In this piece, STEPHEN UBIMAGO tells the story of how a respected senior lawyer preyed on his client, allegedly doctoring his last testamentary disposition with which he converted a major part of his estate following his demise…
Most people acquainted with late Alhaji Lateef Adio during his lifetime knew that on sundry occasions he’d hired lawyers to guide his business and personal dealings, considering he was unlettered.
Successful in business with vast real estate holdings, he hired lawyers with whom he engaged both his local and foreign business partners and with whose expertise and counsel he managed to secure his acquisitions.
As at the time of his demise in February 2012, late Adio had Alhaji Adele Bashorun (real name withheld) as his personal lawyer
Bashorun is a prominent Lagos indigene, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), and recipient of the national honor of Commander of the Niger (CON).
The deceased was reportedly the first (and for several years sole) importer of Formica in the country.
His company, registered as Adio Engineering Works, became a Mecca of sorts, as patrons from all parts of the country, as well as other neighboring West African countries, thronged it for the product.
Inexorably, Alhaji Adio became very wealthy. Through the ’60s, 70’s, 80’s as well as early 90’s, his commercial expansion seemed unassailable. In the course of time, real estate development caught his interest at a time Lagos was yearning for speedy urban growth.
This saw the late businessman acquiring sprawling land interests in different parts of the Lagos metropolis and beyond. And most he would develop into residential quarters, particularly in the Mushin, Surulere, Ikeja, Lagos Island, Victoria Island and Ikoyi areas, among others.
“Before my father died, he confirmed to me that he had over 400 houses built in different places in Lagos,” the deceased’s daughter, Alhaja Ajoke Adio, said in an exclusive chat with a newsman.
With advancing and failing health, however, he instructed his lawyer, Bashorun (SAN), to prepare his will.
However, sometime in 1996, late Adio took ill with stroke or cerebrovascular accident (CVA), a debilitating ailment. And in February 2012 he passed away from complications resulting not so much from the disease as from rabid isolation and neglect. He died in his home situated on No. 49 Freeman Street, Lagos Island.
On March 23, 2012, a will, purportedly belonging to the deceased, was read at the Probate Registry of the Lagos High Court in Igbosere.
Alhaja Ajoke, the deceased’s daughter, would, however, challenge the authenticity of the will.
She accused his father’s lawyer Bashorun (SAN) of not only doctoring the testamentary document but also of being complicit in the death of her father with the aim of converting his estate.
“For three years prior to his demise, my father was not given a bath,” lamented Ajoke in a fulminating narrative.
At the time her father suffered the unconscionable neglect, Ajoke was residing in the US and had acquired citizenship of the country, having lived and worked there for 30 uninterrupted years.
“Neither water nor electricity was in the building, and he was left in maximum isolation; these were the conditions I believe hastened his death” she added.
The only moments of reprieve for the deceased during those dark days were when his daughter Ajoke returned home from the US to visit him.
On one of such occasions she’d even made efforts to ferry him to the US for treatment – a move which was however frustrated by his lawyer, Alhaji Bashorun (SAN), Ajoke alleged.
“I usually travelled to Nigeria from New York, where I resided then, to visit and check on my father’s welfare,” she narrated.
“When I observed that his condition had worsened, I called a meeting between my siblings and mother to inform them that I wanted to fly Baba abroad for better medical care.
“But they told me that I cannot do that except I consulted with and got the sanction of his lawyer, Bashorun (SAN).”
On meeting the lawyer and expressing her desire to have her father flown to the US for treatment, she observed he was hesitant, and in fact opposed the suggestion, Ajoke further revealed.
“I am not going to allow you to do that, because I don’t see why you are the only one that is saying your father is in a critical condition,” Ajoke quoted the senior lawyer as saying.
It is noteworthy that Bashorun (SAN) was conspicuously absent at the reading of the purported will, which reading had devolved on his son, Abiola, a counsel in his chambers.
But hardly did the junior Bashorun allow copies of the will to be made available to members of the deceased’s family on request.
According to Ajoke, “I demanded a copy of the purported will, but the junior Bashorun declined.
“They claimed that under the law nobody was entitled to obtain the will on the same day it was read; that it would take six to eight months before I would be able to obtain it.
“But I insisted and put a call through to the senior Bashorun, reporting the stubborn refusal of his son to let me have a copy of the alleged will.”
Following the senior lawyer’s intervention, Ajoke was finally obliged a copy perusal of which deeply disturbed her, prompting her importunate queries.
“What happened to the houses my father owns at Ikoyi?” she asked the senior lawyer in further phone conversations.
“You mean those houses were not captured in the will?” the senior lawyer inquired, feigning ignorance.
“Yes sir; and what happened to my father’s houses in Victoria Island as well?”
“You mean those, too, were not listed in the will?”
“Yes sir. What happened to those houses my father staked as collateral, and which were mentioned in my document while I was travelling to the US as a foreign student?”
Responding, Bashorun pleaded with her to see him immediately, adding he wouldn’t want her to discuss the subject with any other person.
It was against this background that Ajoke and her siblings sensed ruefully that the purported will was a fraud. As such, they all decided to pay the lawyer a visit for explanation.
“As for those houses not mentioned in the will, I don’t know anything about them,” he told Ajoke and her siblings when they reached him with their growing doubts. He, however, assured them that he would make amends in regard to the will where necessary.
“Ti awon ile Ikoyi ati Victoria Island, ti woon ba si ni be, ma se atunse. E mabinu, maa se atunse,” he told them in Yoruba. “If the houses in Ikoyi and Victoria Island are not in the will, I will make corrections. You all should not be angry. I will make corrections.”
If Ajoke’s narrative is anything to go by, then to conclude that the purported will was an invention.
How can a lawyer speak of making corrections to a testamentary disposition for which the testator, who is even deceased, had given him no instruction?
To be doubly sure that her hunches were correct, Alhaja Ajoke approached the police to resolve her doubts.
They advised her to hire a lawyer before they could commence investigation in the matter.
She approached renowned human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), with her concerns and to whom she showed a copy of the purported will.
Falana was aghast on sighting the document. “This is not a will,” he quipped. “Who prepared the will?”
“Adele Bashorun (SAN),” she retorted.
Falana trained a hard look at the document again and said to her, “This is not your father’s will. I’m telling you now if you don’t know; this is not a will.”
Falana’s gaze also fell on the fingerprint impression on the will, which its drafters had ascribed to the deceased. Then he asked, “Is this the fingerprint they claim is your father’s?”
“Yes, they said this is my father’s fingerprint,” she replied.
“This is not your father’s fingerprint. I can assure you that because I’m telling you this is not a will,” he stressed.
Ajoke left Falana’s law office in GRA, Ikeja with a resolve to find an original fingerprint of her father’s – a decision that saw her visiting the law office of one Barrister Adenekan in Abeokuta.
In the past, Mr. Adenekan used to be Ajoke’s late father’s lawyer. From him, she was able to obtain an earlier case file of his whereupon she chanced on his fingerprints.
With her discovery, she returned to Falana, who asked her to go with her find and petition the Special Fraud Unit (SFU) of the Nigerian Police, Milverton Road, Ikoyi.
“Go to them, write your petition, and after obtaining the police report, come back here,” Falana told her.
The police operatives at the SFU admitted her petition, while however declining to accept the fingerprint finds she came with.
“We are not going to take what you have; this is a case requiring special investigation; we have your petition, and that is enough,” they told her.
Before long, the police called to inform her that they’ve come up with findings from their own investigations.
They indicated that fraud had indeed been discovered in respect of the purported will and that they were going ahead to arrest Alhaji Bashorun (SAN) and his son, Abiola.
When newsmen contacted the SFU officers that investigated the case, Ajoke’s claims found ample corroboration.
According to the leader of the investigative team who pleaded anonymity, “The investigation we did took us to court archives; it was forensic, analytic, extensive and thorough.
“It is sad however that up till date, despite all we committed to doing the job, the case has yet to be charged to court.
“The prosecution of the senior lawyer involved in this matter will bring glory to the police because Nigerians will see how thorough the police could be when they conduct investigation into a matter.”
On the day the police swooped on the Bashoruns, only the senior was around for picking. The junior was reportedly out of town, having flown to Abuja.
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The Senior Advocate was taken to SFU’s office for interrogation. “I was there when they brought him in,” Ajoke asserted.
She indicated that the senior lawyer was asked to tell what he knew about the preparation of the alleged will, the fingerprint impression on the document, among others.
According to her, Bashorun (SAN) responded: “I cannot tell you I’m the one that prepared the will, and I cannot tell you I’m not the one that prepared the will.”
But the police grilled further: “Who then prepared this will; is this not your signature on it?”
“Yes, I’m the one that prepared the will,” the lawyer finally admitted.
They asked him to confirm that late Alhaji Lateef Adio was his client. His answer was in the affirmative.
They also asked him to disclose the identity of other persons involved in the preparation of the will. “Abiola, my son,” he confirmed.
Following police investigation, it was discovered that the purported fingerprint impression of the deceased on the document neither matched with his earlier fingerprints nor belonged to him.
It is however instructive that although the SFU have since submitted their report to the office of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) for their advice on possible prosecution of the Bashoruns, the matter has yet to be charged to court.
Lamenting the development, leader of the police investigative team told said, “They asked us to produce more proofs of fraud and forgery. We did. But ever since, we’ve yet to see them act on all the proofs we supplied them.”