Tempo (Lagos)

25 July 2002

Nigeria: Battle for Late Sage Obafemi Awolowo's Estate

Lagos — Until now that Funke has sued the core of the late sage's family, what had been in open contention is the political legacy of the foremost nationalist and visionary, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. His well thought-out political philosophy that revolves around socialist welfarism having considerably become orphaned by long years of military rule that turned kleptocracy to the vogue in Nigeria, and the polarisation bug that had hit Awo's political camp, the fight over who the true Awoist is has been fierce and sustained.

Now, the battle for the soul and memory of the great thinker and kingpin of partisan politics has taken another dimension. The suit that would see the controversial Lagos lawyer, Festus Keyamo, trade wits with an older player in the bar, O. Ayanlaja, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), has indeed enlisted the leader of Action Group (AG) and founder/leader of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) in the army of influential Nigerians whose wills have become a subject of law suits.

The 39-year-old Funke has returned to Nigeria after long years of sojourn abroad. According to the woman who, TEMPO gathered, now resides in Surulere area of Lagos, it is not her will to have dragged the sage's "jewel of inestimable value", Chief Mrs. Hannah Idowu Awolowo, and three others sued along with her to court. Or, put differently, she avers that "she has been patient and painstaking for a long time on the issue and has resorted to court as a last resort." Indeed, in the plaintiff's statement of claim, she recalls efforts that had been taken behind the scene to persuade Chief Mrs. Awolowo, whom some recent newspaper reports say has been ill for some time, to lend support to the sharing of the late Awo's assets.

A letter is said to have been accordingly written to the mother of the house through Festus Keyamo Chambers. Besides, Funke and Keyamo were invited by Ayanlaja to discuss the matter. At the meeting, the SAN is said to have advised Funke to "go and beg her uncle and aunties and prostrate" before Chief Mrs.

Awolowo so as to get what she wants. The granddaughter is, however, piqued that despite the fact that she did as advised, nothing has been done about the sharing of the inheritance.

Among other prayers to the court, Funke wants it to recognise her as a heir-legatee of the late Awo's estate, on the strength of his will made on 20 June, 1981. She wants the estate shared. Alternatively, she wants the defendants ordered to declare the accounts of their administration of the estate since Awo's death in May 1987. Another option is for the legacy to be passed on to a firm of chartered accountants for a comprehensive auditing.

Both Funke and her lawyer believe that they have a good case based on the fact that Chief Awolowo recognises her as a grandchild in his will. Together with her brother - Segun Awolowo (Junior), who was born two months after the death of his father in a motor accident in 1963 - the deceased wants her to have one-fifth of half of his estate: "I BEQUEATH 50 per centum of the residua of my estate both real and personal ... to my BELOVED AND DEVOTED WIFE HANNAH IDOWU DIDEOLU AWOLOWO, and the remaining 50 per centum to my dear and loving children severally and my grandchildren (through my late son OLUSEGUN AWOLOWO) jointly in the ratio of ONE TO FIVE ...

each." The sage, in the type-written will made available to TEMPO, had named the second categories of the beneficiaries thus: Mrs. Omotola Oyediran (to get one-fifth), Chief Oluwole Awolowo (one-fifth), Mrs.

Ayodele Soyode (one-fifth), Mrs. Olatokunbo Dosumu (one-fifth), and Miss Olufunke Awolowo and Master Olusegun Awolowo (jointly one-fifth).

The scope of the will, witnessed by the celebrated poet and the then Personal Secretary to Awo, Odia Ofeimun and Abel Osewa, includes the personal accounts with the Union Bank of Nigeria (Ibadan), another of its branch in Apapa, Lagos, and one with the distressed Allied Bank in Ikene. The will further recognises a company account at each of the two Union Banks, and another at the Apapa branch of United Bank for Africa (UBA).

Another important aspect of the estate are profits and dividends due to the sage from Dideolu Estate Limited, Industrial Promotions and Consultancy Limited, and "from other company or enterprise whatsoever including proceeds from insurance policy".

However, apart from the fact that the husband appointed Mrs. Awolowo, alongside Alice Longe - wife of a late friend of his - Omotola Oyediran and Ayodele Soyode (all defendants) as an executee and trustee, section nine of the will seems to provide a ground on which Funke's pleas may be contested. Not that it disowns any of the late Segun's children, but it seems to offer the first defendant a kind of special privilege: "SUBJECT to the specific bequests and directives made in paragraph 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8..., I DEVISE and BEQUEATH all my real estate and personality as well as my residual estate of whatever description to my wife absolutely until her death." The section then adds that the estate passes on to the children and Funke and Segun upon Mrs. Awolowo's death.

The affidavit that Funke swore to indicates that the greatest problem she faces is that Chief Mrs. Awolowo does not regard her as an integral part of the Awo family. According to her, while the grandfather himself "did all he could to give to us the loving care we missed from our late father, my brother and I had a hard time growing up as the first defendant never really accepted us as part of the family".

TEMPO's visit to Keyamo's chamber at Maryland, Lagos, reveals that while he regards and refers to Chief Mrs.

Awolowo with a huge measure of respect, he believes he has a good argument when the case comes up on 7 September: "A very simple case. Straight forward. There is no doubt that Funke is a beneficiary of the late Awolowo's estate. There is no doubt that she is the first grandchild of the sage. And there is no doubt that Baba left legacy for her."

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