Photo : •Dim Ojukwu •Bianca Ojukwu
Just a year after the Biafran warlord, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, joined his ancestors, his last wife and children are at daggers-drawn over his estate. Correspondent, Okey Maduforo, presents the accusations and counter-accusations trailing the Will(s?) reportedly left behind by the deceased.
that the late Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu has remained controversial in death as he was in life is to say the least.
The large expanse of his compound was quiet except for three private security operatives that were stationed under a tree close to Emeka Ojukwu Jr’s private house.
The pictorial of that crowd of sympathisers that had frequented the compound before and during the burial were nowhere to be found. The edifice of the late Dim Ojukwu’s grave stood quietly, enveloping the remains of the Great Ikemba of Nnewi, the Ezeigbo Gburugburu.
When this reporter entered the compound, there was thought of how the late Ikemba would be feeling in his lonely grave as his family members fly up in arms against one another.
No thanks to age and ill-health, the Ikemba had been able to bottle up the attendant challenges of his large family until he died and observers still wonder his temperament when he wrote his ‘two Wills’.
On the eve of his funeral, reports had it that there was a dispute over where he would be laid in state as his widow, Ambassador Bianca Ojukwu, and other family members battled hours on end to have his corpse on their own side. The matter was reportedly resolved when officers and men of the Nigerian army took possession of the casket, contending that he (Ojukwu) was one of their own and still remains their own, being an officer of the Nigerian Army.
The dispute over who keeps custody of his corpse indeed was a latent clue to what would be the fate of his property after the burial, and the public was ignorant of this fact until penultimate week when the tempers went high over the controversial Ojukwu’s Will.
Before the Will was read, the dispute had started from the ownership of Ojukwu Transport Limited (OTL) to some buildings that pitted Sylvester Ojukwu (Debe), Ambassador Bianca and Emeka Ojukwu Jr.
Also, earlier, there had been rumours that Ojukwu’s Will had been read before the ending of the mourning period, while street stories had it that it had been doctored.
While the confusion lingered, team of reporters spoke with Emeka Ojukwu Jr. and he said: “I have heard those rumours and people have asked me severally about it. Essentially, my father’s Will is known to me and there has been a rumour and people are saying that there have been changes in the Will. We are not aware of such changes. But we are watching to see. There is a rumour about reading of the Will severally. Three months ago, there was a rumour that the Will had been read without some people involved knowing about it. I want to wait and see. Given that I know what my father said is what it is. You should also know that reading a Will is a different thing from executing a Will.”
The interview was still on at his Nnewi country home when the Will was reportedly read in Enugu, and two days later, the dailies were awash with reports of Bianca Ojukwu having the lion share of Ikemba’s Will. And rejection trailed the exercise.
Emeka Ojukwu Jr. added: “There have been rumours up to yesterday that there was an attempt to read the Will and that they intend to make changes in the original Will. Well, I have not seen the Will that they read.
“Now there are issues that come to mind: why were there no members of Ojukwu’s family when the Will was read? They were not invited and they were not told.
“She was here last Sunday when we removed the mourning clothes and since she knows that the Will would be read, she would have invited us or even put us on notice.
“Now, the lawyer that is supposedly doing all these things is not our father’s lawyer; Mr. Onyemelukwe is not a lawyer that is known to the family as Ezeigbo’s lawyer. Remember when Ezeigbo was sick, the same lawyer went to the press to claim that Ezeigbo was getting better and that he was on exercise and would soon come home, while he was lying. It is still the same lawyer that claimed to have custody of the Will. And I told everybody that it was not true and that since my father was flown to England, he never lifted an arm or spoke a word until his death finally.
“How can the lawyer claim that he is Ezeigbo’s lawyer when he had already taken sides with Bianca and doing the woman’s bidding, and why would the Will be read in Enugu instead of Anambra State? You can see all element of suspect in the matter.”
Reacting, Onyemelukwe said it was blatant lie for Emeka Ojukwu Jr. to say that he did not know me and that I was not his father’s lawyer, when I was the person that prepared the legal documents for Ojukwu’s commercial property at No. 26 Sokoto Road, Onitsha, yielding millions of naira, which Emeka Jr. is managing and collecting rent.
“I was also the lawyer that handled Ojukwu’s case against the Federal Government from the High Court to the Supreme Court.
“I was also the master of ceremonies (MC), when Emeka Jr. wedded at the Holy Ghost Cathedral, Enugu, to the daughter of the late Chief Cyprian Ekwensi. That wedding’s reception was held at Nike Lake Hotel, with Justice Iguh, formerly of the Supreme Court, as the chairman of the occasion.
“Before Ojukwu’s Will was read last week, I was the one that sent text messages to all the parties concerned, including Emeka Jr. I got his two telephone numbers from Mr. Val Nwosu, Ojukwu’s nephew.
“I also sent the text to Ebele who is Ojukwu’s daughter from Stella Onyeador, and Mark Ezemba who was Ojukwu’s best man during his wedding with Bianca. So the pretence by Emeka that he was not informed about the reading of the Will does not hold water.
“His claim that I was not his father’s lawyer is also not true. On July 24, 2009, I was the person that registered the Power of Attorney on Ojukwu’s property at No. 7 Forest Crescent, Enugu.
“I am also in possession of the Certificate of Occupancy (CofO) of Ojukwu’s landed property contained in the Will,” he said.
The lawyer also debunked Emeka’s claim that Bianca, Ojukwu’s widow, apparently had fore knowledge of the contents of the Will “when she sent some aides to remove her personal belonging from the Nnewi house that was eventually willed to him ahead of the disclosure last Friday, November 30, 2012”.
He alleged that ahead of the November 25, 2012 family thanksgiving at Nnewi, Bianca sent some of her aides to clean the house, but they were seized and beaten up mercilessly and detained, and that it took the intervention of the extended Ojukwu family and other illustrious sons of Anambra who sued for peace to save the day.
“So, immediately after the event, she decided to move her belongings to another of the many other buildings within the premises, to avert further crisis and show of shame,” he said.
However Emeka Jr. took on Onyemelukwe’s claims, describing them as not only business but lacks conviction. “The issue is not about struggling for property. We, his children, are all doing well. It is about a blatant attempt to subvert the wishes of my father. It’s a matter of principle. I will not join issues with Onyemelukwe again in the media. If it becomes necessary to issue statement, they will be issued as appropriate.”
Continuing, Emeka Jr. noted that “I did not say that I don’t know him (Onyemelukwe) as a human being. I said he is not the lawyer that wrote Ezeigbo’s will. I know many people; all of them are not lawyers. I know many lawyers; all of them are not Ezeigbo’s lawyer. I know several of Ezeigbo’s lawyers; all of them did not write Ezeigbo’s Will. The lawyer that wrote Ezeigbo’s Will is not Onyemelukwe.”
Emeka also explained that whatever changes Onyemelukwe introduced in the original Will is what they are questioning.
“He claims to be the family lawyer, yet he is attacking a member of that family on the press. When he claimed that I was laying about Ezeigbo’s condition, the events of last year proved that I was right and that indeed Ezeigbo was not armed up and exercising and did not return in March as Onyemelukwe promised.
“Further, he claims to be the family lawyer, yet apparently he does not have our phone numbers based on his own statements. It seems that the only number he didn’t have to get from somebody else is Bianca’s number. Is it normal to invite people to the reading of a Will by a text message?
“If I did not receive the so-called text message, what of the other family members? Did they also not receive their text messages or are they lying also? When he allegedly sent the text message, did he receive any acknowledgment that they were received by anybody? If he did not receive acknowledgment, what efforts did he make, as the so-called ‘family lawyer’, to reach out to the family members? Were they invited to make sure they attend? Did he send them registered letters? Did he visit them?
“When in court that morning, he did not see any of Ezeigbo’s children or any of his direct family members, did he not have the option of adjourning and set another date to make all who needed to be there to have the opportunity to be there. They are obviously playing games,” Emeka said.
The Nnewi traditional institution, however, chose the path of passive silence as those approached either remained silent or flew a safety kite.
The Obi of Umudim shouted “no comment” across the phone to this reporter, while the president-general of Nzukora Nnewi contended that nobody has the right to challenge the Will of any man.
Cousin to the late Dim Ojukwu, Sunday Soto Ojukwu, has described as injustice the reading of the alleged Ojukwu’s Will without recourse to the interest of the family.
He said he only read about reading of the Will in newspapers, that he never knew of any invitation to the family members.
His words: “What do you want me to say? Is that how a Will is read, barely 24 hours after his mourning cloth was removed? Is it not proper for the lawyers to call the family members to sit down and deliberate on reading of the Will? Did you see any of his sons there?
“Those of his children who came down to Nigeria for the removal of his mourning clothes had gone back overseas and you say you are reading his Will without informing anybody. Don’t ask me anything, I don’t know. Dr. Ojukwu was not aware, Ikemba Jr. was not aware. What do you want me to say?”
However, judiciary watchers are of the view that the dust being raised over late Ezeigbo’s Will will open new chapter in the annals of Will litigations.
Emeka Agbapuonwu, one of the vibrant legal practitioners in Anambra State, spoke with Sunday Independent on the act of Will writing and unsealing. “Before a Will is written by anybody, there is what we call Corpus Mentis which means the person must state that he or she was of sound mind, body and health before making the Will. Then, after the Will had been made, the law says the Will should be registered with the probate registrar before the death of the person that wrote the Will or four days after his or her death.
“Now, being of sound mind would be determined not only by the owner of the Will but by two other witnesses, and this is a matter to be determined by the court if eventually the matter gets to the court.”
Agbapuonwu further explained that “In the Ojukwu’s Will, the original Will as canvassed by Emeka Jr. has not been unsealed and read, so in law, the latest of the Will invalidates the earlier Will.
“Until the other Will is unsealed and read, you cannot claim to have the existence of another Will. So, all that Emeka Jr. has to do is to call the said lawyer that wrote his father’s Will to read the Will.
“He has to go to the probate registrar to find out if the said Will was registered there, and if it is true then, the Will would be unsealed and read.
Agbapuonwu, however, noted: “The issue of sending text messages is not good. You can serve the invitation in writing and make sure it gets to them. Then if some of the family members are not there, an agreement would be reached for another date to be fixed which would be convenient. This is the only way to remove and avoid suspicion and lack of trust on the lawyer. I submit that Onyemelukwe ought to have done that to clear himself.”
The matter further brought in a new dimension to the issue in contention which is the parentage of Sylvester Debe Ojukwu.
Though Onyemelukwe had argued that Debe is not Ojukwu’s son, according to what Ojukwu told him, Agbapuonwu, who is a friend to Debe, told Sunday Independent that the lawyer was not correct.
“He may have told the story from the standpoint of ignorance. Ikemba married Debe’s mother. Ikemba’s father, Louis Ojukwu, married Debe’s mother for his son, (Dim) Emeka Ojukwu. I have spoken severally with Debe on the matter and he told me how it happened. Nobody has told the story of how Ojukwu died and on whose hands he died,” the lawyer said.
Similarly, kinsmen and elders in Nnewi, in reacting to the problem between Debe and the late Ikemba, gave an insight as to who Debe’s father is. Though Debe had boasted that he is richer than his late father, Ikemba, his argument is the disowning by Ojukwu of his parentage. He appears not to be interested in what he gets from the Will, but to assert his position in the family.
But for the traditional ruler of Nnewi community, HRH Igwe Kenneth Orizu III, “there is nothing to comment on. Should I reverse what the late Ikemba has done? If that is his wish, do you want me to say his wish will not be done?”
In line with what the Igwe said, the chairman of Nzuko Ora Nnewi (Nnewi Town Union), Charles Agu Onyeka, said he who had share revealed that the Will of the late Sir Louis Ojukwu, late Ikemba’s father, had not been read, which he said had made it difficult for his property to be shared till date.
“I thank God that Ojukwu’s children do not even depend on their father’s wealth. They struggle on their own, saying that one should struggle and not to depend on one’s father’s wealth.”
For Sylvester Ojukwu not being mentioned in the Will, Onyeka said there could be problem somewhere.
“Father and child can have problems and that can lead to a mistake on the part of the father. But the Sylvester you are talking about whom I know very well is a hardworking man as a lawyer. If his father gave him nothing, he can still live. I know him very well.
“We do not need to misinterpret what the late Ikemba did. May be that was how he wanted it. I have seen a man who willed his property to none of his children, but outsiders. It is not a new thing,” he said.
He noted that since the widow of the late Ikemba was always with her husband, there must be something different.
“If you ask me, I will tell you that Ojukwu will do something for Bianca because he loved her so much,” he added.
Be that as it may, the law courts and law chambers are being dusted for a prolonged legal battle over the property of the late Dim Ojukwu while spectators watch with keen interest.