Lighthouse begs court for more time to file defence

Rodney Heward-Mills stood up in court, tall. His ‘Dag-hued’ skin bore the unmistakable genetic print of a relative of Bishop Dag Heward-Mills, whose church, Lighthouse Chapel International, has been dragged to court over the non-payment of SSNIT, abuse, and exploitation.

His English revealed a British accent and it was fast and furious; fast enough to give a journalist cocooned within the four borders of this country a torrid time at quickly decoding his speech.

And his tone was serious, almost flirting with furious, enough to set the courtroom on the edges.

This was the first hearing of a case brought against the charismatic church by six former employees—four pastors and two bishops—who had served for a cumulative 70 years but whose SSNIT was not paid for some 42 years and some odd months.

They had filed their cases individually on April 14th, 2021 and their writs were served on Lighthouse Chapel International on April 23rd, 2021, which meant that the church was to file responses within 14-days.

But more than one month had elapsed and the church had failed to file even one response within the period stipulated by the rules of court.

And so, Rodney Heward-Mills, counsel for the church, stood up in court to explain the failure and to plead for more time to file their defence statements.

He said the church had been “inundated” by the six suits all filed on the same day. And so having to respond to each of them with the 14-day period presented a “unique situation” which made the deadline hard to meet.

“To cut a long story short, we ask that you give us more time,” Heward-Mills summarised.

But, to Kofi Bentil, the lawyer for all six, this excuse wouldn’t cut it.

“We don’t find the argument tenable,” Mr. Bentil, on his feet, shot back, explaining that the six different cases had a similar thread of abuse and exploitation which should make it fairly simple for the defendant to respond.

He said any law firm should not find it extraordinary a feat to file six responses to six suits. That is the job of law firms.

The judge, Justice Frank Aboagye Rockson, applied some brakes to the early signs of dramatic exchanges. As a judge, he was all too familiar with courtroom maneuverings and he knew that all the plaintiff was asking for was for the court to award cost against the defendant’s explained failure to file responses.

Bentil wanted GHS2,000 cost and some short extra time for the defendant to file responses. Rodney Heward Mills got feisty, threw his arms, gesticulating some deal of exasperation, complaining that the sum was too much, and asked the judge to waive the costs completely.

He said as a show of good faith, he had filed a 64-page response to the suit by Larry Odonkor only yesterday. “We are just asking for some time,” he begged the court.

The judge studied Rodney Heward-Mills and asked gently, how much time the defendant would need.

“Can you give us 21 days?” his request drew a sensational dissatisfaction from Kofi Bentil’s face that suggested 21 extra days after the failure to meet the 14-day deadline was just asking for too much.

The judge gave 14 days and awarded GHc1,000 as a cost against Lighthouse Chapel International.

Photo: Rodney Heward-Mills is legal counsel for Lighthouse Chapel International

Because the six former employees had filed their cases separately, each case was called separately. And after three of their cases were heard with the same argument of the defendant asking for more time and the plaintiff hoping for more cost, the trial settled into some monotonous drama.

“My Lord, the same argument,” Rodney Heward-Mills would say, to which Kofi Bentil would reply, “My Lord, the same argument.”

For the lawyers who did not see eye to eye, they now, at least, eyed one argument.

Eyeing what was happening, Justice Frank Aboagye Rockson joined in the monotony and gave similar rulings, awarding GHc1,000 as cost in all the cases except Larry Odonkor’s and extending the deadline for filing responses to 14 days in all the cases except Larry Odonkor’s.

The exception was because the counsel for LCI had indicated that he had filed a response to Larry Odonkor and so the judge award GHc500 as a cost for the defendant’s inability to file within the stipulated time. The court also gave the plaintiff, Larry Odonkor, 10 days to respond.

The judge, after hearing all six cases, commented that the cases were all similar. “Look at it and see if it can be consolidated. There is room for settlement,” he said, drawing attention to a quiet resolution than a bloody court battle, opulent in drama, jaw-dropping in its revelations.

“You should not shy away from it,” he encouraged the counsel for the defendant and for the plaintiffs who were tasked to help people find Christ but who now cannot find their SSNIT contributions.

Larry Odonkor and his five other colleagues sat through the proceedings at the Labour Court 1 in the Law Court Complex reverently like newcomers to the world of litigation. The court they have been familiar with is the one they have preached for years, that the world should expect on Judgment Day.

That court will have a great potentate, the Judge sitting immaculately in invisible light, ready to deliver a hair-dryer treatment for proud sinners. This court in Accra just had air-conditioning and a pleasant judge wearing a white wig, though not as white as Apostle John’s description of Jesus’ hair.

Counsel for the former LCI employees, Kofi Bentil (in the middle) confers with his clients as they huddle over.

But human judges are also empowered by God to deliver justice, and so the six ministers of the gospel believe that coming before His Lordship is a just route after all attempts to dialogue with the church had failed.

One of the plaintiffs, Rev. Edward Laryea, sat in court with the woman who had sat with him through their “ordeal” as missionaries of Lighthouse Chapel International from 2005 to 2017.

Her name is Ariel Laryea. And she is his wife who, like many others, resigned from her job as a laboratory technician at Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital to do full-time ministry along with her husband.

Her husband is full of adoration for her sacrifices. “My wife has suffered a lot oo. She has suffered,” he once told The Fourth Estate, explaining she suffered two miscarriages plying womb-dislocating roads in the Eastern region where they preached the gospel and opened several branches of the church.

The church did not foot a single health bill of his wife or take adequate care of them, they have alleged in court documents.

But sitting in court, Ariel Laryea had covered her many emotional bruises in neat physical apparels of beauty. The pain was there. But the smile was also there, sitting side by side in the life of a woman who also gave her all for the Lord’s work along with her husband but who claimed they have received the shock of their lives at Lighthouse Chapel International.

You can reach the writer of this story, Edwin Appiah, via email at [email protected] You can follow him on @edwinologyLB

85 COMMENTS

  1. The report is interesting. BUT, I find the write up rather racist and patronizing. What has LCI’s lawyer’s colour got to do with the case? He needs an apology. Fourth Estate, ensure we stick to the case without unnecessary offences.

  2. Excellent prose! Well written. It’s simply time for the world to know lighthouse is a CULT. Full stop!!

  3. Why did you described the plaintiffs as “former ministers of the gospel” are they no more preaching the gospel?

  4. Thats some sick writing there.. I felt i was in the courtroom with them.
    Just like the Bridgeton Series, i admire your impeccable fluency in this write up.

    • I admire your exceptional writing. I didn’t need to jump paragraphs because I was actually enjoying it as if it was a novel. Well done! More writings please!

  5. Havsnt read a great piece like this from a newspaper, I am a writer but, hmmm, this piece is a master stroke of pen, each ink pouring in graciously with sea sof desire for more.
    I love it

  6. Interesting Summation.. The writer did not offer In this skillful penmanship, if the Pastor’s sought relief, as is directed in the same Bible they preach…., 1 Coronthians. Chapter 6 verses 2 &3..

    Lawsuits among Believers
    1.If any of you has a grievance against another, how dare he go to law before the unrighteous instead of before the saints! 2. Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases?

    I would not call this Issue a Trivial case..Not at all, because it affects Laws…, the Violation of National Tax Laws..

    How the Ministers ( pastors ) and Bishop Dag, conduct themselves through out this Trial, will Place the Bright lamp on all; for Christians in Ghana and Ministers around the World… Too SEE!

    *Too him whom much is Given, Much is Required*…. The Word[ the Sword of the Spirit, cuts both ways ]..

  7. It’s good write up but 2000 Gh should have stayed up there. I think leniency sentiments we’re applied here. This exploitation by religious leaders must be curtailed. Full stop!!!

  8. This is a new kind of journalistic writing in Ghana. It feels different with a high notch of language usage. It’s comaprable to what I read in Newsweek and Financial Times. I wish to read more of this. Well done and keep straight to the facts.

  9. Great writing. I have been enjoying all your writing since this saga began. No matter the length, your act on the art of story telling makes it an eat read.

  10. I must say that the writer is very sound in English. I could visualise the actions at thr Court in the write up. Tell me which school you went , I will let my son attend that same school. You are too good

  11. Terrible writing. The English is terrible. The point is terrible. Leave this church alone. You don’t fear God ?

  12. Good writing. Fewer words; clearer message. The Fourth Estate should maintain such a writing standard–like the New York Times, Daily Mails, Reuters, CNN, among others.

  13. Sad, so many more out there who have been shunned by the church and cannot afford to hire a lawyer to bring their cases to court. For them, exiting quietly with no fuss has been their only option.
    The culture of abuse still persists in many churches and if this case opens the floodgates then so be it. It’s about time the church confronts some of these difficult issues. This case could and can still be settled out of court! But ultimately, the church has to reform and until then I feel for the young and vulnerable!

  14. I don’t want this case to be settled out of court cos Ghanaians are so wen it comes to religion n men of God its high time we expose the scammers n cheats

  15. A show of good writing skills! Except that this kind is rare–if ever present–in our part of the world. The writer added colour, which excellent journalistic writing prescribes. My beef however is that the colour was a bit too much, and the report, too long.

  16. I read this piece on myjoyonline.com and tracked the article to THE FOURTH ESTATE. This, indeed, is a brilliant peace by Edwin Appiah.

  17. It is sad that many of you have already taken sides even though you have only read the case of the 6 pastors. It shows what is on our hearts and mind – envy and jealousy. We simply cannot appreciate successful people in this country, especially ministers of the gospel. Do a little research and you will be amazed, the opportunities and privileges many of these pastors have enjoyed.
    They all have one story line – Raised from no where, mega doors are opened for them (or given a platform) enjoy the privileges for many years (at The Qodesh, in South Africa, etc.). They are then transferred from what they consider to be “greener pastures” and suddenly, they start their accusations knowing very well the Bishop will not say a word. Please let us be careful. Thank you

    • How do you know what’s on people’s hearts and minds? You are making assumptions here. And how are you measuring the ‘successes’ of these ministers of the gospel. The hospitals, schools, universities etc that they established with donations from their own church members are not free are they?
      Notwithstanding the various privileges and opportunities given to these 6 ministers the question before the court is why statutory pension hasn’t been paid by tbe Church. If it was that simple and easy for LCI to answer they would have filed a defence already. At the end of the day the cases are only 6 it’s not as if its a class action.
      Honestly……

    • Joe, paying social security is a basic right. The Bible says, the labourer is worthy of his wages. Do not withhold good from your neighbor when it is in your power to do so, do not say to him go and come tomorrow when you have it with you. Do not muzzle the Oz when it is grazing. My brother, I will just stop here. Most of us will read with a heavy heart that this is happening this way. and will never leave any comment. But for the fact that you are also judging people it leaves much to be desired. I know some of them personally, in our university when we were leaving the University in 2001, when we were having a get together, I remember it like yesterday, one of them said, ” as I tend in my dissertation today, I am going straight into “full time ministry” if I remember that he worked for 19 years and 14 of those years he laboured no SNIT was paid. It just emotional. Thats all I will say, I will not judge anybody like you are doing now. Remain blessed.

  18. It is interesting that all these Pastors after several years of “so-called” service could not produce any serious case of abuse or injustice except non-payment of SSNIT. Most of them determined their own emoluments and could have paid their SSNIT. Knowing how the LCI system works, when you start a branch, you the head pastor determine emoluments and other gratuities. In any event, I’m sure it’ll come out in court that there were no employment contracts but volunteers agreements. And I doubt if volunteers are entitled to SSNIT.

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