The Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu family is on the brink of being torn asunder by the purported last will and testament of the late Ikemba Nnewi read at the Enugu High Court on 30 November
It is becoming common to find Nigerians taking keen interest in the wills left behind by prominent citizens of the country for their children. Apart from helping them to understand how well the deceased individual appreciated family values, it could also pop up a lot of controversies that could linger for years
This is the case with the storm raging over the will believed to have been prepared by the late Ikemba of Nnewi, Dim Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, and read by a lawyer that some of the deceased’s children have now disowned.
In the will, as read by the Chief Registrar, Enugu Judiciary and Probate, Mr. Dennis Ekoh, on 30 November, the late Ojukwu seemed to have little consideration for his children. Rather, he handed over a larger chunk of his wealth to his widow, who is Nigeria’s Ambassador to Spain, Bianca. His first son, Sylvester, was the worst hit among the children as he was not even mentioned.
While Bianca sees the will as fair enough, the aggrieved children of the late warlord, especially Sylvester and Emeka Jr., have declared their readiness to slug it out with the former beauty queen, both through verbal and legal means, as Emeka claims that he is in possession of the authentic will of their father.
Children recognised in the will include Chukwuemeka Ojukwu Jr, Mmegha, Okigbo, Ebele, Chineme, Afam, Nwachukwu, and Tenny, whose identity is still a mystery to many. The name of Sylvester Ojukwu, also known as Debe, a lawyer and former senior police officer, who had long been flaunted as the Ikemba’s first son, was conspicuously missing in the will. What constituted the greatest revelation in the will, however – to those outside the core Ojukwu family, at least – was the listing of one Tenny Haman as one of the late Dim’s children.
Most of the property and the bulk of assets left behind by the late warlord was willed to Bianca. They include the Casabianca Lodge at No. 7, Forest Crescent, GRA, Enugu; two properties at Jabi and Kuje in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT; two plots of land in his village at Nnewi, with a caveat that the plots should be retrieved from her if she re-married, as well as all his money and personal effects. The former beauty queen was also authorised in the will to take his position as trustee in the family business, Ojukwu Transport Ltd.
Emeka Jr, given birth to by Njideka, daughter of late C. T. Onyekwelu, got the family house at Nnewi, while Tenny got the Jubilee Hotel, located in Zaria, Kaduna State.
The Ikemba shared other landed property in his village among his children. He also listed Bianca, Emeka Jr and Mr. James Chukwuneme among the trustees and executors of the will.
Even as the controversy surrounding the will rages, Bianca allegedly described the content of the will as fairly satisfactory, saying: ‘‘It was a fair will. This time round, he did not disappoint us.’’
But Emeka Jr. thinks otherwise. He was quoted as describing the will as a ‘‘fake document’’. He also called Emeka Onyemelukwe, the lawyer who presented the will, Bianca’s personal lawyer and not that of his late father. Dismissing the document read at the Enugu High Court on 30 November as a ‘‘fraud presented as a will’’, Emeka Jr. claimed he was in possession of the original will drawn by Ojukwu.
In the same vein, Lagos-based Sylvester, also known as Debe, described the will as an “unreliable document”.
“The will purportedly read last week Friday at the Enugu State High Court is a script prepared by some people to suit their selfish desire. That is not [the late Ikemba’s] will. You can see it from the reactions that have trailed it since it was read, so I’m not bothered. When the time comes, my late father’s will would be read.
“Whenever it is time to read my father’s will, Nigerians would be duly informed and no one would be taken unawares as was the case in Enugu,” he said.
Though he recently spoke of his predilection to live a private, independent life out of the glare of publicity, Debe, who is said to have related with Ojukwu as his first son when the Ikemba was alive, was worried that he was not listed in the will as one of the children of the late Igbo leader.
“I am surprised, and I doubt that the will was drafted by my father. It was a concoction.
The will seemed to have been drafted in a hurry by people desperate to achieve an aim. But, if it is the true will of my father, I have no problem with that. After all, this is not the first time a first son is disinherited from his father’s will. If it is truly that of my father, being disinherited from his will does not stop me from being Ojukwu’s first son,” he was quoted as saying.
But he seemed to take consolation in his assertion that “I am worth over N3 billion, which is more than the assets mentioned in my father’s will.”
In defence of what was willed to her, Bianca reportedly claimed that she inherited only the property she and the late Ikemba acquired collectively as husband and wife. She said the will left by Ojukwu was drawn in 2005 with the knowledge of all those mentioned in the document as trustees and executors.
Bianca, who described her late husband as a man of honour and integrity, appealed to all those contesting the authenticity of the will to allow the soul of the departed Igbo leader to rest in peace. Adding that those dissatisfied with the will know the best option to take, she warned that the legacy of the late Biafran leader should not be toyed with.
“For me the most important thing is that my late husband left a will, and so all this argument is unnecessary. All those contesting the authenticity of the will know the right thing to do.
“As former governor of the defunct Eastern Region, and later Head of State of defunct Biafra, Ojukwu did not appropriate any government property, and so he should be left with his integrity and dignity intact. Those contesting the will may have their reasons for doing so, but they know the right thing to do,” she emphasised.
But Emeka Jr., who was mentioned in the will as the first son of Ojukwu, did not only doubt the genuineness of the will paraded by Onyemelukwe, he also denied being informed of its presentation by the lawyer. Apart from describing the will read to the family as a “fake document,” he further alleged that Emeka Onyemelukwe, who presented the will, was a private lawyer to Bianca, and not that of his late father. He said there had been rumours of an attempt to make changes in the original will, just as he claimed that he was yet to see the will read by Onyemelukwe.
His words: “There have been rumours, up till yesterday (penultimate Friday), that there is 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 family when the will was read? They were not invited and they were not told.
“She (Bianca) was here last Sunday when we removed the mourning cloth, and since she knew that the will would be read she would have invited us or even put us on notice.”
Casting doubt on Onyemelukwe’s credentials to represent the family, he said: “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 Eze Igbo’s lawyer. Remember, when Eze Igbo was sick the same lawyer went to the press to claim that Eze Igbo was getting better and that he was now 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 Eze Igbo’s lawyer when he had already taken sides with Bianca and is doing the woman’s biddings. And why would the Will be read in Enugu instead of Anambra State? You can see all elements of suspect in the matter.”
Picking holes in content of the will pertaining to trusteeship of Ojukwu Transport Limited, the family’s business, Emeka Jr. said, “The claim that my father transferred his trustee membership to Bianca is false. First of all, my father, Dim Ojukwu was not a trustee. His position in OTL was that of a director not trustee. The position of director cannot be transferred to anybody. Even if it is transferred to me it would not hold. There is a laid down law or procedure for one to become a director in the transport company.”
Dismissing Bianca’s entitlement to what was purportedly bequeathed to her in the family business, he said, “For you to be director in Ojukwu Transport Limited, you have to be Ojukwu’s blood and not through marriage into Ojukwu family. You have to have at least 10 shares. And you have to be voted into directorship by the board of trustees; and a woman cannot be a director. Also, if you are a public servant you cannot be a director and even if Bianca is a director, she has to resign because she is now a public servant by virtue of the fact that she is now an Ambassador. There was a time my father had to resign as director and later he was re-voted as a director when he stopped being a public servant. So there are many reasons why this claim is spurious .
“The person that is claiming that the directorship was bestowed on her is right now in court, suing Ojukwu Transport in the name of her two sons. There is a law suit right now and it is in the public domain, where she is using the names of her two sons to sue the company.”
Defending the authenticity of the will, however, Onyemelukwe, in a recent report published in Daily Sun, said what was read to the Ojukwu family remains the authentic will of the Ikemba. He said it was registered in the Enugu High Court on 9 July 2005, while the codicil – which gives details and corrects any mistakes in the will – was dated 16 December 2009. He said the clarification became necessary in view of what he described as “uncomplimentary reports” attributed to some members of the Ojukwu family, including one of the sons, Emeka Jr.
Onyemelukwe allegedly cited various documents, most of which are legal documents – court motions and briefs – which empowered him “to draft, sign and or represent the late Ndigbo leader in courts and at other such important occasions”.
Denying allegation that Bianca might have had foreknowledge of the content of the will, Onyemelukwe also refuted the claim by Emeka Jr. that he was not duly informed about the reading of the will.
When this magazine tried to get clarification on some aspects of the will via series of phone calls and text messages, Onyemelukwe, who appeared unfriendly, said the Ojukwu family had directed that no one should grant press interview on the matter anymore. “You have not met me before. Why are you disturbing me with calls and will not let me rest? The family said we should stop granting press interviews; that they want to talk [on the issue] by themselves,” he said.
Those steeped in Igbo tradition told the magazine that the ceding of most of late Ojukwu’s property to Bianca constitutes an affront to the customs and tradition of Ndigbo, which stipulates that the first son of the deceased should inherit his father’s property. The matter was worsened in the case of Ojukwu, they said, by the fact that Bianca is neither the Ikemba’s first wife nor the mother of his first son; and since the will recognised Emeka Jr. as the first son, he should seek a redress at the Customary Court.
Some people who opened up to the magazine on the issue said Onyemelukwe who read the will was not known to most members of the Ojukwu family, including children of the late Ikemba, which could make it difficult for the family members to take the will seriously.
As the controversy over Ojukwu’s will rages, the consensus in the South-East is that things have fallen apart in the family; and that the family may remain divided unless well-meaning sons and daughters of Igboland intervene to douse the tension.