Former Miss Nigeria Helen Prest-Ajayi has now officially kicked off the legal battle to claim her share of the property of her late husband Dr Tosin Ajayi.
Kemi Filani recalls that Ajayi, the founder of First Foundation, who died on April 26, 2020, was until his death married to Oluwayemisi, with whom he had five children. He was separated from her for about 30 years without divorce.
Within that period, he began living with Helen and had a daughter with her but they were never legally married.
Dr Ajayi was eventually buried on February 12, 2021 following months of legal battle.
Since his departure, the family has been thrown into crisis as Ajayi who had investments running into billions of naira died without a will, PUNCH has learnt.
It was gathered that Helen had blocked an attempt by her husband’s older children to take over a property measuring 3.7 hectares of land at Ilasan, Eti Osa Local Government Area of Lagos State.
In a letter signed by Helen’s lawyer, Abiodun Owonikoko (SAN), which was addressed to Ajayi’s first family lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), it was argued that the ex-beauty queen could be recognised as a wife because she was a companion of the deceased for 25 years.
The letter, which was dated March 2, 2021, read in part, “We are solicitors to Mrs Helen Prest-Ajayi and Miss Tomisin Ajayi, being the wife (via civil companionship) and daughter of late Dr Tosin Ajayi, the deceased beneficial owner of the property but held in the name of a company, which he was in his lifetime, the alter-ego.”
Owonikoko claimed that Helen was a shadow director in the company through which the deceased acquired the property.
He also argued that in Yoruba custom and tradition, when a man dies, the eldest surviving son called the ‘Dawodu’ becomes the leader of the family, but if there is going to be any important dealing with family property, “all branches of the family must be consulted and representation on the family council is per stripes (branch) according to the number of wives with children.”
However, in his response on behalf of Falana and Falana chambers, Taiwo Olawanle said Helen could never be described as a wife since she was not married to Ajayi based on the Marriage Act.
In a letter dated March 18, 2021, he said Helen was not legally married to the deceased, adding that she had no right to his inheritance.
Olawanle wrote, “In the first place, the ‘Idi Igi’ principle applies where a man, who died interstate, was legally married to two or more wives. However, where a man, who was married under the Marriage Act died intestate, his estate will be administered in accordance with the Administration of Estate Law.
“In the instant case, Ms Helen Prest was not married to Dr Ajayi either under the Customary Law or Marriage Act. Hence, Ms Helen Ajayi has been parading herself as the posthumous civil companion of late Dr Tosin Ajayi. The case cited by counsel for Ms Helen in the letter under reference does not support the alien concept of civil companion as a form of marriage in Nigeria.”
The lawyer further stated that Helen was never a shadow director at First Foundation, a company the deceased established with his first wife.