Woman loses right to manage husband’s estate for contracting wrong marriage

By Ibe Uwaleke.

Ignorance of the law, they say, is not an excuse to fall on the wrong side of it. Our lives are guided by law which helps us to reap full benefits of our day to day activities in our environment and in our relationships with our fellow human beings. If we fail to take advantage of its gains to plan our lives, particularly in marriages, one will regret the dire consequences of such neglect.

So the story that is going to be told here in this court judgment concerns couples who should apply extra caution when they want to contract marriages under any act so that they don’t run into serious problems. It is advised that couples must do background checks on their spouses to know if anyone had ounce married before contracting a second marriage. Being on the safe side will ensure lasting peace and joy in a marriage.

This was the plank of a Court of Appeal judgment in 1985 where it disappointed a housewife, Marian Olatunde Agbeja who had pleaded with the court to grant her the sole right to manage her husband’s property after the man’s eternal passage to the great beyond without writing his Will.

Mrs. Agbeja who brought the suit with her first daughter, Olufunke Agbeja against her step-daugher by her late husband, Olusola Idowu Agbeja and Madam Kehinde Agbeja Komolafe, first approached a high court with the same plea where it was rejected on the ground that her stepdaughter’s mother, Mrs Christiana Olabisi was the first and only recognised wife of Mr. Agbeja because their marriage was contracted under the native law and custom.

This was the moment of the greatest shock to Mrs. Marian Agbeja when this revelation which came to her as a thunder bolt was laid bare by the evidences given by the witnesses called by Olushola and her mother, Mrs. Christiana Olabisi.

The High Court agreed with the defendants and refused to grant Mrs. Agbeja the right to manage her husband’s property because her marriage with her husband was contracted under the marriage act which is not recognised in law after the first marriage which Mr. Agbeja contracted under the native law and custom with Mrs. Christiana Olabisi.

It was this rejection by the High Court to allow her exercise her right as a bonafied wife of Mr. Agbeja having been legally married to the man, that forced her to climb upstairs, to the higher court, the Court of Appeal, to ignore the lower court and go ahead to consider her appeal in her favour.

But regrettably, the appeal court again refused her request, but instead, confirmed the judgment of the high court in favour of the defendants.

This is a case that calls for eternal vigilance and for ladies to be careful not to be blinded by canal love which may lead to pain and anguish at the end of the day.

Marian was married to Mr Agbeja and both had five children together. When Mr. Agbeja died, Marian applied to court to give her authority to handle her husband’s property through a letter of administration. Part of the processes of securing the approval was that all the beneficiaries to the said property would give their endorsements.

Marian sent the document to her step daughter, Olusola Idowu to sign but she refused, calling Marian a concubine and that Marian did not have right to the property because her mother, Mrs. Christiana Olabisi was the only wife of Mr Agbeja. Mrs. Marian felt disgraced because she knew that she was legally married to Agbeja. She therefore decided to take the matter to the High court for settlement.

At the High court, Marian argued that she was lawfully married to Mr Agbeja at the Marriage Registry of Lagos in 1954 and at the time of their marriage, Mr. Agbeja told her that he was a bachelor but had a child with someone else (Olusola Idowu) who came to live with them and was jointly trained.

Olusola Idowu on her own part, argued that the marriage to her mother took place under the native law and custom in 1947 and both of them lived together until Agbeja left for England.

Olusola called witnesses, herself, her mother, the head of the Agbeja family and the half sister to Mr. Agbeja.

All the witnesses claimed that the late Mr. Agbeja married Olusola’s mother.

Ruling on the matter, the High Court held that Marian did not have the right to take over her husband’s property because her marriage was invalid. Not satisfied by this decision of the High Court, she went to the Court of Appeal to seek further redress.

At the Court of Appeal, the three-man panel presided over by Justice Latif Unaid Dosumu upheld the decision of the court below.