to law hence was 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 its name as at March 15, 1931 lacked requisite legal capacity required to enter into a leasehold contract.
The claimants added that the domicile origin of Wesley Missionary Trust Association is the United Kingdom where it was liable to tax laws but illegally carrying out 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 are asking 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.

However, in its amended memorandum of appearance brough under order 9, rule 1(1), the 1st and 3rd defendants, (Wesley Missionary Trust Association Limited and the Incorporated Trustees of the Methodist Church) 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 laches and acquiescence (unreasonable and inexcusably delayed) and liable to be dismissed.