Bianca: The battle for Ikemba’s legacy

Ogunsakin Mustapha
20 Min Read
Dame Bianca Odumegwu Ojukwu

By Mustapha Ogunsakin

Many Nigerians never gave her marriage to the Ikemba Nnewi, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwi-Ojukwu a chance, yet she made a tremendous success out of the marriage, with three strong children, a marriage that lasted for 16 years, and friendship of five years. When her husband died, many had thought they could intimidate her and her children out of the inheritance that belonged to them. But she picked the gauntlet and fought a legal battle over her husband’s estate that lasted for 10 years. This is the story of the resilience of Dame Bianca Odumegwu-Ojukwu, the beautiful lioness with the heart of a man.

Dateline: 1989. It all started as rumours! Bianca, the most beautiful girl in Nigeria, and daughter of a lawyer, politician, and former governor of Old Anambra state, Chief Christian Onoh,  is dating her father’s friend, Soldier, Politician, and former Head of State, Republic of Biafra. The rumour mill went to town. It was in the days of soft sell magazines. Social media then was unknown. Bianca was a young woman of 21, a beauty pageant and law student. Dim Ojukwu was a retired soldier, and hero of his people as the man who led the Biafran war, and Statesman aged 55, clearly more than 30 years difference in age.

Rumours had as well that the Onohs and the Ojukwus are family friends and that Ikemba, actually was the godfather of Bianca and actually functioned in that capacity at her naming ceremony. The coming together of the lovebirds actually caused friction between friends of over 30 years.

Undaunted, the lovers continued their relationship, culminating in an elaborate wedding in 1994, after she became a lawyer. 

After the marriage, Ikemba, known to be a ladies man slowed down, having eyes only for his belle. Like the biblical marriage between David and Bathsheba, he was never known with any other woman till he breathed his last. Bianca became the envy of all. While many that threw tantrums at her over her love affairs had their own marriages crashing, she made a tremendous success of her own.

It therefore did not come as a surprise when in 2012, following the death of her husband, in his will, he left most of his assets to her. This generated another round of controversy and disaffection among several family members. Bianca appealed to her critics to allow Ikemba “rest in peace”, describing him as a man of honour and integrity whose legacy should not be obscured by rancour over inheritance issues and stating that his will was drafted in 2005, registered and placed in the custody of the State Probate Registry with the legal witnesses and executors, who were present at the time it was prepared, still living.

This did not stop the will from being contested by the family members. However, faced with the threat of eviction by her in-laws and others from the Iko residence where she and her two children lived with their father,  Bianca approached the Lagos High Court sitting in Ikeja and fought a long drawn legal battle that lasted 10 years.

It started barely a year after the death of Ikemba in 2011 Bianca and two of his infant children Afamefuna and Nwachukwu were on the verge of being evicted from the home. The evictors, according to averments before the court in suit LD/1539/2012, were seven defendants comprising the late Ojukwu’s siblings and others. For 10 years, the parties sought the court’s backing for their respective arguments over the management and control of some of the assets of Ojukwu Transport Ltd (OTL). 

The late Ikemba Nnewi was a Director of OTL, a family company, before he died in 2011. 

The suit, LD/1539/2012, was filed by Bianca on behalf of the claimants, her two sons, Afamefuna and Nwachukwu, who were children at the time, against OTL and seven others (brothers of the late Dim Ojukwu, their sons and property agent) over an alleged move by the defendants to take possession of the claimants’ residence at No. 29 Oyinkan Abayomi Drive, Ikoyi, Lagos, as well as some of the company’s property in Lagos, which were under the management and control of the Ikemba Odumegwu-Ojukwu.

The defendants in the suit filed in 2012 are OTL, Prof Joseph Ojukwu, Engr. Emmanuel Ojukwu, Lotanna Putalora Ojukwu, Dr. Patrick lke Ojukwu, Arch. Edward Ojukwu, Lota Akajiora Ojukwu and Messrs. Massey Udegbe (doing business under Massey Udegbe & Company). 

Afamefuna and Nwachukwu, being minors at the time, commenced the suit through their mother Mrs Bianca Ojukwu who sued as the next friend to her biological sons. The boys are the biological sons of the late Chief Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, while Mrs Ojukwu was the legal and statutory wife of Chief Chukwuemeka Ojukwu.

Delivering judgment on June 24, this year, Justice A. M. Lawal, after considering all the evidence adduced by the parties in the course of the proceedings spanning about 10 years, upheld Omeye’s arguments. 

The judge held that the claimants being biological children of the late Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu are entitled to the estate of their father, as well as his entitlements as a deceased director and shareholder of the Ist defendant. 

Late Dim Emeka Ojukwu, and Bianca

Justice Lawal stated that “equity is fairness and fairness is equity,” adding that as a court of equity, the court would not allow the dispossession of the claimants who are children of a foundation director of the company while other directors are in hold and control of other property of the 1st defendant and deriving benefits from the same. 

“Therefore, the claimants are entitled to possess and control what their late father possessed and controlled in the company, OTL, when he was alive,” the court held. 

The judge stated that the fact that the 1st defendant allowed the family of the company to live on, and derive income from the assets of the company all these years was a decision of the company by conduct. 

He noted that the 2nd defendant who had refused to surrender the property under his control for joint management could not now lead the battle of having the deceased director’s children hounded out of possession of the property that was managed by their late father. 

The judge further upheld Omeye’s prayer and struck out the counterclaim instituted by the defendants for lack of competence. 

He held: “That the claimants are entitled to the possession and occupation of the property known as No. 29 Oyinkan Abayomi Drive (formerly Queens Drive), Ikoyi, Lagos, until the harmonization of the management of the assets of the 1st defendant; 

Bianca mourning her husband

“That the threat of forceful ejection of the claimants from No.29 Oyinkan Abayomi Drive, |koyi, Lagos, by the defendants is illegal; 

“That the claimants are also entitled to the possession of the properties known as No 13 Hawksworth Rd, Ikoyi (now known as No 13 Ojora Rd, Ikoyi); No. 32A Commercial Avenue, Yaba, Lagos; No. 30 Gerard Rd, Ikoyi, Lagos and No. 4 Macpherson Ave, Ikoyi, Lagos, which were some of the properties that were under the possession of the late father of the claimants from the time the properties were released from government acquisition. 

“That the 2nd to 8th defendants are restrained either by themselves or through their agent or privies from interfering with the claimants’ possession and control of the listed properties, being the subject matter of the suit.”

The claimants in their final address made by their lawyer, Mr. Nick Omeye raised four issues for determination and asked the court to resolve in their favour. 

He prayed the court to hold that it was neither right nor proper for the 1st to 8th Defendants “to forcefully eject the Claimants and their next of friend/biological mother from No, 29 Queens Drive, Ikoyi, Lagos, which was the residential house of Late Chief Emeka Ojukwu and his children the Claimants, while the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Defendants who are also children of Sir Louis Ojukwu, foundation shareholders and Directors of the 1st Defendant retain the properties under their own possession and control.” 

He argued that the Claimants are “entitled to possession and control of the properties known as (a} No 13 Hawksworth Road, Ikoyi, Lagos, (b ) 32A Commercial Avenue, Yaba, Lagos. (¢) No 30 Gerard Road, Ikoyi Lagos. (d) No 4 Macpherson Avenue, lkoyi, Lagos, which properties were under the possession and control of the Claimants’ late father, Chief Emeka Ojukwu, pending the time all the other properties under the control and possession of the other shareholders and children of Late Sir Louis Ojukwu are surrendered to the 1st Defendant and managed by an approved Estate Manager.” 

He contended that the Claimants “are entitled to order of court restraining the 1st to 8th Defendants from forcefully ejecting the Claimants from No 29 Queens Drive, Ikoyi, and (a) No 13 Hawksworth Road, Ikoyi, Lagos, (b ) 32A Commercial Avenue Yaba Lagos, (¢ ) No 30 Gerard Road, Ikoy), Lagos. (d) No 4 Macpherson Avenue Ikoyi, Lagos, which were under the possession and control of the Claimants’ late father, until the time all the other properties under the control and possession of the 2nd , 3rd and 4th Defendants and their children are surrendered to the 1st Defendant and Managed by an approved Estate Manager.” 

Lastly he argued that the 1st to 7th Defendants’ counterclaim was not competent and was bound to be struck out or dismissed.

Following the purported appointment, the 4th Defendant wrote a letter to the Claimants’ mother and next friend Mrs Bianca Ojukwu, notifying her of the 2nd 7th Defendants’ intention to take over possession and control of the properties subject matter of this suit. 

Further to the above, the Solicitors to the 8th Defendant issued letters dated 14th and 17th of September, 2012 threatening to eject the Claimants from No 29 Queens Drive, lkoyi. The 8th Defendant also wrote the Claimants’ next friend of his purported appointment and requested that she hand over the properties subject matter of this suit to the 8th Defendant. 

On the 14th of August, 2012, the 8th Defendant and Mr. Ifeanyi Okumah, who is the Counsel to the 8th Defendant, put up a Public Notice in Thisday Newspaper warning the occupants of the properties subject matter of this suit to deal or relate with the 8th Defendant with respect to the properties. 

The 5th Defendant, Dr Patrick Ojukwu also issued statement in The Sun Newspaper of 23rd September, 2012 threatening to forcefully eject the Claimants and their next friend Mrs Bianca Ojukwu from No 29 Queens Drive, Ikoyi, and the other 4 properties under the control and possession of the Claimants. 

The late Chief Chukwuemeka Ojukwu in his Will stated in the Codicil that his wife Mrs Banca Ojukwu should retain his interest in No 29 Queens Drive, Ikoyi, and take his seat in the Board of Directors of Ojukwu Transport Limited. 

While threatening to take over No 29 Queens Drive |koyi and the other 4 properties subject matter of this suit, the 2nd to 4th Defendants and their children retained the other properties of the 1st Defendant under their control and have been collecting rents from the properties under their control and had at all times shared the rents realized from the properties to the exclusion of the Claimants and their mother. 

By a further amended Writ of Summons and Statement of Claim dated the 3rd of May, 2016, filed by Nick Omeye Esq. and Chris Ezugwu Esq. of Faith Attorneys, Messrs Afamefuna and Nwachukwu sought five reliefs from the courts. They are: 

  • That the threat of forceful ejection of the claimants from No.29 Oyinkan Abayomi Drive, ikoyi, Lagos, by the defendants is illegal. 
  • That the claimants are also entitled to the possession of the properties known as No 13 Hawksworth Rd, Ikoyi (now known as No 13 Ojora Rd, |koyi); No. 32A Commercial Avenue, Yaba, Lagos; No. 30 Gerard Rad, Ikoyi, Lagos and No. 4 Macpherson Ave, ikoyi, Lagos, which were some of the properties that were under the possession of the late father of the claimants from the time the properties were released from government acquisition. 
  • That the 2nd to 8th defendants be restrained either by themselves or through their agents or privies from interfering with the claimants’ possession and control of the 5 Listed properties, being the subject matter of the suit which properties had been under the possession of Late Chief Odumegwu

The Claimants are in possession of the properties subject matter of this suit, and with their mother reside at No 29 Queens Drive (now No 28 Oyinkan Abayomi: Drive) Ikoyi, Lagos. The late Ojukwu also resided at No 29 Queens Drive, Ikoyi, since around 1985 and his wife Bianca Ojukwu and the Claimants also lived there with him and are still residing there. 

The properties in question were acquired by Chief Ojukwu’s father, the Late Sir Louis Ojukwu, in the name of the 1st Defendant. The Late Sir Louis Ojukwu was the majority shareholder of the first Defendant. The other shareholders are the 2nd Defendant, Late Chef Emeka Ojukwu (the father of the Claimants), Bethram Obi and the 4th Defendant. 

The properties acquired by Sir Louis Ojukwu in the name of the 1st Defendant were about 25 in number, and same were separately occupied by his Children, the 2nd Defendant, Late Chief Emeka Ojukwu (the father of the Claimants), the 3rd and the 4th Defendants. 

Apart from the properties physically occupied by the children of Late Sir Louis Ojukwu, the 2nd Defendant was in possession of the properties at Onitsha and Port Harcourt and collected rents in respect of the properties and used the money realized from the properties for his subsistence. 

The Claimants’ late father Chief Emeka Ojukwu lived at No 29 Queens Drive, Ikoyi, and also retained possession and collected rents on four other properties in Lagos, namely: No. 13 Hawksworth Road, Ikoyi, 324 Commercial Avenue, Yaba, Lagos, No. 30 Gerard Road, lkoyi and No. 4 Macpherson Avenue, Ikoyi. 

The 4th Defendant, who is also one of the shareholders and biological sons of Late Sir Louis Ojukwu resides at No. 19, Mekuenwen Road, Ikoyi, Lagos and controls a couple of other properties from where he collects rents for himself for his subsistence. The 3rd Defendant also had some properties under his control and collects rents from the properties. 

While the Claimants’ father was alive, he complained to the Defendants about the way and manner the landed properties were being managed, and suggested that an Estate Manager be appointed to manage all the properties, but his suggestion was ignored by the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Defendants. 

The 2nd Defendant alone managed all the 1st Defendant’s properties at Onitsha and Port Harcourt since the late 1960s without rendering account to any person, and from 1993 after the release of the properties in Lagos from acquisition by the Government, the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Defendants to the exclusion of the Claimants’ late father had managed 19 properties in Lagos State without rendering account of the rents collected to anybody. 

While the Claimants’ father was on a hospital bed in London in 2011, the 4th to 7th Defendants were purportedly appointed Directors of the 1st Defendant Around the 4th of August, 2011. While the Claimants’ father was still sick and hospitalized, the 4th to 7th Defendants attempted to forcibly take possession of No. 29 Queens Drive (now Oyinkan Abayomi Street), but were prevented from doing so by private security operatives guarding the house. 

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