No Justice, No Peace in Ojukwu’s Family
Newswatch: It was alleged that the late Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, never introduced you to the larger Ojukwu family as his son. Instead, he told them that Emeka junior should be regarded as his first son. How do you react to that?
Debe: Legitimacy does not come from introduction. It is a fact. You must realise that for many years my father had been in court with most of them. There are some members of Ojukwu family, who are living in the United States of America. If they die today, it does not mean that the children they have there, because they were not introduced to the family, therefore, they are not the sons of the man. All those things are matters of fact. That somebody does not come and introduce, who would he introduce to? Is it to the members of the family he has been in court with? Or who? Somebody is somebody’s son. It is either yes or no. Introduction does not confer on you the status of being somebody’s son. Somebody’s son is something that he has to prove as a matter of fact and conclusively by DNA. If one is somebody’s son and it is proved by DNA, and he is not introduced, does that make him not to be his son? My father has been quarelling with them. The person talking about introduction, was he introduced? Did they introduce his kith and kin? They themselves followed me when my father in-law died. They followed me to do his funeral ceremony at Mbubo, Isiala Ngwa, Abia State. The whole family followed me for that ceremony. Why did they not say at that time that I was not introduced? When they signed an agreement for me to manage the family property, they even wrote me letters to come and work, and take care of my grandfather’s properties.
Newswatch: The late Ikemba was said to have written a letter to Professor Joseph Odumegwu-Ojukwu in 1986, where he mentioned that in commemorating the 20th anniversary of the death of their father, Sir Louis Philips Odumegwu-Ojukwu, it must be noted that he (Ikemba) had four children, names of whom were mentioned, excluding you. Why where you not included in that letter?
Debe: As far as my father is concerned, I am my father’s treasure. I am his treasured son. And knowing that these people were treacherous, he would not in all the cases reveal me. That’s why I am who I am today. If he had brought me to the fore, maybe somebody may have killed me and that would have been the end of that his treasured son. In his statement about phoenix, he told me that a phoenix was a mystical bird of the desert that lives for a very long time. When it dies, another one sprouts. What you treasure most, you don’t bring it out to your enemies. That is the situation. Did they tell you how many children my father had?
Newswatch: Four were said to be mentioned in that letter.
Debe: How many children did he have? So, that we can now check if anyone was born after 1986. If none was born after 1986, it means that he did not mention all his children.
Newswatch: You were asked to manage the properties of Ojukwu Transport Limited since 1995. From then till now, you refused to render accounts to the family. Instead you demanded to be given N1.8 billion as compensation for all your efforts. Moreover, the agreement was for 12 years, but you are still managing the properties presently. How do you react to that?
Debe: I would have loved to react to it with documents to make it easier for you to understand, but the matter is before the court.
Newswatch: What were the circumstances that led to your being given the properties of Ojukwu Transport Limited to manage?
Debe: I was in the public service, in the Nigeria Police Force. I was the best all round cadet and I was a legal officer at Alagbon, Lagos. It was then that they came and invited me to come and manage my grandfather’s properties and leave my pensionable job. I did not apply to come and manage anybody’s property. They invited me to come and manage the properties. They said I was the only person that would bring peace. Since the property was released to my father, he was not managing it with them. The property was released to my father by a gazette of 1993, when former President Ibrahim Babangida was stepping aside. Babangida released them to my father. They were never interested in the properties in Lagos. They were not doing anything about them. When my father got the properties back, he handed them to one Mr Omojine, to manage. They said I should come, that they would even surrender the ones they had with them. That was how I came into the management. If you were in a public service, somebody withdraws you from service and tells you that you are going to do a particular job, the presupposition is that you will remain in that job with your public service job. If he wants later to come and take that management from you, he has to compensate you for those things you would have lost, by coming out to manage the assets. I was supposed to manage it. My public service career was supposed to have ended after 35 years of service. After that, I was supposed to get my gratuity and pension. Those were the things I forfeited by allowing them to pull me out of my job to manage the family properties. And while doing this, I used my money to develop the properties. When I was about to manage it, it was signed and agreed that 30 percent is my management fee, while 70 percent is for me to use in the repair of the properties. I continued using my money to manage it. The 70 percent was supposed to be administered by one of the directors, Engineer Emmanuel Ojukwu. He was supposed to come and manage the repairs, since he is an engineer. When he came, one of the people, being jealous that I was succeeding, went and beat him up in the Nnewi building. He wrote a letter alleging threat to his life. Since that encounter, he ran away from the estate. He left me holding the baby. He did not give me the money he realised from the estate then. I was the one that entered the premises and started managing it. I made the army to leave the premises. I took away the bombs that were kept there for years. The Nnewi building premises used to be a depot of bombs. I slept here with those cache’ of ammunitions for many years, risking it until I provided logistics for those things to be moved. You can see how the engineer abandoned me. Most of the people that came after I rehabilitated it paid money for services. Therefore, you have to provide them with the services. For close to 20 years now, I have been responsible for repairing and improving the services. I built and developed the estate into what it is today. There was no power supply in the estate. There was no water either. I was the one that paid the arrears of NEPA bills incurred by the army, which was more than N10 million. When they said they gave me something to manage, they never had an office. They were using my law office at Igbosere. These things are verifiable. Suddenly, they have seen that I have managed it to success, they became interested. I am not saying they should not be interested. But they have to pay me for what I have spent. They should pay me for my services. I am supposed to collect 30 percent. If I did not mean well for the family, I would have collected the 30 percent and ran away and the building would collapse. But I may have been ploughing back even my own commission into the place. When they said 12 years, the essence of making it so was for a periodic review. As a responsible lawyer, I did not want to do an agreement that says forever and ever. I gave them the management account for 12 years. I told them to settle the management account before we talk about the development and tenancy. They refused to do that. Since that time, the interest on the management account balance has been accruing till date. If I had continued my job in the police, I would be heading for an AIG or DIG. Did they think of that?
Newswatch: Do you know one Mrs Comfort Ukwu I. Ukwu?
Debe: Yes, I know her
Newswatch: What is she to you?
Debe: She is my auntie. She is the most senior relation of my father by blood. That’s the person you can go and ask now and say who is Debe (Akpunwa). If she says Akpunwa is not my brother’s son, I would be shaken.
Newswatch: What do you mean by your relation by blood?
Debe: Her mother is the senior sister of my father’s mother. She was the one that followed me all the way with her husband to the Igwe Nnewi, when this matter was brewing. They followed me all through when the Igwe Nnewi summoned all of us in the family and these other people refused to come.
Newswatch: What year was that?
Debe: This year, before my father was buried.
Newswatch: Can you remember the month?
Debe: January and February this year, before my father was buried. We went to Igwe Nnewi
Newswatch: You had appointment with the Igwe Nnewi?
Debe: They were invited to the Igwe’s palace, but they refused to honour the invitation. Then the whole Nnewi elders sat over the matter and said, they had seen that interlopers were meddling into Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu’s family; that those people should leave Dim’s children to bury their father. Yet, they did not harken to the advice of the elders. They went and blocked the road.
Newswatch: We understand Mrs Ukwu was tear-gassed the day your father was being buried?
Debe: Yes. She was tear-gassed. I was the one that bore most of the brunt.
Newswatch: What do you mean by that?
Debe: They felt I should not be seen close to the president. That perhaps, if the president saw me, he would do certain things.
Newswatch: Like what?
Debe: Like appreciating who I am. The matter there is that they felt I must be suppressed. They did not want another star to rise from my father’s family. They felt since my grandfather died, my father rose as a star. They should not allow another star to rise. That was why they went and determined that even though the traditional ruler, the custodian of the culture, called them to order, they did not obey. If you want to know me, go to the Obi of Umudim. I am the president-general of Umudim Nnewi Development Association home and abroad currently. If you go to the Obi of Umudim, Nnewi, the traditional ruler, you ask him, who is Debe. The Igwe is the custodian of the Nnewi culture. The Igwe Nnewi called them, but they shunned him. Chief Mbazulike Amaechi, a first republic minister, was there. The elderly people were also there. They said, no, this is a travesty. How could this man that has always been with his father be relegated to the background? Because this other people insisted I must withdraw the case from the court, they went and blocked the road and determined that instead of me to enter the compound, they would get the police to tear-gas the place, so that if I made any move of entering, I would come in, on a stretcher. I would be so weak that I would not be able to perform my roles, so that I would end up in the hospital. When we were in the church, they started misbehaving. I was reliably informed that the list came from the protocol, that I was to lead the reception to receive the president, which was right. They started misbehaving in somebody else’s house. It is recorded. One of them was pointing at me to the police to deal with me. It is a criminal case. He did not know that the camera caught him. The protocol people perhaps were scared. They did not know what to do. They did not tell me. I was in the church then. If they had told me I was supposed to receive the president, I would have been there. No Jupiter would have prevented me from doing that. But I didn’t know. So, they made out to the president that perhaps, that same man does not count you for anything. That’s how he behaves. He does not respect anybody. They usurped my natural duty to receive the president as they wanted to usurp my father’s position. This usurpation thing has been on for many years now. If a man is not your father, what are you doing in his house?
Newswatch: Why was Mrs. Ukwu tear-gassed then?
Debe: They marked my wife as the dark woman that would be coming in with a dark girl. They mistook them for my wife and daughter and rained tear-gas on them. They were unconscious. They ended up sleeping in the hospital. When the information got to somebody who is supposed to be a medical doctor, that the person who was tear-gassed was Mrs. Ukwu, he said; she ought to have been killed. That was what came out from the mouth of a person who took hippocratic oath.
Newswatch: Now that these things are happening, what are the efforts being made to bring peace in the family?
Debe: Peace follows justice. If there is no justice, there will be no peace. Somebody is telling you he is not arguing for these properties. If you say it is your own, it is your own, but I am telling you that I have done a job. Pay me. The rudimentary way of explaining it is, there is crisis and you run into this compound, carrying a two-day old baby. You saw somebody sitting by the side, dump the baby on him, scaled the fence and ran away. You were never seen for 20 years. After 20 years, you came and said give me my child. The person said, look, this child drank milk. This baby was sick many times and was taken to hospital. And the man said, to hell with you. Just give me my baby. Is it natural justice? You pay him for what he has done. You must first admit that you abandoned the child and ran away. Then pay him so that he would continue his life elsewhere. But you are arguing with him, telling him to go to hell, with his money which he put in the estate. Was that how you met it? How much was the estate yielding before he took over? Were you even in control of it?
Newswatch: According to Nnewi tradition, how do you determine the first son of a man?
Debe: The first son is determined by birth. That’s why my people made me the president-general of Umudim. That’s why when the funeral was going on, the whole traditional rulers came to me, to assist me, as the eldest son of my father.