Ladi, the first son of late legal luminary, Chief Frederick Rotimi Alade Williams has said that fifth columnists have been profiting from misunderstanding arising from the Will of his late father; thus encouraging the family feud to persist.
Ladi and Kayode on the one hand and Folarin and Tokunbo on the other hand have been engaged in a protracted legal battle over the Will since the death of their father in 2005 The estate in dispute is now worth over N20 billion.
Upon the death of FRA Williams in March 2005, his four surviving sons had purportedly entered into an agreement on the distribution of their father’s estate based on the belief that their father died intestate (not having made a legally valid will).
However, while an action for obtaining Letters of Administration in respect of their father’s estate was pending, the probate registry of the High Court of Lagos discovered that the late FRA Williams died testate, as his will (done in 1954) deposited at the registry was uncovered. Ladi and Kayode insisted it should be Probated. But Folarin and Tokunbo refused to accept this will, thus triggering series of court cases by the children.
The Court of Appeal has since ruled that the feuding children should go to Arbitration, but Ladi and Kayode are planning to challenge this in the Supreme Court.
While speaking recently (exclusively) to THISDAY on the lingering crisis, Ladi, said the misunderstanding had persisted for years because some fifth columnists have been profiting from what he called “a misunderstanding.”
Said Ladi: “They will take one story from me to the other side and take another from the other side and bring it to me because they are profiting from it. These are the people that I call leaches because they cannot stand on their own.”
Ladi also blamed the Nigerian judiciary for the seemingly intractable misunderstanding. He said: “But somehow, the court managed to put fire where there shouldn’t be any. The court has managed to create more problems. Highly educated people such as Akintola Williams who is our uncle; Ernest Shonekan whose grandmother was a member of the Williams family would have intervened; the court has now made it very difficult for these gentlemen to do so because the court has said ‘go to arbitration.’ But these gentlemen want to help us settle it. If we go before these men, are we not in contempt of court?
“Because the court has said we should go to Arbitration and we say no, it is not a matter of arbitration. That is the problem which has been created by the Court of Appeal. We don’t want to fight anymore but the Court of Appeal has compelled us. If we don’t obey, that is disobedience of a court order and has that not complicated matters for us? That is why we now have to go to the Supreme Court for it to say, ‘if these people want to discuss this problem with their uncles let them. Don’t let them go to jail for doing so.’ So, that is the position as it is now.
“Once the court of law leaves the sphere of adjudication and goes into the sphere of imagination and sentimentalism then they are not doing the judiciary any good. It is not a good image for the judiciary to be saying ‘remember when you used to share food.’ For goodness sake, it is most unfortunate and we have to get rid of that first.”
On allegations that Ladi and Kayode are responsible for the lingering crisis, Ladi explained thus: “We went to court to Probate the will of Chief FRA Williams, SAN. The Probate Registrar wrote to us to say that he has found our father’s Will. Thereafter the court action that we have filed before in which we were trying to get administrators appointed without a Will, was then withdrawn by filling what is called a Notice of Discontinuance.
“On the basis that the Probate Registrar had written to us that they had recovered our father’s Will and that we should come for the reading. Two of us went even though four of us were invited. After the reading of the will, that is when we then sought to withdraw that action and the court then dismissed the action seeking appointment of administrators.
“Because until the law is changed, if you don’t have administrators or executors, then you cannot distribute property of a deceased person. So we then brought this present action before the Probate Court, seeking to Probate the Will of Chief FRA Williams SAN.
“But my two younger brothers brought a motion saying that we should refer the matter to arbitration. The High Court however said that this is not a matter that can be referred to an arbitrator because an arbitrator cannot admit a Will to Probate. An Arbitrator cannot appoint Executors and Trustees. An Arbitrator cannot vacate a caveat. That it is only the High Court that can do so.
“They then appealed to the Court of Appeal and the Court of Appeal looked at the appeal and said it is only the Arbitrator that can admit Will to Probate. I think it is wrong. The court also said it is only the Arbitrator who can vacate a caveat. I think they are wrong on that also. It said it is only the Arbitrator who can appoint administrators and executors. I think they are also wrong on this. They said because we have signed an agreement to the extent that any dispute should be resolved by arbitration. Now, the question is if we go before the arbitrator, the arbitrator will want to know first of all what the dispute is.
Justice Samuel Oseji of the Court of Appeal in Lagos tried to seek a compromise amongst the four feuding children while delivering judgment in the appeal over Arbitration by urging the four children to reflect on their childhood years “when they ate together from the same plate and table.”
He further advised them to shun mundane riches “that will perish” and focus on their brotherhood.
He urged them to consider their childhood relationship and reflect on what their parents would have felt seeing them bickering over their legacy.
The judge, who read the lead judgment, stayed proceedings in the suit instituted by Ladi and Kayode against their younger brothers, Folarin and Tokunbo, over the estate left behind by their father.
He faulted the decision of the lower court that the arbitral clause did not extend to all disputes arising from the estate of the late FRA Williams and held that the family agreement specifically stated that it covered all the estates of the legal luminary.
The appellate court, in a unanimous decision, ordered the children of the legal icon to embrace arbitration as contained in the family agreement entered into by the children on November 25, 2005.