The Williams family feud: Till death do us part

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*When the death of Ladi Williams SAN became known to the public a week ago, what readily came to the mind of Nigeria’s legal public was the feud that had torn apart the Williams family, the foremost known law family in Nigeria.*

Ladi was the first son of foremost Nigerian lawyer, Federick Rotimi Alade Williams QC, SAN. He died on Sunday October 3, 2021 of complications resulting from COVID-19, at the prestigious St Nicholas Hospital, Lagos. His son, Kunle said that his father was fully vaccinated before his death.

The Williams family comprises of four sons from the same father, late FRA Williams, and mother, Chief (Mrs.) Beatrice Ola Rotimi Williams. The mother died on Saturday, February 7th, 1998, while the father died on March 26, 2005. Together they had Chief Ladi Williams (SAN), Kayode Williams, Folarin Williams and Tokunbo Williams SAN.

However since the father’s death fifteen years ago, all has not been well with the family. The children had been on each other’s throat over the estate left behind by the great Timi the Law. The feud over time has become so deep to the extent that it has been passed on to the grandchildren of the great man. Also, the actions of individual members have become so diabolical to the extent of affecting the progress and welfare of individual members.

Every effort of the legal community to wade into the matter proved futile. At a point, Justice Mohammed Lawal Uwais, a former Chief Justice of Nigeria and his Supreme Court refused to hear the Williams family cases brought before the Apex Court out of sheer respect for the late legal icon. He even went to the extent of constituting a committee of retired Justices of the court, senior lawyers, and clergy to resolve the issues before the siblings. Members of that committee included the late Justice Kayode Eso, the late Justice Chukwudifu Oputa, Chief Mrs Folake Solanke, the first female Senior Advocate of Nigeria, and Bishop Ladigbolu. The committee was frustrated.

A former judge of Lagos High Court, Justice Joseph Olubunmi Oyewole had to adjourn a suit over a contest of the will of Chief Williams by the children sine die, just to allow the family to settle their differences. It did not work. Oyewole is today a Justice of the Court of Appeal. He had pleaded with the siblings to remember how they played together as kids, how they rode bicycles together, but one of the siblings had replied to the judge: “That is village thought. We are not from a village. We are Lagosians”. Justice Elfreida Oluyemisi Williams-Dawodu also handled the case where Chief Ladi Williams objected to the appearance of the lawyers that represented the Lagos High Court Probate Registry, and ensured they never participated in the case. The judge conceded just because she wanted the family feud to end. This also proved futile.

Stakeholders close to the family revealed to Gavel International, how a petition by one of the siblings had ensured that his brother could not attain the rank of Senior Advocate for several years now. The wife of another sibling was forced into an early retirement as a judge of the High Court of Lagos due to a series of petitions written against her by a sibling. The wife, a daughter of a former Chief Judge of the State, could not be helped despite the status of his father.

As at the time he died last week, the late Ladi Williams was looking forward to arguing a suit he filed against Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria(AMCON) before a Federal High Court, Lagos, seeking to ascertain the circumstances surrounding the indebtedness of his brother, Folarin and two others in relation to the estate of their late father. The case comes up on Tuesday, October 12 before Justice Daniel Emeka Osiagor.

In the processes filed before the court,the deceased sought the order of court to direct and compel AMCON to make available to him copies of documents contained in the file of his brother, Folarin, and two others, Lambo Jumoke Oguntuga, and Kemi Sheri Williams, concerning the N2,303,470,835.43 in which they stand indebted and any other details regarding the loan. Ladi alleged that Folarin might have used part of the unconstituted estate of their late father (which he is not beneficiary to) to secure the loan to which he is now indebted.

In a 13 paragraphs affidavit personally sworn to and filed before the court, Chief Ladi Williams averred that sometime in the year 2018,AMCON published an article titled the list of top Nigerians owning total debt of N906 Billion, the content of the publication was brought to his attention, after which he wrote a letter of inquiry to AMCON dated February 25, 2020, requesting for copies of documents contained in the file of Mr Folarin Rotimi Williams, Lambo Jumoke Oguntuga and Kemi Sheri Williams with regards to the money owed and any other details regarding the loan obtained as they are indebted to the tune of N2,303,470,835.43.

After months of receiving no reply he sent a letter of reminder dated of June 26, 2020,and further reiterated the legal grounds upon which he was entitled to the said information as requested and then gave AMCON a period of seven days to provide the requested information,failure of which will result to a commencement of legal action against the organization.

Upon failure of AMCON to accede to his lawful demands,he served AMCON a pre-action notice dated July 13, 2020. The statutory period of 30 days between serving a pre-action notice has since elapsed.

Chief Ladi averred further that it is his honest fear that Mr Folarin Rotimi Williams might have used part of the unconstituted Estate of their late father Chief FRA Williams (which he is not beneficiary to),to secure the loan to which he is now indebted;and it is on this basis that be had requested for details regarding the collateral as well as other details regarding the loan obtained.

The granting of his prayers will not in any way prejudice AMCON, it will only give the parties an opportunity to let the case be determined on its merit and further preserve his right,he contended.

However, in a notice of preliminary objection filed before the court by a Lagos Lawyer, Dr. Francis Chuka Agbu SAN, on behalf of AMCON, the debt recovery Agency urged the court to dismiss or strike out the suit for lack of jurisdiction

In an affidavit in support of the preliminary objection sworn to by Chief Litigation Officer in the law firm of Lexaier Partners, Barrister Ceaser Anyeabosi and filed before the court by Dr. Agbu, the deponent stated that Chief Ladi Williams failed to serve a valid 90 days pre-action notice on AMCON as mandated by AMCON Act.

The suit is also statute barred, having been commenced outside the three months stipulated by section 2(a) of the public protection Act and Order 34(4) of the Federal high court civil procedure rules 2019. The suit is incompetent having been commenced outside the 30 days period provided by section 20 of the Freedom of Information Act ,2011.

The suit as presently constituted is incompetent for, the respondent’s failure to seek the leave of the court pursuant to order 34 rule (3) of the Federal high court civil procedure rules and (2) failure to file affidavit of non- multiplicity of suits, pursuant to order 3 rule (9)2 of the Federal high court civil procedure rules 2019, before filing this suit.

What many people found shocking is the fact that siblings from the same parents, particularly of a Williams stock, who uses the law and legal process to settle disputes of other people could not settle their own. A case of a medicine man that cannot cure himself. Timi the Law was not a polygamist, nor did he father a love child outside his wedlock to his wife, whom he loved all through his life, and outlived with seven years.

What then could be behind siblings fighting to the point of death? Why would they allow the conflict to become a generational conflict, passing it down to their own children. The estate of their father as at the time of his death in 2005 is said to be worth about N26 billion, which is enough to share between them and even pass it on to generations unborn. Afterall, there are many successful lawyers who never knew their father, or mother, yet made success out of their lives. There are others that were sponsored through community efforts and are doing fine. The Williams siblings story therefore is the story of the inability of siblings to manage the success story of their father.

Shortly after FRA was buried, the brothers met at the instance of Folarin who hinted them on how their late father wanted his chambers, popularly called The Black Table, and estate to be run. *The children even before the death of their father were not at peace because FRA did not hide his soft spot for Folarin.* Ladi and Folarin were no longer at par with each other because of the decision of FRA to put Folarin on the board of a few bluechip companies where he had shares. Since there was no will it was discovered that FRA had allegedly instructed that the chambers be handed over to Folarin and Tokunbo along with other juicy properties. Ladi was shocked at this development knowing his father whom he had served for many years.

Even before this period, FRA had a company, United Investment Limited (UIL), which managed his vast estate, both shares, properties and bank accounts. The said company was opened up for the late chief and the children to own 9,800,000 shares of N1.00. a total share of 10 million units was shared thus: Chief FRA Williams owned 9,920,000 which is the largest; Ladi 20,000; Kayode 20,000; Folarin 20,000 and Tokunbo 20,000. Share certificates were issued to these family members according to the units they all held in the company and a reflection of the shareholding in the company’s 2000 and 2001 audited accounts be ratified and signed by the late chief and the four sons which was effected.

But less than a year after FRA’s death, his third and fourth sons, Folarin and Tokunbo reportedly filed a suit through their counsel, Mrs. Clementina Abimbola Williams (SAN) before an Ikeja High Court, seeking an order of the court to delete the name of Chief FRA Williams from the Register of Titles Land Registry, Lagos State, in respect of one of Chief Williams properties, a two block of 16 flats at Plot 299, Akin Olugbade Street, Victoria Island, Lagos and replaced it with United Investment Limited. The suit which was said to be without the consent and knowledge of the first and second sons, Ladi and Kayode, was also without a letter of administration.

The matter came up before Justice Ade Alabi, the then Lagos State Chief Judge, who may have thought that all persons interested in the said property was in agreement, granted the prayer in 2006. However, when Ladi and Kayode got wind of this move, they were enraged. They quickly filed a motion on notice asking the court to stay further proceedings and setting aside the ruling. Not only that, the two went ahead to write to the Lagos State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Prof Yemi Osinbajo SAN(now Vice President), and the Registrar of Titles, Land Registry Directorate about the suit and the ruling obtained in their absence.

Justice Kazeem Alogba, the present Chief Judge later handled the case, and in a ruling directed the Registrar of Titles in Lagos State not to honour any request for rectification of the Register of the property being contested by the children of late FRA. He also granted the application for stay of proceedings, and refused to refer the matter for arbitration. However, the attempt to rectify the register of titles may have spurred Ladi Williams to beam his searchlight into the estates of his late father where other shocking revelations were uncovered. One of which was the signing and production of a parallel resolution to the ownership of the company, UIL, the same day the original document was signed by all before the death of FRA. The resolution as to the ownership of the company’s shares did not have names of Ladi and Kayode.

It was even reported that the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), wrote to notify acknowledging request to transfer Chief FRA Williams UIL’s shares to Folarin and Tokunbo, this was meant to share the late FRA Williams 9,800,000 shares in UIL even though shares of such nature cannot be transferred by trust. Suspecting that the assets of his late father may have been tampered with behind him, Ladi moved to the Federal High Court in Lagos to wind up UIL before the assets were diverted, Ladi accused his younger brothers of making efforts to squander UIL’s assets worth N9.7 billion and its shares in First Bank also worth N6 billion. He alleged that his siblings committed fraud by forging their late father’s signature on some vital documents, he also alleged that after the death of Chief Williams, Tokunbo and Folarin, took control of UIL and excluded him from the management and affairs of the firm, a development contrary to the fact that he (Ladi) is still a director and a shareholder of UIL. He, however, prayed the court to wind up the firm. Justice Dan Abutu who presided over the case in 2007 barred both Folarin and Tokunbo, their agents, servants and privies from disposing, transferring, changing or operating or in any manner dealing with the funds and assets of their father in UIL. Justice Abutu also restrained the two (Folarin and Tokunbo) from tampering with assets and properties of UIL.

Meanwhile, Tokunbo and Folarin did not take the matter low as they filed a stay of proceedings and prayed the court to hold that there was an agreement reached by the four brothers as regards sharing of FRA Williams estate. Folarin stated since there was an accusation of fraud, the matter should be referred to arbitration which the judge agreed to.

What followed later was legal fireworks between the two parties. There are a myriad of cases across different courts on the conflict between the siblings. None of the conflict abated before Ladi Williams passed on last Sunday. Will the rest now be able to resolve the conflicts and heal their families? Time will tell.

*THE PROPERTIES OF THE LATE CHIEF FRA WILLIAMS CAUSING ALL THE TROUBLES*

*IMMOVABLE PROPERTIES WITHIN LAGOS STATE*

Palm Groove House, 3, Shagamu Avenue, Ilupeju, Lagos.

1, Shagamu Avenue, Ilupeju, Lagos (bungalow).

10, Shagamu Avenue, Ilupeju, Lagos (bungalow).

2 blocks of 16 flats at Plot 299, Akin Olugbade Street, Victoria Island, Lagos.

Expanse of land at Agungi/Ajiran, Lagos State and otherwise known as Ojomu chieftaincy land, about 13 hectares.

5, Campos Street, Lagos Island, Lagos.

*IMMOVABLE PROPERTIES OUTSIDE LAGOS STATE*

A property at 1, Rotimi Williams Avenue, Bodija Estate, Ibadan.

20, Asheen Green Cambridge, United Kingdom

Proceeds of sale of 4-bedroom flat at High Street, Kensington, England.

*PERSONAL PROPERTIES*

2 Rolls Royce cars

1 Daimler Limousine car

I Mercedes E Class black station wagon car

Mercedes 600 V.12

Shares standing in the name of Chief FRA Williams, SAN, CFR amounting to N26,379,7487,749.00 as at November 23, 2005.

9,920,000 shares in United Investment Limited

Books and office equipment including furniture, in Chief Rotimi Williams Chambers, Palm Groove House, Ilupeju, Lagos, acquired before March 26, 2005.

*BANK ACCOUNTS*

Current account and Domiciliary account in UBA, Ilupeju branch

Current account and Domiciliary account in Zenith Bank Plc

Current account and Domiciliary account in First Bank Nig. Plc

Current account and Domiciliary account in Union Bank of Nig. Plc

Current account in Westminster Bank of England

Current account in Barclays Bank of England

Current account and Domiciliary account at

Funds standing to the credit of the estate at Barclays Bank, Jersey, United Kingdom.

*One million pounds sterling deposit in National West Bank, United Kingdom* .

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