By Wale Akinola
The battle over the Will of the late legal luminary, Chief F.R.A. Williams, is lingering. The four sons, Chief Oladipupo Akanni Olumuyiwa Williams (SAN), Chief Kayode Adekunle Olusegun Williams, Folarin Rotimi Abiola Wiliams and Tokunbo Eniola Williams (SAN), are in court on matters concerning the Will.
Late last month, a Lagos High Court refused to stay proceedings in a case seeking to enforce the Will of the legal practitioner fondly called `Timi the Law’. The court ruled against an application praying that the children resort to arbitration under the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1990.
In other words, the application by Mr Folarin Williams wanted the estate of F.R.A. Williams shared on the basis of an agreement purportedly entered into by the children before the Will came to light. The children are split on the process to adopt in sharing the late lawyer’s inheritance.
On one side are Oladipupo and Kayode who want the Will enforced. Folarin and Tokunbo, on the other side, are in favour of an agreement purportedly entered into by all the four sons on the estate sharing before the probate registry came up with the Will.
The agreement had allegedly been made sometime on 26 March, 2005, on the erroneous belief that F.R.A. Williams died intestate. But Oladipupo and Kayode rescinded the agreement.
Whilst actions for obtaining letters of administration in respect of the estate were pending in court, in suits number 10/324/2008 and 10/61M/2008 respectively, the probate registry of the High Court of Lagos discovered that F.R.A. Williams died testate as the deceased’s Will was found. The sons were then invited for the reading of the Will.
After the reading, Oladipupo and Kayode commenced an action in suit number 10/68/2011 to propound the Will. But, without filing any defence to the suit, Folarin and Tokunbo filed an application praying the court to stay all further proceedings in the probate action, and direct the parties pursuant to the said purported family agreement to go by arbitration in line with Clause 5 of the said agreement.
Arguing the case, counsel to the first defendant (Folarin), Mr. Maduagwuna, submitted that the subject matter of the suit was the manner of distribution of the estate of the late F.R.A. Williams to parties (children) in respect of which the parties had entered into an agreement which would form the basis for the application for a letter of administration.
He stated that the said agreement contained an arbitration clause and that the court should, in accordance with the said arbitration clause, order stay of proceedings and refer the parties to arbitration. The second defendant (Tokunbo), who stood in for himself, raised two issues for determination by the court: Jurisdiction of the court on the issues raised by Oladipupo and Kayode, and validity of the family agreement.
He submitted that the basis upon which a letter of administration could be obtained in respect of the F.R.A. Williams estate was the agreement entered into by the parties, and, having therein agreed to refer any arising dispute to arbitration, the court should so refer the parties.
Tokunbo examined the contentions of the claimants / respondents (Oladipupo and Kayode) in respect of alleged fraud, misrepresentation and or concealment of facts supposedly vitiating the validity of the said agreement and submitted that the issue had been resolved bythe Federal High Court in previous suit between the parties.
Oladipupo and Kayode (claimants/respondents), through their counsel, Mr. Ukumhen of Chief Ladi Rotimi-Williams’ Chambers , told the court that the family agreement in issue did not contemplate the existence of a Will, and that since the holographic (hand-written) Will of the parties` father had not been pronounced invalid by a court of law and the supposed revocation instrument was incompetent, the said Will remained the only document upon which the court could base its jurisdiction in the case.
Citing authorities in favour of their claims, they urged the court to dismiss the application and assume jurisdiction in the case. In its 31 January, 2012 ruling, the court declined to stay proceedings in the suit seeking to give effect to the late F.R.A. Williams Will, said to be dated 22 June 1954.
The presiding judge, Justice J.O.K. Oyewole, cited the arbitration clause in the family agreement (exhibit A/02) as follows: “All disputes under this agreement shall be settled amicably failing which shall be settled by a
sole arbitrator appointed by all the parties under the Arbitration and Conciliation Act 1990 Cap 19, Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
In the absence of concurrence by the parties on a sole administrator, t he sole arbitrator shall be appointed by the Chief Judge of Lagos State”.
Accordingly, he said the arbitrary clause did not extend to all disputes arising from the estate of the late Chief F.R.A. Williams but covered disputes arising from the family agreement.
The judge ruled: “I therefore agree with the position of the claimants/respondents that this suit cannot be justifiably called a dispute arising from the said family agreement. That being so, the arbitrary clause contained in the said family agreement cannot accordingly be extended to the subject matter of this suit as to justify an order staying the suit in favour of arbitration as contained in the said family agreement”.
He added: “I must point out, however, that considering the relationship of the parties, their stations in life and the illustrious legacy of their late father whose estate is subject of their dispute, the desire of the defendants for amicable non-adversarial resolution is well appreciated by the court and could in due course be realised within the ambit of the High Court of Lagos State (Civil Procedure) Rules”.