Prophetess (Mrs) Caroline Okebu has won the first round of the legal battle with her husband, Pastor Ralph Okebu, over the control and/or ownership of their church, Victory Pentecostal Ministries International Incorporated, Enugu.
For about a year now, Pastor Ralph and his wife, Prophetess Caroline (aka Mummy Victory), who are blessed with two teenage daughters have been having a running battle over the ownership of the church and its a’s’sets.
Following allegations of violence, philandering, greed, money mongering, deceit and quest to convert church auditorium into a warehouse, the pastor and his wife fell apart. Thus, the church became factionalized, as it were. Some of the members became loyal to Pastor Ralph while some others pitched their tent with his wife, Caroline.
The couple, as exclusively reported last year by Sunday Sun, had been engaged in a fight-to-finish. The situation was such that congregants supporting either side fought physically over the use of the church auditorium located at Km 1 Enugu/ Onitsha Expressway. It took the intervention of the police to restore some form of order in the church. And for two Sundays, security agents were stationed at the premises to avoid bloodshed.
A source had told the reporter: “The leaders of the church and some of the members were regular customers at various police stations in Enugu, as they made allegations and counter allegations against themselves. In fact, the pastor and his wife traded punches and ended up at the police station.”
One of the trustees, Deacon Uchenna Ani, who said that he registered the ministry exclusively with his funds, also volunteered: “Honestly, the situation became so explosive that there was physical scuffle. The police was invited and we’ve been moving from one police station to the other.”
The church administrator, Barrister Chucks Okonkwo equally told the reporter that it got to a point that “the police came in and the Enugu State Commissioner of Police personally took over the matter and was mediating.
“So, as this lasted, the police at some point, decided with the leadership of both factions that the Ralph Okebu-led group should be having morning service to dismiss at 12noon while the Prophetess Caroline-led group would have their own service thereafter. “Not minding the inconvenience it might cause because people were used to going to church in the morning, in the interest of peace and while believing that God will intervene and a permanent solution will come, this was accepted and services have been operating that way. But unfortunately, Ralph Okebu feels that the church is his personal business and is determined to chase out anyone that does not agree with him. So, the first thing he did was to go to his village in Odekpe in Anambra State and bring his siblings to live in his office attached to the church auditorium.
What this people now do is that whenever the other faction is having a programme, they would open the door in the attached building which opens into the auditorium, playing music at loud volume, banging doors and all that just to distract worshippers or cause a fight. But this has been contained by constant pleading by the leadership of that group so that there won’t be a fight. Dissatisfied that he is not getting what he expected, because he always describes the church as his, Pastor Okebu had sued Prophetess Caroline and Deacon Uchenna Ani.”
The pastor went to court claiming that his wife and Ani, two of the four trustees of the ministry had ceased to be members of the ministry and should not have access to the property of the church.
In the suit instituted by Pastor Ralph Okebu (on behalf of the incorporated trustees) against Prophetess Caroline Okebu and Deacon Ani at a Federal High Court in Enugu in Suit No: FHC/EN/CS/9/2014, he was seeking “an order of interlocutory injunction restraining the defendants/respondents by themselves, principal, agents, servants, privies or any person or persons howsoever called or designated from interfering with, trespa’s’sing on or entering into the plaintiff’s church building and premises situated at Km 1, Enugu/Onitsha Expressway, GRA, Enugu pending the hearing of the substantive suit.”
But in their submission, the defendants urged the court to hold that it does not have the jurisdiction to hear and determine the suit, which bothers on claim of title to the land where the church operates.
Delivering the judgment, Justice D.V. Agishi noted that having looked at the statement of the plaintiff, there was no doubt that the bone of contention was the title to the property/land.
“The plaintiff is asking the court to declare that the defendants are not entitled to possess, use and enjoy the property/church building, interfere, obstruct and trespa’s’s on the plaintiff’s property. Looking at the aspect of the plaintiff’s reliefs, what he wants this court to do is in essence to confer ownership of title to the property in issue to it i.e ‘church building and premises situate at KM1 Enugu/ Onitsha Express way, GRA, Enugu.’ This automatically removes the subject matter within the ambit and jurisdiction of this court.
“It is not the law that every cause of action in which a company or corporation is involved must be determined by the Federal High Court except where the law specifically provides. For example, the Constitution specifically provides in Section 251 (1) (c).
“It is my opinion that the main dispute or matter here is title to or ownership over church building and premises situate at KM1 Enugu/ Onitsha Expressway GRA, Enugu and secondly, a perpetual injunction restraining the defendants from trespa’s’sing on plaintiff’s land. As I said before, this court lacks the jurisdiction to adjudicate over title to land and trespa’s’s. For that reason, this suit is struck out for want of jurisdiction.”
Meanwhile, the worship arrangement still remains. While the Pastor Ralph faction worships in the morning, the Prophetess Caroline group worships in the afternoon.
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