From CHIDI NNADI, Enugu
After the late Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu’s Will was read in an Enugu High Court last week, his son, Emeka Ojukwu Jr, claimed that the Will was not genuine, arguing that the lawyer said to have prepared the Will, Chief Emeka Onyemelukwe, was not his father’s lawyer.
After Onyemelukwe replied Emeka Ojukwu Jr, last Monday and insisted the Will remains sacrosanct, a close associate and confidant of the late Ikemba, Hon (Sir) Azuka Okwuosa, has urged the Ojukwu family to sheathe their swords and stop washing their dirty linen in public.
Okwuosa, who began to associate with Ojukwu after he returned from exile in 1982, said the late Igbo leader once told him that Chief Onyemelukwe was indeed preparing his Will.
He revealed the encounter Debe Sylvester Ojukwu had with the late Ezeigbo Gburugburu that probably led to the exclusion of his name in Ojukwu’s Will despite efforts by Bianca, while Ojukwu was still alive, to integrate him into the family.
Okwuosa, who ran for Anambra senatorial seat in 2007 under the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) platform, also said Ojukwu told him about his “strange” daughter, Teni Haman, adding that the Ikemba did not marry her mother officially.
Looking at his long relationship with Ojukwu, he said the Biafran leader would not be happy over the controversy trailing his Will, and advised the family to resolve their grievances amicably to protect the family’s image. Excerpts…
My relationship with the late Ikemba
I have been very close to the late Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu since 1982 when he came back from exile. I have been a top confidant to him, I associated with him, I shared the same passion with him, the same ideals; as a matter of fact, it was his ideological conviction that endeared me to him. Because of that he accepted me as part and parcel of his family and I saw that as a rare privilege. I was with him throughout his turbulent period when he came back from exile for almost 10 and when the property of the dynasty of Ojukwu was confiscated. I was there with him up to the point the properties were restored by the late former head of state, Gen. Sani Abacha. I was with him throughout the period of recovery, and at Queen’s Drive, when he went there and they tried to eject him, I was with him. I was with him through thick and thin until he went to court through his lawyer, the late Chief Rotomi Williams, where he was able to get justice from the court in Lagos and subsequently the rest of the properties were released. Fortunately, I was so close to him to the extent that he actually gave me the baptism of fire in the murky waters of Nigeria’s politics. He was instrumental of my being chairman of the old Nnewi North Local Government Area from 1994 to 1996 when I left office. Subsequently, in 1999, I was Commissioner for Works and Transport in Anambra State, I left in 2001; in 2003 during the formative stage of APGA, he called me specifically to join hands with him for a new rediscovery of the Igbo agenda, and I resigned from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and joined him because of my ideological conviction for what he really represented for our people. And ever since I have been very faithful and close to him, and I still do even now that he is no more; this ideals still endure to me, these are the only way I believe he can be remembered and immortalized.
Controversy trailing Ojukwu’s Will
I see the Will as the personal wish of the late Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, because most of what the Will contains, I wasn’t there the day it was read and I am not supposed to be, but I know that most of the things in the Will are not strange to me, because these are things he had discussed with his close confidants over the years. He was a man that would ask you a question to know your thought formation, though he was a man that knew what he wanted to do and was not a man that could be easily influenced on the spur of the moment; he would look at issues and decide on them. To me, I see the Will as his last wish and I believe that actually the resultant effects of actions and reactions that trailed the Will are actually what are worrisome to me, because I know that up till now we are still mourning the great Ikemba, and materialism should not be the bedrock of people very close to him. To me, joining issues on the pages of newspapers is rather very unfortunate. I know every member of that family and I have respect for all of them, starting from the wife, Ambassador Bianca Odumegwu-Ojukwu; I know Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu Jr, who was also very close to be a friend because of my relationship with his father; the younger brother, Okigbo, the sister, Mimi, Ebele and the children of Bianca – Chinemerem, Afam, and Nwachukwu and the rest of them. To me, I believe these are very responsible characters by every parameter of judgment. So, that is actually what baffles me with the level of tirade we are seeing on the pages of newspapers. But I must really commend Ambassador Bianca Ojukwu because I have never seen anywhere she spoke about this Will; she has remained silent and focused. So, I am also appealing to the rest of the family to emulate that sense of honour; people are bound to disagree, but when you disagree, you don’t disagree on the pages of newspapers, this is purely a family issue that can always be resolved in a family way. I have also been privileged to see a man who willed all his assets and belongings to his dog, that is his own wish, and he is entitled to it. So, I believe Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu is entitled to whatever is contained in his Will. The only way we can honour him, the only way we can immortalize him, and the only way we can rever those convictions and ideological beliefs he stood for that are enduring as a legacy to the Igbo nation and entire Nigeria is not to do anything that will diminish his status, anything that will diminish what he stood for our people. I believe this issue is very simple; if there is any point of disagreement, there are two options: either they come together as a family and look at it; I don’t think that option has been explored, so, why not explore that option? On the alternative, if one thinks these issues cannot be resolved in an amicable way, there are other proper ways it can be addressed; if it is inevitable, one can quietly go to court and challenge it. These two options have not been explored, so why start throwing diatribes on the pages of newspapers? It is as if the bedrock of what Ikemba actually represented is about materialism to some people, which is actually what I am quarrelling with, because anything that will diminish the image, character and what Ikemba stood for, people like me will stand firm to make sure we oppose such retrogressive ideas and actions.
Ikemba’s number of children and Sylvester Ojukwu
I was privileged to have personally discussed this issue with the late Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, precisely when the properties were released to the family through Ikemba. Sylvester Debe went to the JAMB Office, as it is called, one of the father’s properties in Ikoyi, and occupied it. Ikemba called me and said, come let’s go and see what is happening there; when we got there we saw Debe with two suitcases in one corner of the building and Ikemba asked him, “What are you doing here?” He asked him this question three times and he did not talk, and Ikemba told him, “If you say I am your father, prove yourself” and he didn’t answer that question, too. And he told him that the best way to prove himself was not to occupy the property, because that property was actually where Ikemba’s father lived and by extension it was like an Obi of the father and by extension Obi to Ikemba. And Ikemba told him, “If you call yourself my son, you cannot occupy my Obi while I’m still alive.” Subsequently, I also remember when some community people from Umudim, Nnewi, came to Ikemba barely two weeks after that visit to the JAMB Office; they told him that they came to tell him that he had to accept Sylvester as his son. I remember what Ikemba asked them in Igbo parlance: “Is it the community that tells somebody that this is your son, or is it somebody that will tell the community that this is my son?” At that point, you can understand that Ikemba was somebody that was always philosophical when it came to certain things. But actually, I have no doubt in my mind, Ikemba never said that Debe is not his son, but all I know is that he never accepted him while he was alive. But, to me, I share Debe’s passion, because I know that Debe is one of the most responsible characters I have ever seen in and around that family. I have been visiting Ikemba periodically, so when I was counting the children I noticed that he was conspicuously omitted in the Will. So, who am I to challenge the wish of the great Ikemba? But the only thing I can say is that if… I don’t know if we will even have an opinion about that, because if we do, I know that somebody like Bianca had made case for Debe before to be incorporated into the family, but Ikemba had his own ideals that were sacrosanct to him, he knew his reasons and nobody should challenge it. I don’t want to go further than this; so, to that extent, he was not included in the Will, but I know that when he lost his mother, Bianca went for that burial about 10 years ago at Udi, Enugu State. Bianca and Debe are very close; she went to that burial and came back, even with little resentment from Ikemba, she still attended the burial and Debe always visits the house, he is a likeable character, and likeable personality; but the most important thing now is not whether somebody’s name is in the Will or not, the issue is that the Will is out and it is out, and there are proper ways to go about these things.
Ikemba told me of Teni Haman
He mentioned the issue on three occasions to me in a lighter mood; so, it didn’t come to me as a surprise when I saw it in the Will. And anybody who was really close to Ikemba; even when I read Emeka Jr’s interview he also acknowledged the fact that his father told him about that lady, so it is not strange to me. He told me she is actually his daughter he had many years ago, but he didn’t tell me when. I don’t think he was married to the mother, but the only thing is that when you have a child you know that this is your child and you have passion for the child, then you have the right to choose either to accommodate that child in your Will or not; so to me, I believe Ikemba had spoken and who am I to say otherwise?
Bianca getting lion’s share of Ojukwu’s assets in the Will
To start with, I have been privileged to go through the content of that Will; I have a different notion completely. I wouldn’t say Bianca had a larger chunk per se; if you look at it superficially, you might say yes, but actually when you look at it deeply… if you look at that Will, you will discover that the only commercial property of the late Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu on Sokoto Street in Onitsha was given to Emeka Jr, it was even given to him before Ikemba died. So, seeing the other ones in the Will I was not surprised, and the house on Forest Crescent, GRA, Enugu, you know Ikemba was not a materialistic character and he didn’t really have much, but you could see he was living in a rented house at Independence Layout and yet, that was the man who was military governor of the Eastern Region, a man who was head of state of a sovereign nation for almost three years and he never had a single property in any of the state capitals in the South East. And you will also realize that he was instrumental, and through his legacy, APGA was able to win elections in Anambra State and recently in Imo State. I challenge anybody to tell me otherwise. Ikemba had no single property in Awka till his death, not even in Owerri. So, after living in a rented house in Independence Layout, he eventually, through concerted efforts between him and his wife, Bianca, were able to build the house on Forest Crescent. And ever since they have been living there. And he had strong passion for Bianca from the onset, he loved her so much and she was the woman who stayed with him up to his trying moments, and during his sickness. So, if you look at the inscription on the gate of that house, it is CasaBianca; it wasn’t by accident, I know Ikemba in his rhetoric; if you look at his vehicles, you will see Ezeigbo 1 or Ndigbo or Ikemba; so, one had expected that that property on Forest Street would have been named Obi Igbo or something like that, but he chose to name it CasaBianca. That will tell you he had already made up his mind while he was alive that the property belongs to Bianca, just like the one he gave to Emeka Jr at Sokoto Street in Onitsha. Then, the one he willed to the daughter in Zaria, the other ones were actually the properties of the larger Ojukwu family, the estate of his father, Sir Louis Philip Ojukwu. Actually, you know they never shared anything in their family. So, after the release of their property, they have over 90 properties scattered all over the nooks and crannies of this country, and Ikemba was controlling about six. He was conscious of the fact that the properties were a collective interest concerning the larger family, they made concerted efforts for these properties to be shared in their life time, maybe he knew this will not be actualized in his life time, so if you look at that Will, he said he advocated for these properties to be shared and in sharing the properties that 29 Queen’s Drive otherwise known as Vilaska Lodge, Ikoyi, they have a special passion for the place because it was where he made history, where he started his struggle towards recovering his father’s patrimony. So, he said he would appreciate if that place is considered as part of what he would get, among others that would be given to him, and that whatever that would be given to him, he wanted the wife to manage it on behalf of his other children, and should be shared equally among the children of the first wife and Bianca’s children. So, to that extent, you cannot say that Bianca had the lion’s share; that she had a managerial scope doesn’t mean those properties are allocated to you; a man has the right to say I want this person to manage this thing to a particular time, only him knew the reason. The other house at Nnewi was given to Emeka Jr, so I don’t understand the issue of large chunk being given to Bianca, though that is not the subject for now, but even if somebody wishes otherwise, my advice is to resolve it amicably or go to court in the interest of Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu; for what he stands for, his name should not be messed up because of personal interest over material things.
Why some members of the family are complaining
This is a big question because I wouldn’t know why, but the only thing I can say is that it is just human imagination and expectation. I might wish my dad would give me 50 per cent of his estate if he dies, and if at the end of the day he gives me 10 per cent, I may start complaining, but my complaint would be inconsequential because that was my dad’s wish. So, maybe expectations, to a reasonable extent, might be the basis for these agitations we are seeing today, which, to me, are really unnecessary. There are two issues now; there is this contention from what I read in the newspapers that the Will was falsified or was not genuine, but I do know actually that if you look at the trustees and executors of that Will, these are people who were very close and top confidants of Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu. One is late, the Igwe Emeka Ogbunide, the late Igwe of Oraukwu, an architect by profession and a very close confidant of Ikemba; I know of Mark Ezemba, who was Ikemba’s best man during his wedding in 1994 or 1995 or so, at Abuja, the reception took place at Nicon Hilton, I was privileged to be one of the page boys as a local government chairman. So, Mark Ezemba was there with him and ever since he has remained a close confidant of Ikemba. Then James Ezike who is also one of the closest allies of Ikemba, a lawyer of long-standing, he handled Ikemba’s election petition at the Election Petitions Tribunal in 2003 during his presidential campaign bid; he is one of the trustees and executors of that Will; so, to my mind, these are people who are impeccable, who are very close and people who have nothing to gain by going against the Will of Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu. I can vouch for them and anybody who knows Ikemba knows that these are the closest people to him. And, of course, the lawyer, Barrister Emeka Onyemelukwe, since Ikemba came down to Enugu, he has been part and parcel of the retinue of friends who have been going to Ikemba. After seeing him on several occasions, I was privileged to have asked Ikemba what the man’s mission was and Ikemba told me in confidence that this man was actually helping him to put his Will together. So, I was surprised when I started reading on the pages of newspapers that he was never the lawyer that wrote the Will. I say this thing for the sake of posterity, I say this because truth is always sacrosanct, I don’t care, people can disagree, but the truth must be told, people like me cannot fold our hands and pretend as if everything is normal, I owe that to posterity, to speak the truth. If the content of the Will is not palatable to anybody, let’s not take to press war, it doesn’t augur well for the image of the Ojukwu family, it doesn’t even augur well for those who are making such press utterances. It is very unfortunate and I know that whatever place the great Ikemba is now in his grave, he will not feel good about this recent development.