Reprieve as High Court suspends deregistration of Pastor Ezekiel's church

Pastor Ezekiel Odero preaches at his New Life Prayer Center and Church in Mavueni, Kilifi County, on May 28, 2023. [Robert Menza, Standard]

The High Court in Milimani Tuesday temporarily suspended the gazette notice by the Registrar of Societies deregistering pastor Ezekiel Odero's New Life Prayer Centre and Church at Mavueni in Kilifi County.

Justice Jairus Ngaah allowed Odero to challenge the gazette notice dated August 18 this year.

Odero through his lawyers Cliff Ombeta and Dunstan Omari filed a certificate of urgency seeking to quash the deregistration of his church and also bar the Registrar of Societies from interfering in its operations.

The Registrar of Societies Ms Maria Nyariki, cancelled Odero’s church alongside five other churches on May 19, 2023, and published it through a gazette notice dated August 3, 2023, and served the notification on August 18, 2023.

Also cancelled are registration of Good News International Ministries, Helicopter of Christ Church, Theophilus Church, Kings Outreach Church, and Royal Park Home Owners Estate Association Langata.

Yesterday, the judge said on perusal of material before him in support of the application, he was persuaded to exercise his discretion and allow the applicants to challenge the gazette notice served on August 18, 2023, whose purpose was to deregister the church.

“Pending the interrogation by the court on the question whether the process leading to deregistration of New Life Prayer Centre and Church was consistent with the law of the land and, in particular, whether it was legal, rational and procedurally fair to the applicants, the leave so granted shall operate to stay the gazette notice of 18 August 2023,” said Justice Ngaah.

Pastor Odero, Franklin Kilonzo, and Alice Nafula filed for a judicial review to quash the deregistration of the church.

Odero applied to have the court compel the Registrar of Societies to promptly and without delay accept the annual returns that the church has diligently endeavoured to submit since April 2023.

“We seek prohibition restraining the Registrar of Societies by itself, its agents, or anyone else under its instructions from engaging in any manner of disruption or obstruction of the operations of New Life Prayer Centre and Church, under the guise of effecting the enforcement of the deregistration published in the gazette notice,” said Ombeta.

The gazette notice issued by Nyariki who is the first respondent purported that the deregistration of the church was effected on May 19 2023, notwithstanding the fact that on May 15 2023, the evangelist found out vide the media in a letter dated April 27 2023 requiring him to show cause within 21 days, why his church’s registration should not be cancelled for failure to file its annual returns.

Ombeta questioned why the Registrar of Societies was serving them 90 days after the said cancellation. Ombeta said the deregistration was an obvious scheme to frustrate and obstruct Pastor Odero’ operations at his church.

He said Pastor Odero only became aware of the notice to show cause through media outlets eight days after the expiry of the intended 21-day notice.

Ombeta said despite Odero’s ceaseless attempts to get the church’s file from the Registrar of Societies, for purposes of filing its annual returns, they failed, ignored, neglected or refused to avail it to him.

He said Nyariki intentionally and maliciously conspired to make unavailable the church’s file in a bid to frustrate Odero’s efforts to remain in compliance with the Societies Act by filing its annual returns on time.

“That the calculated scheme by the Registrar of Societies of cancelling the registration of the church on May 19, 2023, and published on August 18, 2023, yet Odero only became aware of the notice to show cause on May 25, 2023, is in a bid to frustrate his right to fair administrative action in light of his upcoming 'Meza ya Bwana' international conference, scheduled to take place over 14 days,” said Ombeta.

The deregistration of Odero’s church was done despite an existing stay order by Justice Olga Sewe stopping any interference in the church operation until a petition filed by the evangelist was heard and determined.

The state has been investigating Odero after it linked him to controversial pastor Paul Makenzi’s Shakahola deaths believed to have been as a result of fasting.