By the decision of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in a landmark decision to uphold the right of a female child to inherit properties of her father, the apex court has voided the Igbo age-long law and custom which forbids a female child from inheriting her late father’s estate.
Citing sections 42(1)(a) and (2) of the 1999 Constitution, the Supreme Court ruled that the practice conflicted with the constitution.
The court voided this tradition and custom on the grounds that it is discriminatory and conflicts with the provision of the constitution.
Against this backdrop, there are divergent views on the implications.
Recently, the Dean of the Law Faculty, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Professor Joy Ezeilo alongside some prominent Nigerians held a roundtable on the issue with the title, “Women traditional inheritance in Nigeria: Breaking the Barriers of Gender Discrimination”; which brought together legal luminaries, gender enthusiasts and members of the academia to chart a way forward.
It held further that “no citizen of Nigeria shall be subjected to any disability or deprivation merely by reason of the circumstances of his birth. In view of the above, it becomes imperative to engage in an awareness creation that would bring about change in attitude by village elders and traditional institutions who are custodians of tradition and some of the harmful practices against women.
Unfortunately, some women who spoke with WO on the issue have contrary opinions. According to them, the culture has come to stay and no court of any sort is capable of abolishing it.
Mrs. Chidindu, a trader said “Igbo culture can never be abolished. The culture states that a female child cannot inherit her father’s property or wealth and that is what I uphold. It cannot give my girl child an inheritance to share with her male counterpart.
“Igbo culture allows the male child to be given a father’s wealth and that is my stand. I do not subscribe to any Supreme Court judgment over the inheritance. Our culture is our culture. Nobody can change the culture under any circumstance. Whatever inheritance the female child would have is in her husband’s house”, she said.
Even Mrs. Odina Hope who is a teacher is in support of the culture. “I stand by the culture. Although with modernization there are divergent views on why it should be abolished. But, I believe that the interest of everyone should be considered.
“If the culture is abolished, I am sure that more people will be killed because people will be after their lives. So, to save people’s lives, it is important that the culture is upheld”, she added.
For Mrs. Udekwe, her only daughter will have an equal share alongside her siblings who are male children.
She has this to say: “I have told my children that my daughter will have an equal share of the inheritance with her siblings. That is my policy. But in Igboland, it is a different thing.
“For me, I do not believe in culture. I believe that women should be given special treatment. I also believe that some mothers are not supposed to be called mothers. I believe every woman should stand up and oppose the culture. Every woman is supposed to be given 100% inheritance.
“When my mother retired from UNN, she gave her gratuity to her male children. She told me that the two girls do not have anything in the inheritance, that we are women. I was in need of money for my school at that time, she refused to give me it. I believe that culture is strong and cannot be revoked.
“The culture is unfavourable to the girl child in the sense that a woman who does not have a male child cannot have a say on her husband’s property. For instance, if a man dies and he does not have a male child, his female children cannot have his inheritance except his brother.
“If a woman lost her husband without a male child they will bring someone for the woman to test if she can have a male child. And once that is done, the male child is assumed to be the dead man’s son.
“In some parts of Anambra state, if you do not have a male child, they keep one of their daughters and if she gives birth to a boy, the baby will inherit the father’s property”, she noted.
Giving an insight to the issue, Prof Joy Ezeilo maintained that the constitution prohibits discrimination of sex and that the constitution is the supreme Law of the land, adding that, any Law either customary or otherwise that is inconsistent with the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria will be null and void.
“That customary Law that discriminates female children in Igboland with regards to inheritance whether wife or daughter or any female, is long overdue and should be consigned to the dustbin of history because both international and human rights obligations do not support that as well as modernised society.
“It is in the place of God to decide who becomes female or male and we should not base our judgment on the circumstances of birth. Today, we know those female children are vessels and important personalities that must not be abused.
“Putting undue challenges on female children should not be allowed. With the Supreme Court judgment, the next line of action is to take the information to the rural areas because there is always a gulf between the Law and the practice.
“We thank God that the Supreme Court has decided and we appreciate their decision, but we need legislation on the issue of inheritance so as to make it clearer and concise for people to understand.
“The fact that ligation takes a long time in our environment means that it can take decades for someone to get justice. And we do not need that, so the quick fix to this is an adequate legal framework. We need to review some of our Laws to include more gender equality provision in the constitution”, she continued.
On the issue of law, she said, “Women should not be afraid to exercise their rights.” They have to claim their rights. It is never easy to claim a right.
“People should be bold and insist on their rights. I know in some places they punish women who go against their tradition, but there are lots of cases where those who go to exercise their rights get justice.
“Women should stay positive about what is important to them. They should not be afraid of their rights. Every other court abides by the decision of the Supreme Court”, she added.