A Newspack Sunday Story Series (ANSSS)

Paths and Puzzles-2

The rain continued to pound Ekpoma like the world was again coming to an end by a deluge. The noise of the town’s people jostling to fill every container in their homes with water heightened.
But at the home of the late Okonofua, the Onogie of Ekpoma everywhere was quiet. His wife, Itohan was blissfully asleep for the first time since the passing of her husband a few days back. Her many women sympathizers and attendants were also getting a well-deserved sleep.

Ose, the daughter and only child of the Onogie was scrutinizing a pile of documents in front of her father’s huge safe. She separated them according to subjects. The deeds for properties developed and undeveloped were of her immediate interest. Earlier that day, her late father’s relations had come to demand for them along with details of bank accounts. Her mother was willing to oblige their wishes so that she can live the rest of her life in peace. Ose had a different plan as she read her father’s brief WILL again and again.

60% of his estate, scrupulously described should go to his daughter while 40% should go to his wife. But in the event of the death of his wife before his daughter, everything should go Ose, his daughter.

Ose tucked all the papers she needed in a large folder. At about 5.30am that beautiful Saturday morning, Ose hopped into her mom’s old Volkswagen and drove to the house of Chief Inegbedion, (popularly called ‘The Law’) in Opoji, one of the districts of Ekpoma.

Inegbedion was a fiery lawyer practicing in Benin until ill health forced him to relocate to Ekpoma, his home town. He was now 72 with a hearing problem and hardly went to court. But he had a law firm considered the best in the University town. His law practice had a tinge of activism and he was very selective about the cases he took.
After being briefed, Inegbedion was struck by the young lady’s determination to stand up for herself and her mom.
“My daughter, I will take your case without charge,” the old man said in his rich baritone voice. “And I will personally represent you in court,” he added.

As soon as Ose stepped out, Inegbedion put a call through to his horde of lawyers across town.
“I want all motions prepared for filing in the High Court on Monday,” he commanded.

Ordinarily, Inegbedion would have brought the matter before the council of elders. But he knew the siblings of Okonofua to be arrogant and unyielding. They had clashed severally over the years at the council of elders’ meetings over issues of culture and tradition. Discussing the matter at the council would be a waste of everyone’s time.

By Wednesday of that week, all four respondents had been served and words leaked into town that the Onogie’s daughter had taken his uncles to court.
Ekpoma was in absolute shock. The Onogie died only the previous week. Burial rituals and ceremonies had not even commenced. How on earth can the families be in court? But all efforts made by the elders for an out of court settlement was resisted by the Onogie’s brothers who hired an equally fiery lawyer known for his drunkenness and theatrics in court.

The town was sharply divided over the case. Some blamed the late Onogie for leaving a Will that was contrary to the culture and customary laws of the land. It is the family that decides what goes to the wife of a deceased husband they argued. Besides, when a woman did not give birth to a male child, she goes back to her parents place after losing her husband in death. Besides, Ose being a female did not have any say in how her father’s estate should be shared. Some considered her to be inordinately ambitious, stupid and too young to start such a big fight.

On the other hand, some of the people thought it was too early and insensitive for the Onogie’s brothers to have brought up the issue of the deceased estate. They predicted that the situation if not handled with care may degenerate into something that would shatter the peace that endured during the reign of the late Onogie. They were not far from what was brewing in the horizon.

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