By Kingsley Adegboye
A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos has nullified the claim by the Nigerian Institute of Architects, NIA, that the Architects’ Registration Council of Nigeria ARCON, the regulatory body of architecture profession in the country, has been dissolved and therefore has no power to sanction erring members of NIA.
The case commenced by originating summons filed on January 19, 2017, and brought pursuant to Section 2 and 12 (3) of Architects’ Registration Council of Nigeria Act 2004 Order 3 Rules 6 and 7 of the Federal High Court Rules 2009.
The plaintiffs led by the immediate past president of NIA, include Arc. Tonye Braide, Arc. Abimbola Ajayi, Arc. David Majekodunmi and Arc. Dike Emmanuel had sought the following- Whether ARCON who are the defendants, having been dissolved, has power to perform any duty or exercise any statutory powers under the Architects’ Registration Act 2004. Whether the powers of the Architects’ Investigating Panel, AIP, are limited to allegation of misbehaviour in the capacity of an architect. Whether the plaintiffs’ fundamental rights to fair hearing are likely to be breached by the defendants. Meanwhile, the defendants, through their counsel had sought the court to determine whether ARCON can be dissolved or has in fact been dissolved by the circular dated 16th July 2015 issued by the Office of the Secretary to the Federal Government. They also wanted the court to determine whether ARCON has the statutory power to invite any erring architect to appear before the Architects’ Investigating Panel. ARCON equally sought the court to determine whether the invitation extended to the plaintiffs severally to appear before the Architects’ Investigating Panel constituted a breach of the plaintiffs’ fundamental right to fair hearing. Responding to issue one, ARCON submitted that the Federal Government circular of 16th July 2015 did not and could not dissolve its council because none of the council members was appointed by the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, who was said to have given the order of dissolution. They also contended that the president could not validly dissolve a body not constituted by him, citing paragraph 5 first schedule, to the enabling Act, Architects’ Registration ACT Act 2004. It therefore submitted that, unlike most government Parastatals, Departments and Agencies, the composition of ARCON was spelt out, and as a result, ARCON was not dissolved or in any way affected by the circular. On issue two, it noted that ARCON has the statutory power to invite any erring architect to appear before the AIP , pointing out that the panel only conducts preliminary investigation whenever there is an allegation that a registered architect has misbehaved in his or her capacity as an architect or should for any other reason, be the subject of proceedings before the Architects’ Disciplinary Tribunal. The defendant insisted that it acted within the statutory powers in inviting the plaintiffs to appear before AIP, where ample opportunity would be given to defend themselves in respect of any allegation against them. On allegation of breaching the fundamental right of the plaintiffs to fair hearing, ARCON’s lawyer said the invitation does not in anyway constitute that, as in the event that a prima facie case is established against them and the matter goes to the Architects’ Disciplinary Tribunal as provided by their ACT. In his ruling, the Judge said that from the totality of all processes filed in the suit, the plaintiffs did not show or present to the court sufficient evidence that the contested circular of the Federal Government affected ARCON in its statutory functions in any way. According to the Judge, careful examination of the said circular does not capture ARCON and therefore, it is without doubt to say that the relief sought by the plaintiffs in this application did not succeed on the grounds that the defendants according to part C of Companies and Allied Matter Act 2004, CAMA, are professionals, which regulate the affairs of all its registered members. “And by Section of the Architects’ Registration Act, members or composition of ARCON were not appointed by the president of Nigeria and therefore, that circular cannot dissolve them. Subsequently, if the circular of 16th July 2015 did not affect the defendants, then, any action taken by them cannot be seen as ultra vires or void. “I, therefore, uphold the submission of the defendants’ counsel and hold that the Federal Government of Nigeria circular dated July 16, 2015 did not dissolve the defendants, as they were not appointed by the government of Nigeria. This originating summons is dismissed for lack of merit,” the Judge ruled. Trouble started in 2015 between the former NIA exco members and ARCON following the latter’s decision to conduct examinations on professional practice for individual architects desirous of registering with ARCON, a position NIA frowned at and held that, it was against the Act establishing its regulatory body. While the controversy lasted, NIA said it learnt about a circular dated 16th July 2015, issued by the Office of the Secretary to the Federal Government dissolving ARCON. According to NIA, it wrote to the Minister for Works, Power and Housing, Mr. Raji Fashola to seek clarification on ARCON’s status.
Responding to its enquiry, NIA said one Architect Sani Gidado, a Director/HOD Architectural Services noted that the matter was being attended to and also advised NIA to avoid any further statements or correspondence on the matter until the Minister completed action on the matter.