Pangolo Junction
Life, arguments, and kunu... with Max, Nat and Zack

Monday, November 06, 2006

The Will to Will

(It is again another evening in the Junction. Max, Nat and Zack are just settling down in their favourite spot, after having got glasses of their favourite drink.)

Nat: Hi, guys! It looks like you've both had a good day... You seem to be in quite good spirits.

Max: I've had an excellent day, brother Nathaniel. Myself and Jean-Baptiste finally managed to get a meeting with the MD of that bank that we've been chasing for a while now. We pitched our idea to speed up the time it takes to speed up processing each customer, and he was very interested!

Zack: Yes, it's been one of my better days. I was able to finish writing a report on the new health programme that the ministry want to launch next month.

Nat: And I've finally been able to do something I've been putting off for a while. I met with a lawyer today to finalise my last will and testament.

(Zack and Max stare at Nat with shock and horror for several speechless seconds.)

Nat (surprised): Ah-ah! What's the matter with you guys? Anyone seeing you would just think that I had announced that I had terminal cancer.

Zack: But... but why else would you be writing your will?

Nat (irritated): Do I have to be ready to die before I write my will? Anything can happen at anytime. What if I have a car accident?

Zack (alarmed): HABA!

Max (stretching out his hands as though to ward off evil): Steady on!

Nat (thoroughly annoyed): What is the matter with you guys? You're behaving like a couple of superstitious old women! Death is a fact of life – sticking your head in the sand and pretending it doesn't exist won't make it go away.

Max: Eh, we know it's a fact of life. But there is a time and place for the discussion of facts of life. How would you feel if I started talking about the huge mound of maggot-infested faeces I saw the other day while you were eating and drinking?

Zack (disgusted): HABA!! Some people are eating and drinking here, in case you hadn't noticed!

Max: Ah, sorry o, Zack. I see that I've put you off your kunu. No worries – I can remedy that. (Takes the remainder of Zack's drink and downs it in one gulp.) The point is, you haven't even begun living, and you're already thinking about dying! I mean, how much money and property do you have to leave in your will anyway?

Zack: And even if you had that much wealth, it isn't as if you have dependants to leave it to yet!

Nat: Well Max, it may surprise you, but I do have some possessions that I will leave behind when I die. And I don't have to leave my possessions to dependants – I can leave them to my brother, my parents or (gesturing to Max and Zack) my friends, even if they aren't very supportive of my making a will. But all right, let's assume that I'm not rich enough to write a will, or I don't have any dependants. What of you, Mr. Millionaire Max? Have you made your own will? Or you, Mr. Baba-of-the-House Zack, with your wife and children?

(Max and Zack stare at each other. Then Max launches into defensive bluster.)

Max: I've already told you – I don't want to start thinking about death-related matters when I'm still young and enjoying myself.

Nat: But you don't know when exactly you will die, do you? Aren't you worried at the prospect of your hard-earned wealth ending up in the hands of lawyers who your relatives and friends will hire to fight over the money?

Max (getting irritated): I didn't say that I won't make a will – I said not just now!

Nat: So you agree with me that making a will is a good idea, but you just don't want to do it now. (shaking his head in confusion) I don't get it. It's not like it's a difficult thing to do. Or I don't know – maybe the problem that as you are dividing up your wealth, you are being forcibly reminded that one day you will die, and this is a very unpleasant thing to contemplate?

Max (exasperatedly): If that answer will shut you up, then yes!

Zack: What has got into you, anyway? You're sounding like some sort of evangelist for a new Make-Your-Will religion who wants to convert us by force using scare tactics. (Suspiciously) Or are you touting for business on behalf of a lawyer friend?

Nat (musing): No offence, guys. It's just that everyone else who I've told has reacted the same way as you. Either they don't want to think of it, because talking about death somehow brings bad luck, or like Max, they don't want to think about it now. But the funny thing is, you see even seventy- or eighty- year olds saying the same thing – "I haven't enjoyed life enough" or "I don't want to think about death now".

But I'll answer your question, anyway. I used to think like you before – I didn't really care about making wills. But then about ten years ago, a very rich uncle of mine died. He left three wives and ten children behind. Now before the man's death, I used to visit the family, and while there were the usual tensions that you'd see in any polygamous home, the atmosphere was reasonably cordial because two of the wives lived in other houses, dropping by to visit every now and then.

But after the man's death, it turned out that he hadn't made a will. It was then I saw the power of money to wreck relationships. All the wives and their children started arguing bitterly over who should inherit the man's possessions. It got extremely ugly, with the police regularly being called to settle the violent fights that kept on breaking out. The funny thing was that in most of the fights, the family ended up damaging property that they should have been inheriting. In the end, they somehow settled the matter but till this day each group of wife and children don't speak to any of the other groups. After witnessing this, I swore that as soon as I was able, I would draw up my own will.

Max: Ah – so are you planning to marry three wives, then? I should warn you – you are headed for trouble o!

Nat (laughing): You know what I mean. I don't want anyone to have to quarrel over my possessions. Once everyone close to me knows that I have made a will, they know there's no need to fight.

Zack: Well, that assumes that they will respect your wishes.

Nat: What do you mean?

Zack: At least in your story it was still people who were directly related to the man who ended up having his possessions. There was a story I heard that was quite sad. This man had made a will in which his wife and his children were to inherit all his possessions. The lawyer who had been appointed the executor read the will which informed the wife of the man's intentions. Up till that point, everything looked all right.

Then one day, the wife returned from picking up the children from school to find their personal belongings lying around the compound. It turned out that a battalion of the man's relatives had entered the house through a combination of force and trickery. When the wife sought to meet them to protest, they declared that the man's will was fake, that he had previously signed an agreement handing over all his property to them, and she should leave before they called the police.

Nat (indignantly): Call the police? When they were the intruders?

Zack (wearily): Isn't that how politics is played in Nigeria today? Once you hold an incumbent position, it doesn't matter how deviously you got to that position – you are now in a position to call the shots. But I digress. Anyway, the poor woman and her children had to spend the night in a friend's house. Afterwards, she took the matter to court – but you know how our Nigerian judicial system is – slower than a constipated tortoise. So as far as I know, the case is still in court today.

Nat: That's a terrible thing to happen! I'm sure they took advantage of the fact that she was recently bereaved and couldn't really fight them with the force that was needed.

Max: But it doesn't mean that you shouldn't make a will. I think if I was the man, I would have taken 'preventive' action by letting it be widely known that these were my intentions for my loved ones if I should die. I'd tell my neighbours, my friends, my business partners, my relatives – and I'd let them know that everyone else knew as well.

Nat: How would that work?

Max: Well you know that our law enforcement is weak, so that wouldn't put them off. But I think public shame is still a powerful deterrent to anti-social or criminal behaviour. If my greedy relatives knew that everyone knew what who really should possess my property before I died, they would be careful about trying to grab it and risk being seen as openly wicked people amongst the neighbourhood.

Nat: That's interesting! But aren't you supposed to keep the details of your will to yourself before it's revealed?

Max: I don't know – but I wouldn't reveal all the details. I would just let it be known that I have made substantial provision for my immediate family, and I would mention that they would definitely inherit the house they live in now so that no idiot can evict them.

Nat (admiringly): Interesting! You've obviously given this some thought... in fact, I'd say for someone who is against writing wills, you've given it a lot of thought!

Max (wryly): I didn't say I was against writing wills. What I said was that I don't want to be reminded of death by doing it right now. I know I should write my will – and I probably will in the not too distant future.

Nat: What of you, Zack? I would have thought after hearing that story, you would be scrambling to write your own will.

Zack: I have given it some thought... but it's difficult deciding who gets what. No sooner have I decided that I'm going to leave someone one of my possessions than he annoys me and I cut him out of my will. Then I have to start all over again.

Max: OK, I think I can solve your problem. Just will everything to me, and I will ensure that your property is equitably distributed when you die.

Zack and Nat (jokingly): HABAAAAA!!!

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