Things have not been the same for the family of the Late Stafford Efevaphro Obrutse since the unfortunate plane crash of June 3, 2012. Members of the extended family led by Deacon Daniel Obrutse have been at loggerheads with the nuclear family concerning matters relating to the deceased’s estate, especially his company, Imoniyame Holdings Limited, which commenced operations in 1987. The company is one of Nigeria’s foremost crumb rubber exporting firms.
Not long after the death of Obrutse, a section of the extended family dragged his widow to court on the allegation that her marriage certificate was forged. There were also claims by the family that they are not aware of the marriage ever taking place and they do not recognize her as their brother’s wife all in the name of denying the widow her rights.
It has also been alleged that Daniel Obrutse, the immediate younger brother of the deceased who was recently declared wanted by the police went behind the widow and her children to obtain a death certificate after one had been issued by the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital.
In a recent interview with STREET JOURNAL, the children of late Stafford Obrutse bared a lot of issues and allegations including how records of their parents’ marriage certificate went “suspiciously missing” from both the church and the registry, how the extended family allegedly conspired to obtain Customary Letters of Administration on 17th January 2013 without the knowledge, consent and approval of the immediate family as well as why Deacon Daniel Obrutse is wanted by the police. Excerpts:
How has it been since you lost your dad on June 3, 2012?
When we all heard about the crash and that our father was in the ill fated flight. We were all in shock, we were angry, we were devastated. Our Mother was inconsolable she took it pretty hard. But to our surprise a lot of things started to unravel quickly. The first thing Daniel Obrutse did, he went to the company to demand for its financial documents which he was denied. The other brother, Obakore Obrutse tried to collect his body, personal effects and death certificate behind our backs. He filled out the application form for the release of the body, posing as the next of kin. We have the document he tried to use in our possession. We had to write a letter to LASUTH officials to block that application stating that we have not given permission to any individual or group to view or collect our father’s body on our behalf. Because the hospital had similar cases of strange persons trying to collect bodies without the knowledge of the immediate family and also due to the sensitive nature of issuing the death certificate, they had a meeting with the families of the victims and clearly stated that the body of the victim will be released into the custody of the next of kin or any adult duly authorised by the next of kin and also gave their recognised order of precedence for determining the next of kin which were surviving spouse, children, parents of the victim, siblings, half brother/sisters, grandparents and so on.
It was on that basis that our extended family had to back down. The hospital also clearly stated that the letter of authority and other supporting documents had to be notarized by a notary public.
Initially, the extended family explained that they just wanted to collect their brother’s body so we could bury. But as soon as the body was released, the family came up with a resolution saying that before we can go ahead with the burial, they must appoint Directors for the company and change the signatories of the account of the company They nominated some children as executive directors and signatories to the company accounts without consulting the children. The truth is they wanted to use those children as surrogates, puppets they can manipulate. They also for the first time brought a lady they claimed was our father’s eldest daughter who Daniel confessed he had never met before and has since changed his story that he knew her since she was a child. And against all tradition they were now arrogating to the supposed eldest daughter the rights that are supposed to belong to the eldest son all in a bid to ensure that they achieve their aim to cause division amongst the children and get their hands on our inheritance in the confusion.
Why would your uncle or uncles decide to go and collect the body behind the children of the deceased?
Their main aim was to get the death certificate and hold on to the body until we surrender all our father’s assets to them.
What was the reaction from your end to the resolution to appoint children as Directors? The children would be your own siblings?
They are our brothers and sisters, we won’t deny them. When our father was alive, he introduced them to us. They all are still been catered for school fees, allowances etc. even after his death. We don’t have a problem with them coming on board. But you can’t bring children that do not know and understand the business to be Executive Directors without learning from the bottom up. That was our issue.
First of all you have to give the banks comfort. The business of the company is largely on credit from the company’s bankers and bringing a child that doesn’t know anything, how does that child give the bank comfort? You want the bank to give you facilities and you are bringing in a child that has just left school, doesn’t know anything, and has never been involved in the running of the business. In less than 6 months, that company will crumble.
Whatever debts the company has, we the children are the ones to pay up those debts. That is the truth because we are the ones they will hold. Why do you want to destroy our future or whatever is left of it before we even get it? That was the issue we had with it. No one has a problem with them coming in. They can come in. If their life mission is to be in their father’s company, Good but they must be properly trained for leadership first before being appointed executive directors.
And the companies, what sort of businesses do they run?
Imoniyame Holdings Limited is the foremost exporter of crumb rubber to Europe from Nigeria. It has its Head Office is in Lagos and factory in Delta State.
You made your stand known to your uncle and the family, didn’t you?
Yes we all did of course
So, what was their reaction?
They took it like we did not want our half siblings to come into the company because our sister is the one running the company, so we have some level of comfort. We think that was how they saw it. Our full blood brother was supposed to come in as well. He is the first son, he is supposed to step into my father’s shoes but the person you are advocating for, did you even ask him if he is ready, if he has interest in the business? No questions were asked
You said it wasn’t going to work, they want some people on the Board of the company, you don’t want them…
(Cuts in) It’s not like we don’t want them. For now, we don’t think they are ready. They are kids they still have a lot to learn. He (Daniel) wants to bring in kids that are basically under his control. He is telling them to go left, right and they are doing so without thinking or questioning his motives. These are kids that don’t have a mind of their own. They are just allowing themselves to be used by someone who has more sinister interest in the company than they can even imagine.
An uncle is fighting to bring you in, what does he stand to benefit from that. Daniel’s lawyer sent us his term of settlement stating that he (Daniel) should be a shareholder of the company and an administrator to the estate. The terms of settlement also says that Daniel will be one to allocate responsibilities to the directors effectively giving him control of the company and these children cannot see what he is trying to do. When my father was alive he was never a shareholder now he is saying that he must be a shareholder and take control of the company.
Our father was married to our mother for 32 years and he worked very hard for his wife and children. How can you now tell that wife to hands off her husband’s estate and his younger brother should come in? When that man was in crisis, they neither assisted him financially nor paid his children’s school fees. So how can they start dictating to the children on what to do? These are kids that are between the ages of 32 and 20. The youngest child is 20.
Your help was never solicited for, but somehow you want to force yourself into the administration. You want to be an administrator and not only that, bring a cousin from the maternal side (Mudiaga Uyovbkerhi) claiming that one person will represent the father’s side and the other person will represent the mother side.
In the Customary letter of administration, two of the children Daniel listed as administrators, Mr Okiemute Obrutse and Miss Odiri Obrutse were not aware such letters were being obtained on their behalf. Included as an administrator is a lady whose paternity is still in doubt. It was on that basis the supposed Letters of Administration was suspended.
What do you think is your uncle’s interest in the whole thing?
Daniel has selfish interest he wants to control the estate of my late father as the expense of the nuclear family.
But why would he want to do that?
It is greed and wickedness. Money they say it’s the root of all evil. He is a Deacon in Winners Chapel but everything he has exhibited so far does not depict a true Christian. All he has done so far is cause crisis and told lies after lies. He manipulated our half siblings just to get them in his corner. So right now, the camp is divided.
How do you mean, divided?
The other kids who are four in number have decided to take sides with him, the reasons being that they want him as an administrator and as a shareholder. We have spoken to people and we know for a fact that brothers or extended family are not administrator to the estate when the deceased in question had a wife and adult children. All of our late father’s children are adults, the youngest is 20 years old. Even if the extended family has issues with my mother, when their brother was alive he did not deny her so who are they to do so.
They claim our mum’s marriage certificate is fake, a wedding in which Daniel Obrutse and the extended family were present. She also has pictures to prove that the ceremony took place, pictures of the signing of the marriage certificate and the actual marriage certificate. The officiating priest is still alive, attesting that he conducted the marriage, and issued a certificate. According to Daniel, he claims the certificate is missing in the registry and in the church. We have done our investigations and found out that the marriage certificate booklet is suspiciously missing in the church and registry. Other marriage certificates from 1930 till date are still intact with the exception of booklet from 1980-1983 which coincidentally falls within the period our parents got married. Our mum is not responsible for their records, they have given her copy, she has her proof that this document was given to her, we have pictures of our father, not even our mum signing the marriage certificate, we have pictures of our late father’s uncle, Andrew Obrutse signing the marriage certificate and Daniel is still claiming that it is fake. Truly unbelievable but then that goes to show how desperate and unscrupulous he is.
If there are pictures to back it up, why would anyone claim it is fake?
You mentioned a division within the camp, and said your uncle filed for some of your brother and sister who were not aware. How did you get to know it was done without their consent?
When we found out about the customary letters of administration, we had to instruct our lawyers to act on it which eventually brought about a court order. Our lawyers advised us that the process they went through to get the order that will appoint them as customary administrators of our father’s estate was fraudulent. They advised that we apply to have that order set aside, the court made an order suspending that customary letters of administration. In order to do that Okiemute and Odiri Obrutse had to swear to an affidavit that they had not consented to their application. Then the issue of our mum who was married under the marriage act, how can you push her out of the administration. It was on that basis the said letters of administration was suspended.
By the court?
What was the relationship between your mum and your uncle, Mr Daniel Obrutse like before your dad passed on?
Before our dad died, they had a cordial relationship. He grew up in our house. As far as I know, he lived in our house before they eventually moved out. When we were growing up, the brothers were always in our house. So he is not someone that is new to our house. Even after he moved out, whenever he came to Lagos, they stayed in our house with his kids.
In other words, he and your dad were very close?
Yes. So we thought but events after our father’s death make us begin to believe that they were not genuine in their professed affections
With his closeness to your dad and the fact that he has taken it upon himself to decide how things should be run, isn’t there a probability that he had a prior agreement or something of that nature with your dad?
We would just say it like this, if our father had any agreement with him to run the company, he would have put his brother as a shareholder as against his daughter. Our sister here was a shareholder right from when she was a child and has always been a shareholder.
So if he has any prior agreement, he would have gone back to CAC to include his brother. He never did that when he was alive. Now that he is dead, our uncle or Daniel, we won’t even call him our uncle at this point. Daniel wants to force himself into being a shareholder. That will never happen.
So what steps are you taking to ensure that things are done the right way?
We have a series of cases in court. There is a case about the marriage certificate.
There is a police bulletin indicating that your uncle was declared wanted by the Special Fraud Unit for certain offences bordering on fraud. Some people have however called to say he was never declared wanted, the police know where he lives and he could have been picked up if he was wanted.
Daniel was invited by the police on several occasions. They went to his house to give him the petition or the document, he wasn’t around, they met his wife and she received the document. And his lawyer came to SFU (Special Fraud Unit) saying that he would be available on so and so date, he never showed up. They came again, he said he would be available next week, he never showed up. Till now, he still hasn’t showed up. In my opinion he is running away from SFU because he knows they will be diligent in getting to the root of the forgery. It is very simple, if they say someone has written a petition against you, you should come and make your statement and defend yourself. Why hasn’t he come to defend himself?
Maybe he felt it wasn’t important?
It is important. If somebody accuses you of forgery or fraudulently obtaining a death certificate, that is important. He should come and clear his name let the world know the truth but no he is hiding why?
You said your uncle fraudulently obtained a death certificate. If one was in existence, how come he obtained another one?
That is what we are saying, we need to find out. That is why the police are inviting him because we have the original death certificate issued by LASUTH. It was issued by Professor Obafunwa. We have the records to show that we received it from LASUTH. We have the original death certificate. He needs to let us know how he got another death certificate from the National Population Commission because it is illegal to have two death certificates for one person. We are not talking about two different people, we are talking about one person.
Are you saying he is really wanted by the police?
Yes he is wanted. He has been dodging. The police was probably acting on the fact that his lawyer came and gave his word that his client would come. The police had gone to his house. The first thing was to go to his house, his wife received the document. He found out about that so there is no way he would say he doesn’t know he is being invited. For your lawyer to come to the police station and say “oh, my client would come”, he is aware. So why hasn’t he come?
Wasn’t there a publication in which it was stated that his lawyer got an order or something that the police should not declare him wanted? There is this claim that the police did it against an order from a higher authority.
To our best of knowledge, he was given several opportunities to defend himself on the issue. He never showed up. He should report to the Special Fraud Unit to write his statement. Issuing press statements will not change the fact that he fraudulently obtained a death certificate without the consent and knowledge of the immediate family. That fact will stand for all time. And as long as there is a court order to prove it, we will stand by this claim. Who does he think he is fooling?
Do you have cause to believe there might be some reasons for which he has not gone to the police?
Maybe because he knows is guilty. It is only a guilty man that would act the way he does. We could take it anywhere. We have the original death certificate and we will tender it anywhere. And the date it was received, they can confirm it from LASUTH. We believe he has been given enough opportunities to write his statement of defence but he never showed up. It is our belief that the police did what they needed to do.
He is a Christian, a Deacon for that matter. So he should do the Christian thing and report to the police. If the police wrongly accused him, they can retract the statement. Then they can write an apology. But in order to do that, he needs to give his own side of the story.
Your half siblings, the prospective Directors of the company, what is your relationship with them like?
It is one of them that is being proposed as a director not all of them. Before Daddy died, I guess we had a fairly cordial relationship.
Are you all on the Board of the company?
Just one of us is on the board of the company the rest of us have our own business and jobs we do.
Are the others of getting on the Board someday?
(Laughs) right now, I am doing something I love, it’s my passion. I want to take it to the next level. My dad started where I was. He grew his company from the ground up. I would like to do that as well. If in a couple of years, I change my mind and want to participate in running the company fine, but right now, I want to focus on making my brand bigger than what it is.
And if at the end of all these, the family decides okay, lets forget all the court hassles, stress, and lets come together as one to sort things out amongst ourselves, what would be your opinion of that?
We would say we would watch with one eye opened. People don’t change overnight. There are certain lines you cross and it takes a while to regain trust. We will keep our eyes open. We will still be wary of everything that they say.
Are you saying your uncle cannot be trusted?
With the circumstances in which our dad died, you would think the family will be in a sober mood, they lost a brother, father, and husband. You would think the family would try and unite but all they tried to do is bring fight here, bring fights there that were not even necessary.
That might point to the fact that everyone is trying to grab as much as they can.
That is what we believe.
Do you have any idea what might be responsible?
Envy or just plain jealousy. Maybe he was secretly jealous of his brother, of his accomplishment. This is somebody that is doing very well for himself. So why are you interested in someone else’s property? He has a wife and he has children, let them sort it out among themselves. If they cannot, they should go to court and the court would award, we may not know how it is done but the court would give what is due to whichever person and everyone would sort themselves out.
He can’t be the judge, the jury and executioner in this situation. It is not possible. If your help was solicited for, then, but you have children saying they don’t want you and he is still fighting like your life depends on it.
For the children that want him, when they give them their share, they can go and share with him. That is on them. But if the majority is saying they don’t want you, why are you still struggling?
You know the position of your half siblings. Their mum, what is her position in this?
Honestly we don’t even know. But we think think she has a sense of an entitlement.
But since your relationship with your half siblings was “fairly cordial” when your dad was alive, one wouldn’t have thought things would degenerate this much.
Things can degenerate this much when you have somebody that is basically feeding them lies for his own benefits.
Lies, when you say lies, what reasons do you have to believe the man might be telling them lies?
In one of the meetings we had with the children, one of them accused our sister of something. He basically said it was because of her that our father’s body wasn’t released.
Can she shed more light?
When the crash happened, in the first week, they started releasing bodies but by the following week, they stopped releasing bodies and we did everything we could to make them release but they said pending when the DNA comes, they would not release any body and I don’t know where they got that from that it was because of me that they didn’t release the body.
So they said you deliberately delayed the release of the body?
That is what some people were apparently feeding them.
On what grounds did they base their position?
I don’t know. He just said it was because of me they delayed the release of the body and at that point my brother spoke out and said look, she has nothing to do with this, that we tried everything within our powers. We went to high authorities to try our best to release this body because he was one of those people who were identified. He still had his boarding pass on him and his body was still intact. But they said they had instructions not to release till after the DNA. So where they got that from, I have no idea.
If she was fingered as being behind the delay, so what is the link between the release of the body and the delay?
The thing is when the crash happened, it was myself and my brother that were responsible for handling that aspect. Initially, they had tried to get us out that “okay, don’t worry, we will help you. We will sort it out for you”, but we insisted. Why they would think I deliberately delayed the release of my father’s body, I don’t know. My sister then asked “she delayed the body, is that what they told you? Now that they have released the body, what is the family saying? Aren’t they saying we must do the appointment of directors before they bury him? Aren’t they saying we must change the signatories to the company before they bury him?” They could not answer that part. So it was very clear at that point that some people were feeding them because there were certain questions you would throw at them, they cannot answer. They would probably have to call whoever is feeding them before they can even give a response.
How did you now put the link that it was your uncle that was feeding them?
There were certain comments that he would come to the house and say, one of them would repeat the same, so we would just say oh, we know where this is coming from.
Are you saying there might be no room for reconciliation within the family?
We are not closing the door totally to that. We are just saying time will tell. With everything that has happened, our mum was jailed for two days in Kirikiri.
Daniel reported a case to Ikeja Police Station of forgery of marriage certificate, 50 million thefts from my late father’s company, collecting Dana compensation that hasn’t been given. These allegations are not only laughable but a stupid attempt to rubbish our mother. At the police station in Ikeja it became apparent that the police officers were either incompetent or have been compromised. Our mother was detained at Kirikiri for 2 days which I was detained to SARS for 24 hours for trumped off charges. Before I was detained, one Jide Alabi took me to the counter where my BlackBerry and iphone were taken from me. When I was released only my iphone was returned to me and they claimed the BlackBerry could not be traced and as we speak the phone still has not be handed over.
In my opinion the Ikeja police unit has been compromised because in my statement I indicated that we have a fraud and forgery case against Daniel Obrutse for fraudulently obtaining the death certificate of my late father but they did not act on it. Consequent upon which a petition was sent to the Inspector General of police through our lawyer and the I.G graciously sent the case to Special Fraud Unit to investigate.
As soon as Daniel was invited by the SFU he started hiding because he knows they will be diligent in getting to the root of the forgery and would be brought to justice.
On whose orders was your mum remanded in prison custody?
They instituted a case against her and she was granted bail, but the bail conditions were probably not met early enough. They didn’t approve the first surety so we had to get another one. We believe it was a deliberate attempt. They took us to court at about 3 O’Clock, to deliberately keep her overnight. So by the time they had gotten the conditions, the court had closed so there was nothing they could do.
How would you describe your dad?
He was a gentle person, very loving. He helped people out a lot. He was a philanthropist, a lot of people can testify to that. He was a very religious person. He prayed a lot and he was very driven. When he put his mind to something, he tried his best possible to achieve it. He tried to bring out the best in every one. He lived a good life. He was 56 when he died but he achieved a lot. Not a lot of people can boast of all the achievement he had.
So how do you feel when you relate the fact that he helped so many people with the current situation?
It is life some people smile in your face. The moment you turn your back, you really can’t see what they are doing behind you. Such is life; it is a lesson for everyone. Not everybody you share your home with, share your life with, truly has the best interest for you.