It was a celebrated case for the Nnewi community in Lagos hence many people including those that played mediatory roles in the matter and the press arrived early at Igbosere High Court in Lagos state to witness how it would be settled.
Mazi Uchemdiya and his wife Ogbenyeanụ were locked in a protracted legal battle. The wife had filed for a divorce and the husband opposed it.
Judgement was expected that day; a weird judgement of some sort. How can Uchemdiya consent to a divorce at this time when his riches had gone?
He was duped by a Chinese exporter who collected his advance payment for goods but didn’t ship the consignment in retaliation to a loss he suffered from a Nigerian who received goods on credit but didn’t pay.
While he was planning on how he would pick up the pieces of his life, he had been surviving on what he deemed a paltry allowance from his wife who also was picking the major bills in the home front
Even though Mazi Uchemdiya was down and had to depend on his wife economically, he wouldn’t let go his imperial head of the family mentality. He still ordered his wife about and would not tolerate any correction from a wife he regarded as a lower minion.
Was it not him that gave his wife the seed capital to start her business that has now grown into a multi-million naira company?
Would the wife have progressed if he didn’t allow her use one of his houses at Aguda, Surulere as a collateral for her first bank loan?
To Mazi Uchemdiya, an okra tree can never grow taller than the person that planted it. The owner would always bend the tall okra stem to harvest its fruits.
But, Madam Ogbenyeanu was not helping matters. She would rain insults on her husband on any slightest provocation reminding him of his predicament.
One day, Ogbenyeanu in angry response to her husband’s tantrum, threatened him with a divorce, a threat she meant but unknown to her husband. She has been mulling on the idea for quite sometime. She saw her husband as a huge distraction.
The use of the word “divorce” by Ogbenyeanụ shocked her husband.
That was the first time she had ever used the word.
“Why not?” Ogbenyeanu reasoned, after all, the house where they were currently living in Lekki was bought by her.
The husband reluctantly moved in with her and their four children. The children had graduated and now live abroad.
The husband was sure that his wife had started seeing other men otherwise “why would she ever think of divorcing me” he reasoned. She must have been utuued by a more energetic man. There are many of them milling around rich but sexually abandoned women.
Uchemdiya was right as the wife had a widower boyfriend after it was becoming impossible for her to get her husband to touch her at night and she was so ashamed to report him to anyone to mediate. She was afraid that she might be misjudged.
The boyfriend encouraged Ogbenyeanu to divorce her husband to avoid being killed one day, a case of “obstacles or danger removal”.
The day Mazi Uchemdiya received a letter from a bailiff which turned out to be a court summon for a divorce filed by his wife, was the day he noticed that wife had moved her personal belongings and didn’t come back home.
The wife had moved into a new apartment she bought and which was located four streets away from the home she vacated.
It was a big scandal and a hot gist at Idumota market and in their Ụshuagụ village in Nnewi.
Uchemdiya’s initial reaction was to consent to her wife’s request for a divorce and move on with his life but had to change his mind upon serious economic analysis. Nnewi people would advise that “one should not take in a hurry a decision that could lead to economic strangulation or loss of money”. He couldn’t just let her go like that. “A ga akpa ya akpa” meaning that “it must be discussed”.
Because our people say that “ikwu amaghị ibe ezi ya” or that it is profitable enquiry than to lose due to ignorance”, the troubled husband sought an advice from an old man named Chief Iwejuo on the best course of action to take and was forever grateful that he did.
“My son, oppose the divorce request by your wife. Tell the judge that you still love her and plead for an out of court settlement. Cry in court if you can, as you plead for time. A crying man begging for a chance to make up with his wife will move any judge. If the judge grants your prayers, come back for further advice.
“You cannot be stupid to have nurtured a woman into a billionaire and let her go just like that. She belongs to you and cannot go now.
“Never lose sleep over how many men that have slept with her, the remainder of her ogbendida would still be enough for you and one thousand men to use. It becomes new after each careful baths or cleaning”, the old man said with a mischievous smile.
The judge was so kind to have ruled in favour of Uchemdiya’s prayer for time to enable him reconcile with his wife.
Acting on the advice of the old man, Uchemdiya called for a meeting of the family of his wife and his own family. His children flew in from Canada and Australia for the meeting. The lawyers representing the two parties were also present.
Speaking first, Mazi Uchemdiya told the audience that he had thought through the whole matter and had decided to consent to his wife’s request for a divorce but on one condition.
He requested that the divorce should be preceded by the sharing of their assets and that he would allow the wife to do the sharing into two and as she deemed fit.
He also announced his decision to allow the wife to pick first.
Ogbenyeanu’s relatives who supported the divorce in order to enjoy the wealth of their sister now with the usual prying eyes of the husband were pleased with the apparently stupid decision of their brother inlaw.
Uchemdiya further demanded that the wife write the items to be shared in two separate sheets of paper labeled A and B and a plain sheet labeled C.
Upon enquiry from the elder brother of his wife, Uchemdiya said that he might decide to write only one item he bought with his money but which purchase price would not be up to one million naira, on the plain sheet and the wife would take all other property.
The lawyers of both parties advised that what was agreed should be written down, signed by the husband and wife and would be submitted to the judge to rule as the agreement as the judgement of the court.
On that date, the case was mentioned and the lawyers had briefed the judge of the intentions of the parties and the judge decided to indulge the couple not because the method requested was a court procedure but out of curiosity.
The three papers labeled A, B and C were dropped into the tray pan before the judge.
Madam Ogbenyeanụ was thorough in her loading of the most valuable assets on list B which she planned to choose but was fair enough to leave all that her husband bought with his own money on list A.
It was expected as she had acquired so much assets in the recent years as her business blossomed.
When called upon, Ogbenyeanụ picked the list “B” leaving the skeletally filled list “A” and the empty sheet labeled “C”.
She didn’t want to appear indecorous by choosing the list she labeled “A” as if the contents were defined by the first alphabet. She alone drew up the lists and she did it as she liked.
“The list labeled “A” should naturally be reserved for the man or head of the family as a mark of respect”, she sarcastically thought in mockery of her now poorer husband.
The judge called upon Uchemdiya to come forward to make his choice or write his pick on the plain sheet labelled C and he stepped forth with a pen in hand.
He didn’t even look at the content of list “B” but went ahead to pick the plain sheet labeled “C”.
Uchemdiya gazed at the direction where Chief Iwejuo, the old man and his adviser, was seated in court. The old man gave him an encouraging look and he wrote what he wanted.
As agreed and was contained in the documents filed in court by the lawyers, if Uchemdiya decided to write his choice on the plain sheet labeled “C”, he would forfeit every other property itemized in lists A and B to his wife and be given only that item he had written on the plain sheet.
The item must be what he must have bought with his own money and which purchase price should not be more than one million naira at the time of purchase.
Uchemdiya wrote in capital letters “I CHOOSE OGBEYEANU MY WIFE”.
There was an deafening silence in the court when his choice was read out by his lawyer, who was as stunned as any other person in the court except Uchemdiya and the old man.
“Defendant, how much did you pay for your wife?” asked the judge.
“My lord, I paid N5,000 in cash and about N120,000 in commodities and drinks. My inlaws are here and they can confirm that, my Lord”, Uchemdiya answered.
The judge adopted the agreement of the parties as the judgement of court.
“Ogbenyeanu shall now own all the items enumerated on list A and B while Mazi Uchemdiya goes home with Ogbenyeanu as his own. That’s my ruling and I rise”, the judge ruled.
Just before the registrar shouted “Court!” Mazi Uchemdiya went straight and took his wife by the hand and made to leave.
She would not dare detach her hand as that would amount to contempt of court.
This ingenious act of Uchemdiya shocked his wife into loving him more than she had ever done. She knew her husband as a wise man but not to this mercurial level.
May God keep our good and wise old men alive to help us solve difficult life challenges as Chief Iwejuo did for Mazi Uchemdiya.
By Anayo M. Nwosu