Redeemers International Secondary School and its Principal, Mrs Feyisara Osinupebi, nearly lost their bid to stop an Ikeja High Court from punishing them for contempt after they failed to comply with its order directing them to deposit with the chief registrar, the certificates of one of their students, Andre Oddiri.
Justice Ganiyu Safari last Friday dismissed the objection filed by the two challenging the jurisdiction of his court to proceed with the contempt proceeding against them after the plaintiff's lawyer, Moses Oddiri, had asked the court to commit them to prison for disobeying a subsisting court order.
In his ruling, the judge held that the failure of the respondents deposit the documents as was capable of impeding the course of justice in this case and that there was no other effective means of securing such compliance but to deny them the right to be heard on their application until they have purged themselves of their contempt.
He also held that the contempt proceeding is completely independent of the jurisdiction to hear the substantive suit in the case.
“I accordingly hold that based on the foregoing consideration, the applicants' application for an order to commit the 1st and 2nd respondents, especially the 1st respondent (the principal) to prison for disobeying the order of the court made on the 12th of July 2017 takes precedence over all other applications and will be heard first," he declared, adjourning the case until today for the hearing of the contempt proceeding.
Oddiri had sued the school, Mrs Osinupebi, Pastor Ben Akabueze, the British Council, Cambridge IGCSE and Enoch Adeboye, the General Overseer of Redeemers International Church, challenging the refusal of the defendants to release the certificates of his son, Andre to him.
In the originating summons, Oddiri said the decision to withhold his son's 2016 Cambridge I.G.C.S.E result, the updated transcript from Junior Secondary School 1 to Senior Secondary School 3, his testimonial/statement and the 2017 WAEC result over alleged non-payment of third term school fees which he described as dubious, was unlawful.
On July 12, Justice Oke-Lawal had ordered that the documents in the custody of the 1st and 2nd respondents be deposited with the court for preservation pending the outcome and determination of the motion on notice for the enforcement of the fundamental rights of the applicants.
But the respondents failed to comply with order, following which the applicants sought the court's permission to begin contempt proceedings against them with the issuance of forms 48 and 49.
The respondents, through their lawyer, Emeka Etiaba, challenged the jurisdiction of the court to hear the suit. In a motion challenging the competence of the action, Etiaba contended that the suit was not properly constituted, that the reliefs sought went beyond the realms of fundamental rights enforcement, and that the gravamen of the suit was one that affidavit evidence could not resolve.
He also said Adeboye was not a necessary party to the suit, and that the confiscation of the results and transcripts amounted to the exercise of a right of lien over them by the respondents.
The court then took arguments on which application should take precedence in a fundamental rights suit between a contempt proceeding and one challenging the jurisdiction of the court to hear the fundamental rights application.
Oddiri, appearing in person for his son, contended that the suit initiated by motion on notice and not originating summons was properly constituted.
He also affirmed that the reliefs sought, which he said bothered on the release of the confiscated school documents, breaches Article 17 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, the Child Rights Law of Lagos State, and Sections 36 and 34 of the 1999 Constitution.
He also argued Mr. Adeboye is a necessary party and has submitted himself to the jurisdiction of the court with an affidavit deposed to on his behalf and consent, aligning himself with the confiscation of the documents.
He said from the affidavit evidence, the respondents owed him and that the confiscation of the documents amounted to bare-faced stealing and not the exercise of any right of lien. Citing Nebolisa Arah & Another vs Chief Osa Osunde, /LPELP-4413 (CA) and Oquebego vs PDP (2016) 4NWUR at 4559 (Pt.1503), he urged the court to allow the contempt proceedings to take precedence over the application challenging the jurisdiction of the court to enable the court to quickly enforce its.
The vacation judge, Justice Ganiyu Safari, who heard the case, adjourned the matter to August 30, 2017, to rule on which application should be heard first, between committing the respondents to prison for contempt or the application challenging the jurisdiction of the court to hear the matter.
But at the resumed hearing yesterday, the Principal quickly submitted the documents to the court and filed an affidavit of compliance to avoid going to jail.