4 December 2012

Nigeria: Ojukwu's Will - Distortion of Igbo Custom and Tradition?

There is palpable uproar in the family of the late Biafran leader, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. The bone of contention has been how best to share the property left behind by the former war lord. The quarrel started shortly after the burial of the legendary Ikemba Nnewi in March 2011. And on November 30, 2012, the disagreement reached a crescendo after the Chief Registrar, Enugu High Court, Mr. Dennis Ekoh, presented Ojukwu's Will to the family with his widow, Ambassador Bianca Ojukwu, getting a substantial share of the property left behind by her deceased husband.

Beyond that, one Tenny Haman, was mentioned by the Will as one of the late Ojukwu's children, to the consternation of Bianca who, according to close relations, Ojukwu so much unburdened his heart to.

Besides Tenny, Ojukwu listed his children to include Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, jnr. Mmegha, Okigbo, Ebele, Chineme, Afam, and Nwachukwu. And quite inexplicably, the name of Syvester Ojukwu, a lawyer and former senior police officer, who had long been flaunted as the Ikemba's first son, was conspicuously missing in the Will.

The Ikemba willed the exquisite and expansive Casabianca Lodge at No. 7, Forest Crescent, GRA, Enugu, two properties at Jabi and Kuje in the Federal Capital Territory, as well as all his money and personal effects to Bianca, who is the country's ambassador to Spain.

He also said that Bianca should take his position as the trustee in the family's company, Ojukwu Transport Ltd, while also giving her two plots of land in his village at Nnewi, with a caveat that the plots should be retrieved from her if she re-marries.

Emeka Jnr whose mother Njideka - daughter of late C. T. Onyekwelu, who ran a successful electronic business in Aba before and shortly after the 30-month Nigeria/Biafra war - got the family house at Nnewi. The mysterious daughter Tenny, got the Jubilee Hotel located in Zaria, Kaduna State. The Biafran warlord also shared other landed property in the village among all his children. He also listed the trustees and executors of the will to include Bianca, Emeka Jnr and Mr James Chukwuneme.

Bianca described the contents of the Will as fairly satisfactory. "It was a fair will. This time around, he did not disappoint us," she was quoted as saying.

But Emeka Jnr thinks otherwise. A national newspaper (not LEADERSHIP), quoted him few days ago as describing the Will as a "fake document". He described Barrister Emeka Onyemelukwe, who presented the Will as Bianca's personal lawyer, and not that of the late Ojukwu. The newspaper report also quoted Emeka as saying that he is in possession of the original Will drawn by his late father, "and not what he called the fraud presented as a Will".

Sylvester, also known as Debe, has also reportedly picked holes in the Will, describing it as an unreliable document. He claimed to be worth more than the assets mentioned in the Will, suggesting that he doesn't need any of the assets of his late father.

Nevertheless, LEADERSHIP learnt that he is acutely worried over the non-mention of his name in the Will as one of the children of the late Igbo leader. While Ojukwu was alive, Sylvester reportedly related with him as his first son, though in one of the interviews he granted a daily national newspaper, he spoke about his predilection to live an independent life.

The consensus here is that Sylvester's claim as Ojukwu's first son would only be valid if his mother was customarily or legally married to the late Biafran leader. This could not be established by LEADERSHIP, but a few people who volunteered information said that Sylvester, who is a chip of the old block, was a product of a relationship between Ojukwu and Sylvester's mother when the former was an administrator in Udi, in the present day Enugu state.

His Royal Highness, Eze Lawrence Onwuka Chukwu of Amaokwe Item, in Bende local government area of Abia state, told LEADERSHIP in an interview that the ceding of most of late Ojukwu's property to Bianca constitutes an affront to the custom and tradition of Ndigbo; arguing that according to the tradition and custom in Igboland, the first son of the deceased should inherit his father's property. He said that in the case of Ojukwu, the matter was worsened by the fact that Bianca is neither the first wife of the late Ikemba Nnewi, nor the mother of his first son. He argued that since the Will recognized Emeka jnr, as the first son, he should seek redress at the Customary Court.

But Emeka Umeagbalasi, chairman, Board of Trustees, BOT, Intersociety of Nigeria, a non-governmental organization, NGO, argues that the late Ikemba had the legal right to give out his property to anybody he felt was close to him during his life time, or assisted him to realize his objectives one way or the other.

He also said he might have decided to give a substantial part of his property to a charitable organization or a civil rights group like the Amnesty International without anybody having the right to complain. He further said that in law, the nature of marriage contracted between a man and a woman, determines to a large extent, who inherits what property at the man's death.

And following the rejection of Ojukwu's Will by Emeka Ojukwu jnr and Sylvester, Bianca told LEADERSHIP in a telephone interview that she inherited only the property she and the late Ikemba acquired collectively as husband and wife. Bianca who is the daughter of late Chief Christian Onoh, the former governor of old Enugu state, and who was reputed to be the largest property owner in Enugu, said the Will left by Ojukwu was drawn in 2005 with the knowledge of all those mentioned in the document as trustees and executors. She appealed to all those contesting the authenticity of the Will to allow the soul of the departed Igbo leader to rest in peace; arguing that though he was a former military governor of the defunct Eastern Region, and a former Head of State, he never appropriated government property describing her late husband as a man of honour and integrity.

The late Ikemba was said to have at different times, married more than three wives, with Bianca being the only one alive. An enchanting woman, Bianca's charming disposition, many say, would have influenced Ojukwu's decision to give her a lion share of his property without recourse to the fact that he had a son from one of his wives who is recognized in the will as his first son. After all, according to Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzxche, "love is the state in which man sees things most decidedly as they are not".

As the controversy over Ojukwu's Will rages, the consensus on the major streets in the South East is that things have fallen apart in the family left by the late Igbo leader, and the family may remain divided unless well-meaning sons and daughters of Igboland intervene to douse the feud over the sharing of the late man's property.

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