Court resolves family battle over father’s corpse

A Chief Magistrate court sitting in Yaba, Lagos, presided over by Chief Magistrate Kikelomo Bukola Ayeye, has put to rest the battle between the children of a Chief of Otolokpo kingdom in Delta state, on the final resting place of their father which had caused a problem between the children of the deceased, Late Chief Christopher Nwuzun Idunoba since he gave up the ghost on November 23, 2018, at the age of 90.

Eight of the children of the late Ogele of Idumorji of Otolokpo Kingdom; Mrs Obiageli Elizabeth Idunoba (Nee Ayogbe), Ms Ayo Idunoba, Ms Nkechinidunoba, Mr Chukwuma Idunoba, Mr Moses Idunoba, Mr Louis Idunoba, Miss. Marian Idunoba and Miss. Efe Idunoba, had filed a suit against their brother, Mr Zacheus Boniface Idunoba, who is the eldest surviving son of their father after the eldest son had died.

They had in the suit asked the court to determine whether their brother can unilaterally decide where to bury their late father without their consent and permission in Lagos against the wishes of their late father who indicated during his life that he wanted to be buried in Otolokpo Kingdom and whether he has the right to unilaterally fix the January 25 and 26, 2019 for the Christian Wake keep and burial of their father.

They also asked for a declaration of the court that the act of their brother in moving or tampering with the remains of their late father is unlawful and illegal, that his moving the remains of late Chief Idunoba to a secret place without the consent of the family against the wish of the deceased father is unlawful and illegal and that the unilateral fixing of January 25 and 26, 2019 for the Christian wake keep and burial in Lagos without a family meeting being held for that purpose is unlawful and illegal as well as an order restraining him
from burying their late father within the jurisdiction of Lagos State.

The court had held that it is good, just and fair to uphold a customary practise that honours the dead and whose enforcement will avert danger and calamity to family left behind and the community at
large.

“I uphold the burial rites of Otolokpo people relating to the titled chief from Otolokpo, I hold it is not repugnant to natural law, equity and good conscience,” Magistrate Ayeye held, adding that Zacheus, “his agents, privies, thugs or any other person claiming through him or acting under his directives are hereby restrained from tampering with the corpse/remains or carrying on the burial of Late Chief Christopher Nwuzun Idunoba within the jurisdiction of Lagos State or doing anything incompatible or inconsistent with the wishes and burial
culture of Otolokpo kingdom applicable to him as a titled man. The deceased is ordered buried in Otolokpo.”

According to the court, the defendant’s argument that a chief Magistrate Court in Lagos cannot issue an order for anything to be carried out outside Lagos is tantamount to holding that a bench warrant or warrant of arrest against a suspect signed in Lagos State cannot be executed outside the state of issue, or that a civil plaint/writ issued in Lagos State cannot be served outside the state where it was issued.

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“That argument is not based on sound reasoning and is discountenanced. It will be fallacious of this Court to hold that a customary practice that seeks to perpetuate a particular custom to avoid the wrath of the gods is repugnant and unknown to law.

The applicants had accused their brother of planning to bury their father in Lagos, totally against their tradition, as he was a titled Chief and their customs do not permit his burial outside his ancestral home, adding that if he is allowed to go ahead with the burial rites as planned, it will not only amount to an abominable/atrocious and sacrilegious act, but it will take over two generations unborn to appease the gods.

Zacheus in his defense had claimed that in ‘Ika’ culture, the surviving eldest son has power over and above other siblings and alleged that the village customary burial of appeasing the gods is inconsistent with his religious freedom and their deceased father’s Christian manner of life, adding that any burial that did not carry the eldest son along is void and burying the deceased in his own residence is not only an honour to his memory but also part of the strategy to recover his only property from the creditor bank.

He claimed that the extortionist tendencies by villagers over burial rites are well known and asked the court to dismiss this claim as an abuse of court process and award conservative general damages of N9,000,000 at 10 per cent per annum until payment, for wrongfully aborting the burial of January 25th and 26th 2019.

“The counter relief for damages for the respondent lacks merit and hereby dismissed. The Otolokpo custom of burying a titled chief in his home town is not repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience,” the court held.

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