• As both parties struggle to secure 13-year-old only son’s future
• His brother has no say in what belongs to me and my son –Estranged widow
• I won’t let outsiders decide what happens to my brother’s assets –Brother
Chiemerie Onyeji, a 13-year-old boy in JSS 3, is secretly praying that the English meaning of his first name, ‘God has won,’ will come true very soon and rescue his inheritance that has been in contention between his mother, Chinenye Onyeji and paternal uncle, Nnaemeka Onyeji. His paternal uncle is leading his four sisters in a battle over who should have authority to manage the assets left behind by his father, Okechukwu Onyeji, who died last year.
In the resulting twists in the matter, which have involved multiple arrests, detention and interrogation of Nnaemeka for allegedly selling off various assets of the late Okechukwu, the future which the deceased worked hard to build for his son now being threatened as the young child who ought to have had a privileged ride through school is now facing deprivations as the battle over control of his father’s assets lingers. Chiemerie’s father had shares in quoted companies with estimated value in excess of N40 million. In addition, he had buildings with tenants in Lagos and undeveloped plot of land before his unfortunate demise.
A legal practitioner, Ajuzie Osondu, speaking on the unfolding drama playing out in the widow/brother-in-law fight lamented that the present situation would not have occurred if Nigerian men would rise above superstition and overcome their phobia of and aversion to “writing wills, which can protect their assets and shield their nuclear family from the overbearing, greedy and covetous attitude often displayed by their siblings against their wives and children in the event of a sudden demise.
“The traditional or customary position is that it is the male children exclusively that inherit the property. The first son holds all the assets in trust for all the male children. Subsequently, they will share the assets among themselves. That is the case where the man died intestate without writing a will. But if the man made a will, then that settles it. What he says is final. Where is there is no will, that’s when inheritance issue comes up. That is why I have always advised people to make their will, because a dead man can’t speak from the grave concerning his property and other assets.
“My simple advice is that the widow you mentioned should immediately apply for Letter of Administration, which will give her legal control. That is the way to legally protect the assets for her son. We say in law that ‘equity rewards the vigilant.’ So my advice is that she should get a good lawyer who will guide her in seeking letters of administration from a Probate Court. Usually, the court gives priority to the widow and children if they apply for letters of administration.
“But most times the affected widow and children do not apply for Letters of Administration. You might even have a situation where a close relation of a deceased person could forge some documents, make false claims and then apply for letter of administration without the knowledge of the wife or others near. However, a letter of administration which is obtained fraudulently, without the knowledge of the widow or the grown up children, can be contested and nullified in court.”
Similarly, Justice For Widows, a non-governmental organisation, that advocates for humane treatment of young wives who lost their husbands, and assists such women secure pro bono legal representation, through its Programme Officer, Gloria Ibezim, condemned the seeming efforts to dispossess Chinenye of the late husband’s assets, but added, “all these would not have happened if the man had simply written a will. She should be courageous in seeking protection for her son’s inheritance.”
The trouble that Chiemerie’s inheritance is now mired in began in 2018, when the mother had a misunderstanding with his father, which led her to leave the matrimonial home, and relocate to the East while awaiting a possible resolution of the issues.
Recounting how the problem started in a telephone interview, Chinenye told Sunday Sun: “You know that a husband and wife can have a quarrel sometimes. So, we separated temporarily, to see how to resolve the marital problem between us. We did not divorce at all; it was just that I relocated to the village, to the home of my parents with the hope for a peaceful resolution of the issues. This was in 2018. While I was at home, my husband died.
“Within one week of my husband’s death, Nnaemeka came from the East to Lagos, took over his assets and began selling some of them without my knowledge. After my husband was buried, I came to Lagos and asked Nnaemeka for the key to our house. It was then that he told me robbers broke into the house and carried away all the household property and took all the documents relating to the assets of my husband. So I reported to the police and through investigation the police discovered that it was Nnaemeka and his siblings who actually carted the property away and tried to frame me and my brother for the crime.
“Meanwhile as he and his siblings were pretending that they wanted a peaceful resolution, he was secretly selling other assets of my husband. He sold a land my husband acquired and his cars. I even warned him not to sell the Toyota Tacoma vehicle my husband had ordered from overseas, but which had not yet arrived at the time he died. After the vehicle arrived, he cleared and sold it too against my explicit demand that it should not be sold. Anyway, the police were able to recover some documents from him. But the person he sold the land to has refused to respond to police summons. He has not been taking his calls.”
Dismissing a claim made by Nnaemeka, alleging that Chinenye had described the late husband as an occultist, who engaged in blood money and, therefore, wondered how she could suddenly turn around to seek control over the same assets acquired by the husband she labelled an occultist, the voice of the distraught widow dropped a bit as she sniffled and then said: “Please ignore him. That is a pure lie. I never said so.”
Reacting to Nnaemeka’s assertion that he must have a say in all matters concerning his brother’s being the only surviving son of their parents, Chinenye emphatically declared: “He has no right at all in the assets that belong me and my son. I am the next of kin. I want him to return the land he said he sold to somebody. He is still holding the key to our house on Liasu Road, Egbe, Lagos. I want him to release my husband’s house to me. As a widow, I need the things left behind by my husband to train our only child and only son and give a good future in life. Even the women association in our community and other kinsmen, in fact, the whole community has condemned him and said that what he did was not good at all.”
In the quest to follow the path of law, Chinenye had sought the intervention of the Inspector General of Police, Adamu Mohammed by writing to him. Finding the allegations she made against Nnaemeka weighty, the IGP directed the Force Criminal Investigation Department (FCID), Annex, Alagbon, Lagos to investigate the claims.
In the petition Chinenye accused her brother in-law, Nnaemeka Onyeji of burglary, stealing, forgery and conversion of property, bank instruments, and title documents. The petition stated in part: “He conspired with others unknown and sold the property at 13 Fatokun Street, Adam Estate Ikotun, for the sum of N10 million to one Mr. Prosper.”
At the FCID Alagbon, the spokesman, Assistant Superintended of Police Niyi Ogundeyi, disclosed that the Assistant Inspector General of Police, Uche Anozia in-charge of FCID Annex, Alagbon, Lagos assigned investigation to the X-Squad Section, added that the team of operatives had made significant progress.
“They forcefully ejected the woman and took possession of the house, confiscated their property and businesses. They carted away property, which include one Lexus Jeep, one Toyota Avalon, one Mazda saloon car, another Toyota saloon car, land documents located at Adams Estate Idimu, documents of shops located at Ladipo, took over the man’s freight business and is presently occupying the man’s family house in Lagos.
“He was arrested and interrogated. So many things were recovered from him, including the life insurance policy of the man, several insurance certificates worth N40million, cheque book of the deceased’s accounts held in FCMB, Heritage Bank, Access Bank, Zenith Bank and Fidelity Bank. The police also recovered vehicle documents and discovered that he had sold all of them. He confessed to some of the fraudulent acts and denied some,” the source stated.
Kinsmen weigh in
Consistent with the practice in Igbo land, Chinenye reported her travail the community association. On this, the Chairman of Umuduru Onyiriagha and Umuagubu in Umumilo, Amanaasa village, Umuchu town, Aguata, Anambra State stated unequivocally that “the property of the deceased belongs to his wife and son. We are not disputing that, we never for once said that the property belongs to Nnaemeka. It can never belong to him.”
He added: “After recovering the property, we can say that since our late brother has been taking care of some responsibilities in the extended family, let the wife allow such to continue. It has to be with her full consent. This will also encourage lasting peace in the family. We also said that no landed property belonging to the Okechukwu should be sold until his son is of age. We took that decision because the wife can decide to get married and if she does, she is no longer a member of the family. The son cannot opt out of the family that is why we said no landed property should be sold till the boy is old enough to take decisions. As for movable properties, they can sell only with agreement between Nnaemeka, the committee members and especially the wife and son,” he explained.
In series of telephone interviews with Sunday Sun over a period of three days, Nnaemeka sought to put across his position regarding the matter between him and the late brother’s wife over the assets in dispute.
His words: “Being the only surviving male child of our family (four brothers and four sisters, three of my brothers have died), I want to state that nobody drove Chinenye away before my brother died. Even when he died, my elder sister, Chinelo, called her to inform her about the husband’s death and asked her to come to discuss issues relating to his burial. She declined and said that she had rejected my brother while he was alive, what would she come to do again?
“Okey was a member of the Knights of St. John and parishioner at St. Francis Catholic Church, Liasu Road, Egbe, Lagos. While seeking clearance from our parish in the village and to fix a date for the burial the parish priest, Rev. Father Obikwele wanted to know what caused the disagreement between me and Chinenye. At a meeting called by the parish priest, her kinsmen contended that we ought to have brought wine to inquire as to why she returned home. I told them that she should return given that we did not send her away. That whatever was the issue between her and the husband no longer mattered since he had died; she should just return to her matrimonial home. When asked by the priest to explain why she left the matrimonial home, Chinenye said she took the decision to save her life as the husband was maltreating her.
“I did not dispose of any assets. The only thing that I did was that I borrowed some money from somebody called Prosper to fund the renovation of the house which my brother was working on before he died. There was an undeveloped plot of land and I asked Prosper to swap the plot of land for the loan I took from him for the renovation. I took the loan to make my late brother’s house presentable for the purpose of hosting guests and his notable friends we were expecting to attend the burial. I felt that after the burial, we would resolve the issues within the family.
“The major problem is that Chinenye said that she does not want any of us to be involved in the management of my brother’s assets. She wants me to hands-off everything and leave her do as she pleases. I simply cannot see how I would allow people from the kindred who are misleading her and other outsiders to control the assets of my brother. Imagine, for instance, if she decides to remarry then my brother’s assets will be handed over to another man. What then will become of my brother’s son when he grows up?”
He alleged that Chinenye abandoned her matrimonial home, to have affairs with men, only for her to turn around and lay claims to the husband’s assets following his demise.
“She said that all the assets belong to her son and herself. For what, how can that be, my own brother’s assets? Chinenye is not educated. There are some people in our kindred and some other individuals who are misleading her. These are the people that want to take control of my brother’s assets while I will just watch from the side. How can I be alive and somebody from my kindred will be the one managing my brother’s assets? I am ready to see this matter taken to court, so that the court will decide. My position is that all the title documents to the assets should be deposited in a trustee bank and kept for the child until he reaches 18 years.”
In response to a Whatsapp message seeking his views on the matter, Catholic Reverend Father Obikwele, the parish priest, expressed frustration over the unfolding drama: “It is a pity that this case is still lingering on after the death of Okey Onyeji. Since Okey has been buried peacefully, why is it that there is still problem? What is the problem again? I think I have finished playing my role. However, if you have any question to ask me with regard to the pre-burial, during the burial incidents, I may answer as much as I know. As I earlier said I thought everything would have ended after the burial. It is now turning to be national issue. That is a pity.”