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Monday, December 6, 2021
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SUPREME COURT’S LANDMARK DECISION ON FEMALE INHERITANCE IN IGBOLAND

Life was rosy for Onyinyechi and her five sisters and three brothers. With a wealthy father behind them, financing their life and education. Then two years ago, she lost her father.

After her father’s burial, life became difficult for her and her sisters, though her father left behind houses, land and money in the bank.

Onyinyechi’s father died without writing a will, so the duty of sharing out his estate went to his children.

Despite Onyinyechi being the first child, she and her five sisters were not given any part of their father’s inheritance just because they are girls. Everything went to the three men in the family as is the custom among the Igbo people.

They told the girls that they are going to get married into other people’s homes and will not inherit anything from their father. And sadly, that was what happened.

As it stands now, she could no longer afford to pursue her university education and runs a small business, selling cooked noodles.

Imagine such scenario!

That has been the fate of so many female children in Igboland. They enjoy their parents’ wealth, the moment their father dies, the male children will inherit all the properties and leave nothing for their sisters, using the lame excuse of them getting married and moving to another family.

Under Nigerian law, if a man dies without having made a will, his estate is apportioned among his heirs by customary law, which differs by tribe and region.

In Northern Nigeria Sharia law governs property distribution.

In Yoruba regions an estate is divided differently between polygamous families and monogamous families. In polygamous families the estate is divided equally between the deceased’s wives, with the children of each wife receiving an equal share. In monogamous families, each child of the deceased, male and female, receives an equal share.

But in Igbo culture, in the absence of a will, the oldest son of a deceased has exclusive rights to the entire estate, which he is to manage and administer on behalf of the whole family.

When a woman dies, property acquired before her marriage is returned to her father’s family.

Under Igbo Customary Law, a female child is excluded from inheriting the property of their father.

Reprieve has come the way of females in Igboland in the name of Supreme Court landmark decision.

in 2014, the Supreme Court has upheld the right of a female child to inherit properties of her father in Igboland. By this decision, the apex court has voided the Igbo age-long law and custom which forbid a female child from inheriting her late father’s estate.

The Supreme Court voided this tradition and custom on the grounds that it is discriminatory and conflicts with the provision of the constitution.

The Supreme Court held that the practice conflicted with section 42(1)(a) and (2) of the 1999 Constitution.

The land mark judgment was on the appeal marked: SC.224/2004 filed by Mrs. Lois Chituru Ukeje (wife of the late Lazarus Ogbonna Ukeje) and their son, Enyinnaya Lazarus Ukeje against Ms. Gladys Ada Ukeje (the deceased’s daughter).

“Gladys had sued the deceased’s wife and son before the Lagos High Court, claiming to be one of the deceased’s children and sought to be included among those to administer their deceased father’s estate.

The trial court found that she was a daughter to the deceased and that she was qualified to benefit from the estate of their father who died intestate in Lagos in 1981.

The Court of Appeal, Lagos to which Mrs. Lois Ukeje and Enyinnaya Ukeje

appealed, upheld the decision of the trial court, prompting them to appeal to the Supreme Court. In its judgment, the Supreme Court held that the Court of Appeal, Lagos was right to have voided the Igbo native law and custom that disinherit female children. Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour, who read the lead judgment, held that: “No matter the circumstances of the birth of a female child, such a child is entitled to an inheritance from her late father’s estate. “Consequently, the Igbo customary law, which disentitles a female child from partaking in the sharing of her deceased father’s estate is breach of Section 42(1) and (2) of the Constitution, a fundamental rights provision guaranteed to every Nigerian.

“The said discriminatory customary law is void as it conflicts with Section 42(1) and (2) of the Constitution. In the light of all that I have been saying, the appeal is dismissed. In the spirit of reconciliation, parties are to bear their own costs” Justice Rhodes-Vivour said.

The Justices that were part of the panel that heard the appeal and agreed with the lead judgment are:

Justice Rhodes-Vivour

Justices Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen,

Justice Clara Bata Ogunbiyi,

Justice Kumai Bayang Aka’ahs

Justice John Inyang Okoro

The judgment has evoked mixed reactions from Ndigbo, particularly traditional rulers who are the custodian of the tradition and culture, as well as church leaders.

Most of them are in support of the judgement as such is long overdue, while a few kicked against it, saying it is against the custom and tradition of Igboland and I ask; who created such custom and tradition that excludes a female child from inheriting from her parents’ estate?

Its barbaric, callous and wicked against the female gender and thanks to the Supreme Court for the landmark judgement.

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