Daily Law Tips (Tip 621) by Onyekachi Umah, Esq., LL.M, ACIArb(UK)


It is not uncommon to find members of voluntary associations fight themselves and or with their association. Members often disagree over unreasonable decisions of their voluntary associations. Well, as you will discover below, the courts in Nigeria, respect the rights of persons in Nigeria to form and join voluntary associations. The courts also respect the decisions of voluntary associations even where such decisions are unreasonable. Voluntary associations are supreme gods over the affairs of their associations and not even courts/government can interfere.

The courts in Nigeria will uphold and support unreasonable decisions of a voluntary association that are made in line with the constitution of the voluntary association, as far as the unreasonable decisions are not unlawful, illegal, unconstitutional or contrary to the laws in Nigeria. This is yet another reason people must be careful with the type of associations they form, join and the type of persons that associate and relate with them. Like we say in Nigeria, you are “On Your Own (OYO)”.

Voluntary associations may be registered or unregistered. This includes groups of persons, associations, political parties, clubs, societies, religious institutions, communities, clubs, fora, online or offline groups, committees, charities, foundations, not-for-profit organisations and non-governmental organisations.

Among the fundamental human rights in Nigeria, is the “Right to Peaceful Assembly and Association”. This is enshrined (contained) in the greatest of all laws in Nigeria; the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999. I will now quote what the constitution says, “every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interests: Provided that the provisions of this section shall not derogate from the powers conferred by this Constitution on the Independent National Electoral Commission with respect to political parties to which that Commission does not accord recognition.”

Hence, the courts and all institutions in Nigeria, respect and uphold the rights of persons in Nigeria to form and join voluntary associations and to be bound by the decisions of such voluntary associations. The courts will not interfere with the decisions, operations, affairs and management of a voluntary association even where such actions of the association may be unreasonable but not unlawful.

Aside the provisions of the Constitution on this issue, the apex court (Supreme Court of Nigeria) has had several opportunities to pronounce on this issue. Below is an X-ray of the position of the highest court in Nigeria, from where appeals against its judgements go to nowhere (may be except hell or heaven).

“The Court would not interfere in a case like this one where members of a voluntary association have come to a decision within the provisions of their Constitution even if the decision is unreasonable, Circumstances have not arisen by which the court ought to intervene…. As a voluntary association, it has the right to lay down its own decisions even when they are unreasonable. They should be obeyed or the member in disobedience is entitled to quit. The party is in its own right supreme over its own affairs. This must be said loudly and clearly, unless it has violated its own Constitutional provisions the court would not interfere. The court will not substitute its own will for that of a political party or any other voluntary association. Those who join clubs, or associations or political parties must be made aware of the perils of membership. The majority will must prevail whether it is reasonable or unreasonable.” Per, MARY UKAEGO PETER-ODILI, J.S.C ( Pp. 32-33, paras. C-B ) in the Supreme Court’s judgment in the case of MBANEFO v. MOLOKWU & ORS (2014) LPELR-22257(SC)

“On whether there are circumstances where the Court would interfere in a case where members of a voluntary association have come to a decision within the provisions of their Constitution even if the decision is unreasonable, the Supreme Court Per PETER-ODILI, J.S.C held as follows in MBANEFO V. MOLOKWU & ORS (2014) LPELR – 22257 (SC) AT 31 – 33 (G-C); “It is to be stated that when the Appellant entered and became a full member of the Agbalanze Society, he did so with the full knowledge and freewill to adhere to the rules and regulations guiding it. Therefore, it is not for him to pick and choose which aspect suits him at a given time and which he is at liberty to do away with. To wish to so choose is to first disengage from the association otherwise, he is bound wholly and entirely to what has been provided by the association for the association or members on how its operations are to be conducted.” Per MISITURA OMODERE BOLAJI-YUSUFF, J.C.A ( Pp. 37-42, paras. A-F ) in the Court of Appeal’s judgment in the case of ADUASIM & ORS v. EMEH & ORS (2018) LPELR-46066(CA)

Wondering what may be an unreasonable but lawful decision of an association? An example is where an association by its constitution agrees that on every day, no matter the economic realties/challenges, all members must pay #150 billion Naira to the association, for the association to spend it on pet dogs and parties. In this, the association, the payment and the purpose of the payment are all lawful and legal. So, any person that joins such voluntary association is bound by the constitution and must pay the #150 billion Naira every day. The monetary demands of such an association may be unreasonable depending on the financial lens of a person, however it is not illegal or unlawful.

Where a person joins a voluntary association, he is bound by the constitution and decisions of the association. He cannot pretend to be in a buffet, with rights to pick, choose and drop constitution, rules or decisions of the association. Rather he is bound to obey the constitution and decisions of the association or exit/leave such association. Also, in terminating his membership with the association, he must follow the constitution of the association. I encourage Nigerians to always seek legal advice in all things, including their relationships and associations.

My authorities are:

1. Sections 1, 40, 319 and 320 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999.
2. The judgment of the Supreme Court in the case of MBANEFO v. MOLOKWU & ORS (2014) LPELR-22257(SC)
3. The judgment of the Court of Appeal in the case of ADUASIM & ORS v. EMEH & ORS (2018) LPELR-46066(CA)
4. The judgment in the case of Alhaji Balarabe Musa v. Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) (1981) 2 NCLR 763 at 769


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Practical Considerations to Negotiate an Enforceable Joint Operating Agreement in Civil Law Jurisdictions (Netherlands: Kluwer Law International, 2020) By Professor Damilola S. Olawuyi, LL. B (1st Class), BL (1st Class), LL.M (Calgary), LL.M (Harvard), DPhil (Oxford), Professor of Law and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti, Nigeria, www.damilolaolawuyi.com. & Professor Eduardo G. Pereira, LL. B (Brazil), LL.M (Aberdeen), PhD (Aberdeen),www.eduardogpereira.com   

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