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1. BISHOP JOHN AIREHODION 2. WRIGHT IMADOJEMU 3. PAUL OSEBOR EHIJELE 4. STEPHEN AIREHODION (For Themselves and On Behalf of Ujoelen Community, Ekpoma)
MR. DAVID EHIKPEHALE
The Ujoelen Community Ekpoma sent emissaries to Mr. David’s house to inform him to stop demanding rent from tenants on the Community land. Mr. David assaulted, falsely imprisoned and arrested the emissaries sent by the Community. The Community claimed that the act of molesting or assaulting the emissaries of the Community was a violation of their custom and would attract a sanction of monetary fine or providing the community with goat. If Mr. David however fails to pay the fine or provide the goat, the community would ostracize him. Mr David refused to pay the fine or provide the goat and therefore by an announcement made to the whole Community, Mr. David was ostracized.
Mr David filed a suit at the High Court of Edo State, claiming that his fundamental right had been infringed upon by the order of ostracism that was placed on him by the Ujolen Community Ekpoma.
In his suit Mr. David claimed the following reliefs:
1. An order for the enforcement of his fundamental rights to freedom of movement and association that has been breached.
2. A declaration that the order of ostracism placed on him by the Ujeolen Community is unconstitutional, null and void as it is offensive to the Constitution.
3. The sum of N5,000,000.00 (Five Million Naira) only being general damages for the breach of his Fundamental Rights
The learned trial Judge of the High Court found in favour of Mr. David and ordered that the sum of Three Hundred Thousand Naira (N300,000.00) be paid to him as damages.
Dissatisfied with the judgment, representatives of the Community appealed to the Court of Appeal
Can a Community legally ostracize its member who has violated their custom?
The Court of Appeal stated that Ostracism is a form of punishment and it is often practiced by societies for the enforcement of social standards. It is an exclusion from society or common privileges by general consent so that while the person so ostracized remains physically in the Community, he is isolated and shut out from any form of interaction with members of that Community and from enjoining any rights and privileges as a member of the said Community.
There is a prevailing custom of ostracism in the Community of Ujoelen and Mr. David had indeed been ostracized for challenging the elders of the Community by specifically detaining their emissaries in his home and later causing them to be arrested and detained by the Police.
Can it, therefore, be said that the Community’s act of ostracizing Mr. David amounted to a breach of his Fundamental Right? Section 45 of the 1999 Constitution allows the erosion of a person’s right where there is a reasonably justifiable law that seeks to protect public order. Thus, the Ujoelen custom of ostracization can be categorized as a reasonably justifiable law to maintain public order for the beneficial interest of the Community as a whole. Since Mr. David imprisoned elderly members of the Community and caused them to be arrested, he cannot claim that the Community’s action is wrong.
If a person within the Community refuses to obey the rules of common decency within the Community, each member of the Community has a right to refuse to associate with him.
The High Court was, therefore, wrong to find in favour of Mr. David. The Court cannot compel the Community to associate with him. Members of the Community have the right to refuse to associate with any person.
The Court of Appeal, therefore, set aside the decision of the High Court and held that the Community’s decision to ostracize Mr. David was not a breach of his fundamental rights.