Lagos State Commissioner for Establishment, Training, and Pensions, Ajibola Ponnle, has filed for divorce from her estranged husband, Michael Ponnle, CEO of defunct Origin Oil & Gas.
They have been married for 22 years. Ajibola filed the petition at a Lagos High Court, Igbosere, seeking an end to the marriage.
In her evidence before the trial judge, Justice Lateefah Okunnu, on February 4, 2020, Ajibola, a chartered accountant admitted that she had left her matrimonial home.
In the amended petition she filed before the court, she stated that eight years after she got married to her husband, he changed his behavior towards her in a manner as leading to constant intimidation, coercion, and threats, seizure, and destruction of the petitioner’s personal belongings as well as emotional and physical abuse.
She stated that when she could no longer cope, she left her matrimonial home in Banana Island on January 9, 2016, after which the respondent moved her belongings to her mother’s house on the same day and forbade her from returning to the house.
She, therefore, urged the court to issue a decree of dissolution of the marriage. She further seeks an order of the court to direct the respondent to pay for the educational, physical, and medical maintenance of the children, and a house in Banana Island Lagos, being the location the children are accustomed to, pursuant to section 70 of the Matrimonial Causes Act. She further wants the court to order the respondent to pay her the sum of N250 million for her maintenance pursuant to the act.
However, her husband the respondent denied the allegations made against him by his wife. He said that the petitioner first deserted her matrimonial home in January 2010 with their children because he insisted that the petitioner should perform her duties as a wife and mother, particularly as it relates to the upbringing of the children.
He denied ever been cruel to his wife who he said he married out of genuine love. Rather, he said that the petitioner’s attitude changed towards him within two weeks after their marriage and she became cruel towards him by locking him out of the matrimonial home at every flimsy excuse.
In the 49 paragraph deposed to by him, which also serves as an answer to his wife’s petition before the court, the respondent denied ever incarcerating his wife or preventing her from meeting work obligations. “Regardless of the respondent’s support, the petitioner neglected her primary responsibilities to the respondent and the children and continued in that manner of defiance to any advice or plea from the respondent that she should try to create a balance in managing the home and meeting work obligations”.
He also stated that the petitioner preferred to come home late, long after the children must have gone to bed without making provision for their meals, a situation that necessitated him to employ cooks and stewards in their home. “Yet, the petitioner persisted coming home late”, he stated.
The respondent said that the only thing that caused a strain in their relationship was the petitioner’s refusal to fulfill her obligations as a wife and mother. He claimed that the petitioner’s mother and sister once assaulted him over his insistence that she take more care of the children. Also, she moved out of the home twice in five years over the same issue.
“The petitioner moved out with the majority of her belongings, using over 15 suitcases and leaving behind only clothes she no longer wore. The respondent offered to send them to her as he was no longer comfortable with the petitioner coming into the matrimonial home after she had voluntarily moved out a second time in five years”, he stated.
When the matter came up on Wednesday, February 5, the respondent, led in evidence by his lawyers, Mr. Adebowale Kamoru and Mrs. Kehinde Daniels of Pinheiro LP told Justice Okunnu that he cannot afford the N250 million his estranged wife is asking for her maintenance, saying that his business has gone down.
Asked how he had been living, he said: “When business was good, I invested in many people, including my wife, which resulted into the booming business and job (commissioner) she has now”, and it is the goodwill of those other people he has been living off.
He, however, told the court that he was willing and ready to take care of his children, as they were his reason for still working. He particularly lamented that against his wish, his wife took one of their kids to the United Kingdom at the age of 10.
He said; “Initially, I agreed to her wish to have custody of all the kids. To me, the issue of the kids is very vital. In as much as I don’t agree with Jibola, we cannot divide the kids. I came from a single home and I know what it means. But it dawned on me when she sent our last boy to school abroad at the age of 10 and I think it is very wrong. I know all my sons. I know my last born is very smart and curious. He, therefore, needs a fatherly role model. Nobody can do this better than me, his father. It is not right to take him abroad at such a tender age. I, therefore, ask for his custody. Others are old enough and I need to guide my son to be a responsible man”, he said.
He mentioned that he has since been taking care of the children to the tune of five million on each of them and an additional five million for their maintenance, all amounting to N20 million per annum, last payment of which was just this January of 2020. He says that the sole reason he is working is to take care of his children.
When asked by Chief Bolaji Ayorinde SAN, the petitioner’s lawyer, whether he loved his children, he replied: “One million percent”. The petitioner’s lawyer thereafter attempted to tender as evidence, an e-mail which the petitioner’s first son sent to the respondent but his counsel objected.
Justice Okunnu in her ruling struck out the application to tender the letter, saying that what had happened between the parents was not the making of the children. She said it did not concern them and that they must not be made to suffer the consequences of the actions of their parents. “Admitting such a letter can destroy the relationship and confidence between father and son and the court will not be part of such. Besides, she said such admittance is contrary to family law”.
The trial judge, therefore, admonished the lawyers to advise their clients appropriately. She thereafter adjourned the case till May 5, 2020, for the final address.