Monrovia — Oumou Hage is often a tranquil character when recounting her ordeal in one of Liberia's most publicized property trials held in more than a decade. Anguish and frustrations are, however, quite noticeable in her rendition.
Two weeks ago, the 53-year-old was released from the notorious Monrovia Central Prison after allegedly refusing to sign a property deed the court had ordered her to sign.
It was a contempt of court charge that landed her behind bars, a spokesman for the Court would later tell FrontPageAfrica after her release.
Her five days struggles in one of the filthiest penitentiaries in the country coupled with the protracted trials have made her even more resilient and optimistic, she told FPA in an exclusive interview recently.
"Going to jail, for me, it was just a disadvantage against me," said the mother of three in a calm tone. "But then, I said to myself that I won't give myself any worries because I had committed no crime."
Oumou enjoyed a 27-year relationship - 10 of which was a legal marriage - with Milad Hage, a famous Lebanese businessman with massive property investments in the commercial district of Red Light, Paynesville city.
Before meeting Oumou, Mr. Hage had married back in his native homeland and then moved to Monrovia with that wife. But she would, however, opt to leave the West African nation following the coup d'état of 1980 that created political uncertainties, making life troubling for many foreigners.
Fast forward, then Oumou will meet Milad. The two spent almost three decades together before his demised on April 19, 2010. The couple had three children - two girls and a boy - who are all grown-up now.
"When my husband passed away he left a will, and this guy, who was in charge of the property was Bassam H. Jawhary," she recalled the first legal wrangling for the property.
She claims Mr. Jawhary was falling short of meeting their needs so the last resolve was to file a lawsuit. The suit became a five-year trial characterized by several twists and turns.
Finally, in 2015, the court ordered the execution of the will - devising the property to all those who had a legitimate interest including Oumou, her children and their stepsister. According to the statute, she has one-third rights of her late husband's property. And the court ruled just right, she remembered.
According to her, Mr. Jawhary and her stepdaughter Nohad Hage-Mensah were also given one lot, which already has a store building, while the rest of the properties were turned over to her and the three children.
Two years later, new legal wrangling was initiated. This time, Nohad became making more claims to the properties.
"She and her mother came and presented a deed in which she removed my name from the deed and had only she and my three children mentioned on the deed," Oumou recalled.
The Probate Court later ruled for Nohad, holding that the property be apportioned amongst the children including Nohad. But Oumo, along with her children, contested the ruling by appealing to the Supreme Court.
For her, trudging the stairs up the highest court brings frustration. The twists and turns of allegations of corruption and conflict of interest involving judges and lawyers in the center of the trial are never blurry in her flashbacks.
"We went to the Supreme Court on appeal but we been there more than five times but the ruling cannot come out and the Supreme Court says it reserved ruling," she said with a shy.
"This situation is affecting my children mostly because they are in school and I am not getting what was written by my late husband in his will so I have to get money from myself to support my children. As I speak to you right now, my son is not in school."
Meanwhile, Oumou is cognizant that she's at a cross road: catering for her children, enduring an uphill legal battle and awaiting until the mortgage on the property is cleared.
EcoBank currently has the original deeds in its possession due to a lien on property, she said, because her husband had obtained several liabilities with International Bank Liberia Limited (IB), LBDI and EcoBank.
At the end of an earlier suit, EcoBank wrote-off the Hage's debt with the other two banks and until all the debts are serviced, a lien remains on the properties while the current lawsuit cast complications over the future interest of the estate.
Meanwhile, Nohad is seeking to split the properties but Oumou insists any deed, other than the one in the possession of bank is illegitimate.
Oumou alleges that she was being compelled to sign a deed in favor of her stepdaughter, and when she refused the court locked her up on October 18, 2019.
While in jail, she became quite familiar with many of the inmates. In fact, she met several people from the outside.
"Many of the people who knew me in the jail were quick to realize that my being there was for the property issue so nobody tensioned me, even the security was kind to me," she said.
"I said to myself, 'no matter what they do, I will not sign that deed'. If it will cause me to keep coming here I will, because I only know about one deed for the property and that was mortgaged to Ecobank... so, even if they want put me there (in jail) a hundred times, I am prepared. I will not sign anything and none of my children will sign."
Commenting on the detention of the widow on October 18, the Director of Public Information at the Judiciary, Atty. Ambrose Nmah insists that the court did not coerce the widow to sign a "fake" deed.
"All the parties reached an agreement to divide the properties as per the order of the court but by the time for the Oumou to sign the deed and give it to the other party she refused," Nmah said.
"This case has been dragging for long before this court after the ruling but Madam Hage continued to disrespect the court when she was asked to come out to sign the deed of the other party."
Despite the odds, Oumou seems optimistic she will prevail.
"I will get justice because I have every document to prove that the place is for me and my children," she said while postulating an advice for women embroiled in similar situation like hers.
"For those mothers that are out there and find themselves in similar situation, they shouldn't lose confidence in themselves. Once you have trust and you believe the truth, you should not give up"
She also claims that she willing for her stepdaughter to get a fair share of the property.
"What's there for Nohad, she is entitled to it and will not take anything from her, but because of jealousy from her mother that's why we have this," she said.