A Will that Split Ojukwu’s Family

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Debe Ojukwu, one of Ojukwu's sons
Debe Ojukwu, one of Ojukwu's sons

Debe Odumegwu Ojukwu dismisses the purported will of Ikemba Nnewi arguing that it was unprofessionally drawn up by the lawyer

|  By Pita Ochai  |  Dec. 17, 2012 @ 01:00 GMT

DEBE Odumegwu – Ojukwu, a lawyer, and the first son of Chukwuemeka Odumegwu – Ojukwu, had remained in the shadow of his father until November 26, 2011, when the former Biafran leader passed on. Since then, Debe, who bears a striking resemblance with his father, has been in the news over the control of the family properties which has now become a subject of litigation.

Until December 2010 when his father took ill and was flown abroad, the family of Chukwuemeka Odumegwu – Ojukwu of Umudim Nnewi, Anambra state, had always cut the picture of one big, united family devoid of the usual rancor that had been associated with some influential families in Nigeria. Debe, told a Realnews editorial team in Lagos that although the litigation involving him and some of the family members over the vast estate of their patriarch, Louis Odumegwu – Ojukwu, dates back to the 1970s, not much of the disagreement was known to the public until Odumegwu – Ojukwu took ill and was flown to a London hospital where he died on November 26, 2011. The lid on the family squabble was blown open when the Igbo leader was still convalescing in the hospital and the time of his death on November 26, 2011.

Debe has been at the centre of the controversy. Contending groups in the larger Ojukwu family make claims and counter claims over the ownership of the family properties and the paternity of Debe. Though Debe had always played the part of the first son, most members of the family are yet to accept him in that role. This family position played out when a will allegedly left behind by his father and read out on Friday, November 30, curiously excluded him. Ever since, the will has stirred up more controversies in the family.

Ojukwu and his wife Bianca
Ojukwu and his wife Bianca

Debe, a lawyer of almost 30 years, has punched holes in the purported will. A product of Government Secondary School, Afikpo, in the present day Ebonyi State, Debe joined the Nigeria police force in 1976. After completing the cadet course, he entered the University of Nigeria, where he studied law between 1981 and 1985. Debe resigned voluntarily from the Nigeria Police in 1995 as a deputy superintendent of police. His resignation followed an invitation from his family members to manage their business in Lagos. Since then, Debe has combined his law practice with managing the family business.

He spoke to our editorial team: Pita Ochai and Augustine Adah, staff writers, as well as Anayo Ezugwu, reporter/researcher, at his Apapa office on the dust raised by the purported will of his father read on November 30, at the probate registry of the Enugu high court, which left out his name. To him, the flaws in the will indicate the unprofessional way it was prepared by the lawyer. He made it clear that the family never owned the number of plots of land mentioned in the will in Nnewi, and that the house in Zaria given out in the will does not belong to his father but to his grandmother. Excerpts: 

Realnews: Were you aware that your father had a will before he died?

Debe: Aware? no.  That is not a good word to use. Suspected is a better word, aware would mean that I knew he wrote it and saw what he wrote. Why suspicion should be the right word is that he is an educated man and it is expected that he should have a will.  Therefore, I suspected that he had one. Then, the suspicion became more accentuated because there was a day he actually was preparing one and he asked me to come and sit by him, and I refused, he was with his lawyer that day. He asked me why and I said because I don’t know I   may be a beneficiary. You know I am a trained lawyer, and being a trained lawyer, I know the implication of sitting with your father when he wants to write his will, you might influence certain things in the will. I know the day he asked me to sit by him, the widow was rushing and insisting to sit by him.  In my life, I have always worked hard to achieve what I want to achieve in life. I believe you should give me things willingly. I don’t believe I should lobby you or tell my father do this or that for me. To answer your question, I am not aware, I suspected.

Realnews: Who had the custody of the will?

Debe: You are going wrong but I forgive you because you are not lawyers. Let me tell you the procedures for wills. If I want to draw a will now, I get my lawyer and give him instructions on the will and after drafting the will, he keeps the custody of the will and sometimes goes with it to the probate registry to file it in court, subsequently, I might decide to do what   they call in law codicil. Codicils are variations to the existing wills and when I do a codicil, I would also keep it in the custody of anybody and it is not a rule that the person who wrote the original will must write the codicils. I might ask one lawyer to write a will and another to do codicils.  They are all additions. You might even do the codicils and say you have cancelled the first will. So, what I was telling you is that I saw when they were writing the will and if I was not told, I would not know they were writing something like this and being who he is, he might use that to know either I was after his property by telling me to come and sit by his side and by walking out, he knew I was not so much interested. And it does not mean the lawyer I him drafting it, was in custody of it.  .

Realnews: Is that will different from the one that was said to have been read at Enugu high court on November 30?

Debe: He invited me then and I was not interested so I wouldn’t know whether it was the one that was read in Enugu or not because the lawyer has not got in touch with me. That is the way it is. The last time I got in touch with the lawyer was the time he died, then the lawyer was complaining to somebody that nobody invited him for the funeral and I said no that must be an oversight and I sent him a text, because it is the duty of the first son, to report that, look, our father is dead. So, as the first son, I felt it was my duty and I sent him a text message. If you check this phone, you will see the reply he gave, so I was the one that informed him. I chose to send him text messages because I don’t know where his chamber is located. I have not gone there before and have not asked him because I am very sensitive about such things. If I have started playing with him, the person that just called me wanted to trace many things about the will in Enugu.

Realnews: Your name was not mentioned in the will. Does it mean that you are not recognised as a son of Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu?

Debe: When you write a will, devises and quests are not rights but privileges. That is why, at times, you see somebody who has children and give out all properties to charity. That he gave the properties to charity does not mean those children are not his children. He has the way to share his things the way he wants, that he you gave you this house or the other, is a privilege and not a right. Then in will, when the will is done and your name is not mentioned, in law, they call those children unmentioned children or pre-termittent children, that is the position of the law because you did not mention them, because no child begged you to be his father, that is why there is a compulsion that when you go and see a woman and sleep with that woman, you must go and take care of the seed of that woman. It is not something you just sit down and wish away saying I don’t know him, you don’t do that. It is against the law of natural justice, because no child wrote an application to say please be my dad. Do you get that? It is when you see a woman, you desire her and go to her and desire a child. It is incumbent on two of you to take care of that child and that is why we have children’s rights. Like I am sitting down with you, if one day, I get drunk, so drunk that I don’t know what I am doing, and I see a madwoman and decide to sleep with her and the mad woman has a child, it is incumbent on me to make sure that I train that child because the world is smooth, sweet, beautiful the way God created it. If you can’t make it better, leave it the way it is. If you don’t train that child, that child might  end up being an armed robber, that child may end up being a suicide bomber, that means by your inadvertent omission, you have created a problem for the nation  and that is why people like that should be sent to jail. Do you get my point? No child begs you to be his father or mother, so because of that, you cannot just wish away your natural seed; that is why the law makes provision for unmentioned children. Then if you want to disinherit, the law does not say you should not disinherit, you can disinherit or disown your child, but the law presupposes a duty that when you want to disinherit a child, you say, my child David, I give nothing, my child David is already a big man, my child is already a rich man and he can take care of himself, therefore, let me take care of the junior ones. So, the reason that your name was not mentioned does not mean, you are not his child. You see the will was the handiwork of an amateur lawyer, the type we call charge and bail. The will is the hand work of charge and bail lawyer who do not know what he was doing. That is why you can even devise. Like the house in Jubilee, Zaria, is owned by my grand -mother so before my father devises the house, he needs a letter of administration from my grandmother before he can devise it because it is not his own. And when you go to 26, Onwudiwe, it belongs to my grandmother. So, he cannot devise it. That shows that when he has his mind complete which, in law, we call it compose mentis, and when your mind is not complete or not  sound,  we call it non- compose mentis.   When my father sits down in a compose mentis, there is no way he would will out what does not belong to him because he was a straight forward person, but the person who wrote that will in a hurry does not know the man.

That is why they went ahead and devised what was not available. The land at Nnewi is in court. There is even a judgment about it. They said is about five hectares which is almost 60 plots multiplied by 5. So, when you are talking about 300 plots of land, it is almost the whole of Nnewi which is up to 300 plots of land.

The place is over built. A plot of land in Nnewi is about N4nillion that means, there is scarcity of land in the place. So, where do you get such plots of land in Nnewi? Because one acre is about six plots, while ten acres make one hectare. So five hectares give you 300 plots of land in one place, I need to see the land. Because, if it is Aguleri and Otuocha where we have farm settlement it is okay, but not a commercial town like Nnewi. It is just like telling me you can get 300 plots of land at a particular location in Lagos. it is not possible. It shows that the person who drafted the will drafted it in a hurry to do certain things, to steal. I served in the Police and in the detective they tell you that a hardened criminal would be correct in 99 percent, living only one percent that the police would use to catch him. So that is the way it is.

Realnews: Apart from your absence, were there other members of the family present in the court?…

Debe: Since you have mentioned that I was absent at the court, it not right for me to start speculating those that were present, It is only if I have attended that I would know those that were present. But in any case, the law on wills does not state that the beneficiaries must be there but it is always good in things concerning a will to show that you are clean by inviting the beneficiaries including those whose claims are not true, once you know that somebody is claiming to be, you must invite that person when you send letters to five people and the five people are beneficiaries it then means you have read the will. How do you know those to invite? You just know those who are his children and those who claim to be his children. You say come ooo! and once they see their names, they rejoice, but those whose names are not in the will, that does not mean  that they are not the children of the testator because the person can say this person is my dad, that is the only dad I know, then the court would now say, is that so?

Bianca, Ojukwu's wife
Bianca, Ojukwu’s wife

Let us do DNA test to find out if the man is your dad as claimed and if it is proven that the man is the dad, the responsibility comes that you cannot run away, because it is when you are alive that you call the person and say oh boy, no be  me-oo, you understand  no be me-oo if your mum told you that I am the one, it is not true. I think you understand, and the person will say, you are the one. While you are alive, you go for the DNA test where you are standing the person is standing. And if the result prove to be contrary, you bid the person good bye and may be, say, take N5, 000 for your taxi. But not in a situation when the man was really responsible and somebody would just say, he spoke from the grave. It is a lie, he doesn’t speak from the grave, it somebody that concocted the story.

Because when he died, I was the first person to be informed and I had to travel to London, and when he was sick, I was the only person who visited him with the whole of my family. My wife and all the children, they went to his bed side and touched grand pa and said grand pa, sorry, why didn’t he say who is this idiot touching me? Please no! They know I am his hand bag; the only thing that is in contention is the property. They want to come and take over this place, okay, I am not stopping you, but if I was in the police force and you came to me and said come and manage the place and I am managing it, all of you ran away and I have been able to turn it to a good place, when I came in here, the whole of this back was bush. I built the whole houses at the back. You cannot tell me fly away Peter, fly away Paul. If you want me to hands off, you come, we calculate how much I spent and you pay me. It is my money that I sunk in, it wasn’t like this before, I think you understand.

It is like a situation whereby you are sitting in a house, as you are sitting now, and there was an explosion may be by suicide bombers or any other group and as you are trying to find out what was happening, some body rushes in with a two-day old baby and say please hold it for me and before you know the guy ran away from the door, escaped through the wall and jumps into the lagoon and swims away and you don’t see him again. Meanwhile, you have the two-day old baby with you. As a wicked man, you can strangulate the child to death but now, you decide to nurse the child, playing with the child, keep on managing with your God, because He created you with kindness and  in his image, because you have that attribute, you started nursing the baby, then one day you heard a loud knock on your door and you say come in, the man comes in, and asks, please I am looking for a man fair in completion that some years ago, I gave him my two-day old baby.   By then, you have aged, closed to 20 years, and you say I am the man and he says, I am glad to see you. He then goes further to ask. What about the baby? Then you now raise your voice and say Henry, then you open the door and this full-fledged man appears and you say this is that baby you gave me that time. Then the man would say alright thank God, baby let us go. You would now say wait this is the bill on what I spent on the child to buy nutrients, take medical care and the rest of the expenses and then the man would respond by saying to hell with you, why would you say that kind of a thing? So, that is the kind of a thing we have here, when you throw away something and somebody resuscitates it and you want to take the thing back from him, you pay him all the expenses he incurred. A human being is better than a log of wood. If you come and he had strangulated the child, would you see any human being? So, that is the way it is.

Realnews: Was any of the family property under your care affected by the will?

Debe: No, the property I am managing belongs to a company owned by my grandfather. The property was given to me as a management contract and was signed by those who were directors of the company at that time according to the company’s edict and nobody is arguing on that.

Realnews: What is the name of the company?

Debe: Ojukwu Transport Limited. So, the agreement was signed before it was given to me to manage. It is like somebody giving you yam and vegetable to cook, while they wait at the parlour for you to compete the cooking and in the process of cooking the meal, you start turning and tasting the food and some people are not happy. In managing it, some people now realize that there is life in what was thrown away. When the military was there, nobody could come in here. When you want somebody to manage your property, you open the place, show the person all the rooms but when you stand afar and start pointing at the property from a distance, it means something is wrong with the place or property. That is exactly the situation with this place.

Realnews: Apart from Nnewi building at Apapa, do you have any other family property that you are managing?

Debe: The agreement was for me to manage the whole property in Lagos and the total value of the properties is N10b if you call an estate surveyor or an estate valuer and say go and value this property for me, he would value it and I am convinced that the value may be more than that. Out of this N10b, what is the share capital of a bank? The share capital of a bank is N25 billon, so, virtually I am managing something like a bank, infact I am like an MD of a bank and you know some MDs of the bank own private jets.

Realnews: If the will had affected any of the properties under your custody would you have release them?

Debe: I will handover willingly after I have been paid. When you give me my money, I don’t have problems, we all work for the family. This is my sweat, and in the bible it is written that a labourer deserves his wages.

Realnews: Does it mean you have not been paid anything since you started managing the place?

Debe: The agreement said I am entitled to 30 percent of whatever I collect as rents, and it takes 25 years to realise whatever you have spent on a building. It takes 25 years to amortise, go and ask any estate surveyor as an investigative journalist. If the property worth N10 billion is under my care to manage and I have managed it for 25 years, give or take, it means I have realised  about N10 billion and the agreement says I am entitled to 30 percent, 30 percent of the amount is N3 billion and money does not hide. The money you can hide is N5, 000 which you take to a restaurant for food and the food gets into your stomach and they say the food is finished. My father once told me that he gets annoyed when they tell him that somebody has stolen N20,000 or N5,000, that money could be lost because he could only use it to drink bottles of champagne and the money is gone. But when he heard that somebody has stolen about N30 million, he can go to bed and sleep and in the evening, invite the person and ask oh boy! Where is the money? So, the agreement was for 30 percent of the total value of the property. Then, another one is, you took the man from his former employment, you know the years you took him and 20 years after, you know the position the person would have been occupying. In my own case, you would be getting deputy inspector general of police or IG.

Fellow countrymen, you know what I would have gained if I were to remain in the police force. If am retiring as IG, I would have gotten my pension and gratuity. If I retired as IG, I have four police men following me for the rest of my life, giving me security. If am retiring as IG, you know the contact I would have made. I would get GCON if not GCFR, these are things I sacrificed to come and do the job. If I was dismissed from the force, then, and sitting down somewhere suffering and looking for a job and you come and say, write an application for the job and I write, I humbly beg to apply, it is a different thing. But in this one, you came to call me. The law on that is very clear. If, by your act or representation, you called somebody to move from where he is supposed to be and later you want him to leave where you have taken him to, the law imposes a duty on you that you must return him to the position where he was supposed to have been but for that your removal.  So, if I move now, can you go and tell the police to give me the position of IG?

Debe Ojukwu
Debe Ojukwu

Realnews: Who were those that actually contacted you to resign from your job to manage the properties in Lagos?

Debe: I am a lawyer. I told you the property belongs to a company; if a member of the family just came to meet me, I wouldn’t listen to him without verifying. Some members of the family came to me but I had to go to CAC in Abuja to find out who are the real directors of the company and I found out that they were two and the two were the ones that contacted me. At that time, my father was not among the directors of the company. Other people were not directors; only this two people were directors because, before the war, they were only three, my grandfather and his two sons. So, when my grandfather died, they were left with the only two. So, when I went to Abuja, I checked and when I discovered that the two are the directors of the company, as a lawyer, I said this is a good offer. Because, if I had gone to check and discovered that their names were not there, I would have said uncle, thank you, but because their names were among the directors, that was why they were able to convey the authority and that was why it has been me and the company, it has been my chamber and the company because I have a law firm.

Realnews: Who are the other directors of the company?

Debe : The professor and the engineer.

Realnews: Are they your uncles?…

Debe: Yes, they are my uncles.

Realnews: When are we going to have the original will read to the members of the family?

Debe: I don’t know. I don’t want to comment on the things I don’t know. My junior half- brother stated that he has a copy of the original will. He said so. That statement has defeated the will because he is not supposed to have the custody of the will, because he is supposed to be a beneficiary; that means that the two wills are flying. So, when two wills are flying none is correct because this particular one that was read, the suspicion in it is that only one beneficiary was present when it was read. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. If only one person who is the beneficiary knows when the will was to be read, knew the place, knew the time, and the person took the lion share, it makes it very suspicious. In Igbo, they say if the witch cries and the baby dies, then it is alleged that the witch killed the baby. A will is not something you hide, it is something you do in the open, and when it is read in court, it is only a mad person that would go to the court and start fighting. What are you fighting for? If they told you this is the will, and after reading it, if you are not satisfied, you put a caveat on the will that you don’t like it and then you go and argue your case and you have certain points to argue it. Personally, if am to argue it, I have many points to destroy it, but since I don’t have any request there and I am not interested, why should I be exerting my energy trying to contest it? There is nothing that interests me. All I need, is my wages.

Realnews: In the read will, there is an unknown person mentioned Tenny Harman. Who is this Tenny Harman?

Debe: Tenny Harman is my sister. Who said she is unknown? The word unknown is wrong. It can be that she is a new entrant into the family. You must be mild in your language, linguistic finesse. Somebody was saying the other day that she is a love child. What is a love child? There is nothing like a love child. No child writes application to be born or for you to become his parent. There was a day my father was talking, I got up and flared up, because somebody was sitting there with him, a stranger was there trying to listen to what father and son were discussing. A child is sacred. As at now, I have my own children and they are sacred. It is my duty to keep them right. So, that girl is not an unknown name. She is my sister because my father told me about her. That was why, when my father died, I invited the mother to come for the funeral. I was the one who called the mother because I am the eldest child. My father has a loaf of bread; it is not good for me to eat the loaf of bread alone. It is for me to call every one that is his child and say this is our loaf of bread, share it and give me my own. It is not good that as the eldest son, I should take the loaf of bread and send others away. No, that is not the way it is done, and God knowing whom I am, has provided me with my own things that I am managing. That is why I always tell them to pay me my wages; I don’t have problems. Pay me my wages and I would go to real estate and buy shares and become one of the directors. So, that girl is my sister. I invited the mother for the funeral, the half -brother comes to my house every time. How did I know the half- brother? It is my father that connected us.

 He came to my house two times and I told him, tell your mum that she should get ready to come. So, they were preparing to come for the funeral until when they heard the case the family members were making with me. I was supposed to be their saviour and now that their saviour was in trouble, they decided to stay away. If not, I sent for her, because I know I would always do what is right. The mother was arranging for the uncles to come and was prepared to entertain them and make them feel that they belong to the family. They heard about what was happening to me in the papers because they were not able to get to me. Now, the motor that is supposed to take you from Lagos to Benin, you heard that it had an accident, you will sleep. That time that I was doing this, I did not know that her name would be included in the will. But I was doing it based on what one man told me. I said, it is my duty, if I don’t do, it might lead to a curse on my part. If you read my earlier interview with Newswatch, some were saying that my own mother was not married, this one again, was the mother married and if her name was in the read will, it then means that my father has no anathema for his children. I know why her name was included in the will.

Realnews: Why?

Debe: No, don’t worry about that. What I am saying is that her name was supposed to be there. If my father has 100 children, my wish is that all of them should be beneficiaries of the will. Like I am sitting down, here I am the eldest son and somebody just walks in. I was born in 1956 and the person said I am your father’s son, I was born in 1952, and I check and discover that it is true, I would bow and call him brother, that is what is there. That is the law of nature and God does not make a mistake, he has a reason for everything. God put me in a position and gave me a contract and that gave me money to bury my father without anybody coming to help me. If I didn’t do it, it would have looked like somebody who does not have somebody. My father was the only man that was given a full state burial.

Realnews: Where does the mother of Tenny Harmann come from?

Debe: Kaduna, but Kaduna with connection in Maiduguri. The real name is Tenny Harman Maiduguri.

Realnews: Why was Bianca given the lion share of the will?

Debe: I was not the one that devised it. I told you I was not there; so I can’t say if she was given a lion share. What happens between a man and a woman all rest in the realm of speculation and conjecture.

Realnews: Is there any of your father’s property that was not included in the read will?

Debe:  I don’t think so. If you want to write a proper will, then you first have to take a proper inventory. I don’t see that in the read will. That shows that it was done in a hurry to achieve a specific purpose. And a proper lawyer who receives proper briefs would not write another person’s property in a will.

Realnews: Do you know the lawyer that prepared the will?

Debe: You go to the court and find out. Before now, I expected a serious magazine to go to the registry and obtain the copy of the will. One can even attack the will through the signature on it. For example, I know my father’s signature because he wrote a letter to me before, so if I see the signature shaking then I know that it is not his own.

Realnews: Are you saying the will was not prepared by his lawyer?

Debe: I wouldn’t say so, because the man had several of them.

Realnews: What are you going to do if you find out that the original will has been read and you were not included as a beneficiary?

Debe: I wouldn’t do anything. I will accept it after all he has the right to devise his will the way he likes. I would say, thank God.

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