By ATIA TILARIOUS AZOHNWI
His Lordship Justice Denis Abonifor Mborigong last week placed a stay of execution on hold appointments made by the Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Buea at the Catholic University Institute of Buea, CUIB.
This is the kernel of a ruling dated Tuesday, June 23, in a matter pitting the Board of Trustees of CUIB as applicants and the Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Buea as respondent. Both parties were respectively represented by Barrister Forcha Dave and Barrister Nkea Emmanuel.
The ruling delivered in open court is predicated upon a motion ex parte filed at the Registry of the court on the 19th of June 2020. The applicants had through their counsel prayed the court to roll out an order restraining the Apostolic Administrator from implementing the decision appointing officials at CUIB until the determination of suit no. HCF/137/OM/2020.
They also prayed the court to take any other further orders it may deem fit and proper to make in the paramount interest of justice.
On Thursday, June 11, Bishop Micheal Miabesue Bibi, Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Buea appointed Professor Victor Julius Ngoh to replace Fr. George Nkeze as President of the Catholic University Institute of Buea, CUIB.
“I write to communicate to you after consultation with members of Diocesan College of Consultors, we’ve decided to make the following transfers and also reconstitute the members of BOT in CUIB in the Diocese of Buea,” said Mgr. Bibi in the dispatch which also made him Chancellor/Pro-Chancellor.
In a letter of complaint addressed to the Administrative Board of the International Federation of Catholic Universities (IFCU), Barrister Sobe Clive Ndikum, ‘writing on behalf of CUIB’, described Fr. George Nkeze’s dismissal as “improper interference”.
The June 11 petition says the decision of the Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Buea “may put in jeopardy the role of Father George Jingwa Nkeze, President, CUIB, Vice President of IFCU, and IFCU Regional President for Africa.”
The lawyer is of the opinion that as Apostolic Administrator, Bishop Michael Bibi is not empowered to carry out any major change or decision which is for the new bishop to make. “The newly appointed Administrator has caused irreparable damage and mistrust amongst students, faculty members, the laity and other well-wishers of our Christian Community by making uninformed, ill-advised and rash decisions beyond the scope of his mandate and authority as an administrator.”
Barrister Sobe, counsel contracted by ousted CUIB President Nkeze, says “Bishop Bibi’s actions have reached unprecedented levels of commotion resulting to publications of articles a reasonable person would consider not kind to the Bishop or the position he holds.”
According to the lawyer, CUIB is autonomous and its Board of Trustees is supreme over the office of Bishop, talk less of that of Apostolic Administrator. He therefore calls on the International Federation of Catholic Universities, an organisation of over 200 Catholic universities throughout the world, to bend Bishop Bibi’s hand so he can reopen and restore the status quo of CUIB Bank accounts and get Fr. Nkeze reinstated to complete his presidential mandate expected to expire in 2023.
In the wake of the tussle, Archbishop Julio Murat, apostolic nuncio of the Holy See to Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea has renewed the confidence of the Holy Father Pope Francis on Bishop Michael Miabesue Bibi, Apostolic Administrator of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buea.
This emboldened Bishop Bibi to on June 16, in the Conference Room of the Bishop’s House in Small Soppo, chair a meeting with the newly appointed officials and staff of CUIB.
The embattled Board of Trustees thus seized the court to declare the Apostolic Administrator’s appointments at CUIB null and void.
Justice Denis Abonifor Mborigong found that the said application was made in the interest of justice and the applicants will be greatly prejudiced if the appointment decision is implemented.
“I hold that substantial justice demands that this court restraints the respondent from implementing the said decision until the originating process is heard,” Justice Mborigong ruled. “I find that the said application is grounded both in law and fact.”
While the applicants celebrate, the respondents are said to have appealed the ruling.
Enter Lawyer Beze Bejeje Nkem
Lawyer Beze Bejeje Nkem takes keen interest on the saga that is currently rocking CUIB. Mindful of his close ties with the Catholic church, and cognizant of his beliefs as a Roman Catholic, he said it is his duty to comment on certain matters as deemed fit when it pertains to the Church.
“I have perused the Ruling delivered last Tuesday, on the matter between The Board of Trustees CUIB vs The Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Buea. The said ruling stems from a restraint order emanating from the Applicants praying the High Court of Fako to grant the said Order against the Apostolic Administrator from implementing the appointment on CUIB,” Advocate Nkem said.
He furthers that the action in court was brought by a Motion Exparte. A motion Exparte is an urgent application filed by an Applicant in a law suit urging court to intervene and thereby avoiding an irreparable damage which may be done by the Respondent. In a nutshell, urging the court to maintain the status quo pending the determination of the substantive suit. Once filed, the Applicant MUST NOT serve the Respondent.
Beze Bejeje Nkem goes on to expatiate on the plethora of legal implications emanating from last week’s ruling.
Hear him: “First, the Apostolic Administrator was not served with the motion Exparte filed (it is not required he should be served) to attend hearing in court.
“Second, the Apostolic Administrator has eight days within which to file a response, challenging the Orders (as per the motion exparte) delivered last Tuesday. Failure of which the order shall be executed in its entirety, as per the prayers of the Applicant(s).
“Third, immediately counsel for Apostolic Administrator receives the said ruling, he may/ shall file a Motion on notice (which is highly expected) to the court, challenging the said Orders, the court shall slate a date, giving a fair opportunity to hear from and listen to the oral submissions of both counsel.”
Lawyer Nkem holds that it is only after this aforementioned hearing and determination of this ruling (Motion on Notice) that the legal luminaries may appeal the case or accept by the court’s decision.
The advocate insists that what is axiomatic is that, these are preliminary matters, given that the substantive matter or the main case is what is sacrosanct.
Beze Bejeje Nkem then comments as follows: “The universal church doesn’t like taking cases to court. Bishop Bibi who is the Head of the Diocese of Buea should seek for solutions and call his priests to order. The members of the BOT should withdraw this matter from court. There is a high possibility we may get to soon hear claims about charges of embezzlement against priests & others.
“From a legal lens (I may be wrong though) a cursory look at the statute of the BOT, the Bishop’s chances of going out scotch free is slim, as ONLY the BOT members can amend the statute, thereby frustrating the Bishop as he once asseverated.
“Was there foresight? Was Emeritus Bushu smart enough to know his child (CUIB) and project ought to be truly autonomous? Such that his successor won’t easily change the vision from inception? Time will truly tell.
“Rev. Fr. Nkeze MUST respect his Bishop at all material time in line, mindful of Canon no 273 “Clerics have a special obligation to show reverence and obedience to the supreme pontiff and their own ordinary” meaning his Bishop. I suppose for now, we may reserve the rights to add that “Ceteris Paribus.”
“We all should pray for the Diocese of Buea, that the good Lord in his infinite mercies should touch the hearts of all priestly people, holy people and God chosen people and breathe a lasting solution.”
Intriguing call for mediation by dismissed Board of Trustees
After taking the matter to court, the CUIB Board of Trustees overhauled by Bishop Bibi’s June 11 decree is now requesting an out-of-court settlement.
On Thursday, Dr. George Atem, Dean of the embattled CUIB Board of Trustees said while they are relieved by Tuesday’s Fako High Court ruling to stay execution of the Bishop’s appointments at CUIB, they recognise the importance of dialogue in the resolution of “this debacle”.
Atem’s statement is said to be the outcome of a June 24 “extraordinary Board Meeting”. Although only Atem’s signature appears on the communiqué, the following persons are said to have given their approval: Roseline Menga, Louis Nkembi, Roland Kwemain, HRH Micheal Fondungallah, Fr George Nkeze and Sr Mary Kombe.
The aforementioned expressed their desire to see the CUIB saga handled and resolved internally, away from social media in a bid to protect the image of the Diocese, the University and the Church.
“The Board of Trustees would like to clarify contrary to ill-informed opinions expressed via social media platforms that it is the Board of Trustees and not the President of the University, Fr. George Nkeze that is leading all ongoing efforts to protect the interest and Statutes of the University that were crafted at its inception leading unto 2018 by amongst many, Justice Chibili, Archbishop Andrew Nkea (at the time Fr. Andrew Nkea), Bishop Immanuel Bushu, Late Senior Barrister Helen Ebai and others,” they wrote.
“That Fr. George Nkeze is a priest of the Diocese of Buea who was appointed President of CUIB by Bishop Immanuel Bushu. Bishop Michael Bibi, as Apostolic Administrator has the right to assign Fr. George Nkeze as he sees fit and there is a process for doing so under the University’s Statutes. In obedience to his Bishop, Fr. Nkeze has respected the decision of Bishop Bibi to remove him from the Presidency of the University and place him on sabbatical.”
They end by expressing their “hope and wish that all University Bank accounts will be reopened and re-established to allow for the proper functioning of the University.”
Bishop Bibi had told local television, HiTV that he did not freeze the accounts of CUIB. “I only changed the signatories to include my name as Bishop Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese. If they want to make any withdrawals, I must co-sign,” said the Bishop.