How Soon Will The Denial Of Women Inheritance Rights End? | Independent Newspapers Limited
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How Soon Will The Denial Of Women Inheritance Rights End?

Posted: Apr 23, 2016 at 4:05 am   /   by   /   comments (0)







In line with the section 42(2) of the 1999 Nigerian constitution, which states that; “No citizen of Nigeria shall be subjected to any disability or deprivation merely by reason of the circumstances of his birth,” the Nigerian Supreme Court on April 14, 2014, reportedly confirmed the decisions of two lower courts to invalidate the Igbo customary law that denies females the right to inherit their fathers’ properties- farmlands, houses, lands etc.

The courts’ decisions emanated from the case one Lazarus Ogbonna Ukeje, a member of the Igbo ethnic group(South East Nigeria), who died intestate (referring to a situation where a person dies without leaving a valid will) in Lagos in 1981, while his daughter Cladys Ada Ukeje, sued her step mother, Lois Chituru Ukeje and her step brother Enyinnaya Lazarus Ukeje before the Lagos High Court, on the ground that she was excluded right to administer the deceased’s estate.

The High Court took side with Cladys Ada Ukeje (plaintiff) and voided the Igbo customary law excluding female descendants from inheritance. Not satisfied with the High Court’s ruling,  Chituru and her son, Lazarus appealed the decision to the Court of Appeal.

When the Court of Appeal upheld the High Court’s decision, Chituru and Lazarus availed themselves of their right to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. The case turned out in favour of Cladys as the Supreme Court ruled that she be accorded rights to inherit her late father’s properties.

Despite the existence of the law and the supreme’s court ruling to prevent all forms of gender based deprivation, some communities still find it absurd to accord women and their female children the right to inherit their fathers’ properties.

As Obiora Ike and Ndidi Edozien put it, the inheritance rules of the Igbo ethnic group appear to largely favor male offspring over female offspring of a deceased person. For instance, although many local variations exist, inheritance of individually owned land generally follows the principle of primogeniture.

Although Igbo women are by and large excluded from inheritance, some localities permit female children to inherit their father’s compound in joint tenancy with their brothers; however, in these instances, the eldest brother remains in control of the property, Jaoyeola Bolaji, a scholar underlined.

Many females have suffered and are still suffering untold hardship caused by this discriminatory, age long and barbaric act.  Ngozi Okezie, narrated how her late father’s kinsmen seized her father’s lands and other properties, after his demise.

“When my father died, my sisters were told that we had nothing to do with our late father’s properties. We were warned never to go close the farmlands my father had except for one. My uncles also told us that we had no portion in the lands which my late father left behind. Before our very eyes, they sold my father’s lands and shared the money amongst themselves.

“We became as wanderers, the pain and suffering was too much for my mother to bear, as the proceeds from the farm produce could not meet our basic needs any longer.

“We had no choice than to return with my mother to her parents’ village. Her parents could in no way help the situation as they blamed their chi for giving my mother only female children. Otherwise she won’t be back in their house with daughters who were deprived of inheriting their father’s properties,” Okezie said

Speaking on this issue, Mr. Oluseyi Soremekun, National Information Officer, United Nations Information Centre said the practice is not restricted to the Igbo clan alone but also common in some African countries. This is why the United Nations is putting in efforts to stop all forms of gender inequality

“It is not only in Igbo land, it happens in some African countries where women cannot inherit the properties of their parents because they are women. The cultural practice is discriminatory. This is what United Nations does not support because it is discriminatory.

“We have conventions to eliminate this act against women.  The number five of the sustainable goals is gender equality. Any law or cultural practice that negates equality for women, UN frowns at it, we promote law against any form of gender discrimination,” Soremekun said.

Commenting on this as well, a legal practitioner, barrister Obiageli Obi noted that it cannot be denied that females are still being prevented from inheriting their father’s properties but that to a large extent things have changed, as many families now know the importance of empowering female children in the area of giving them access to inheritance.

“Things are changing from the way it used to be some years ago. Inheritance is no longer the way it was in terms of the order of gender now inheritance is in order of birth. Then the belief was that the culture is weaved around men as they are the ones that stay in the family after the female gets married away. They believed that if they allow their daughters to inherit their properties, they will take these properties to their husband’s family.

“These days women have the burden of taking care of their families, they help in making decisions, they have been discovered to take better care of their parents than the male children. This is the more reason why women need to be strengthened to take proper position in their marriages, families.I have friends with female children only but have properties willed to them because they see no reason to deprive their children of inheriting their properties. They also see no reason why they should go outside to get male children. I was also speaking with someone the other day and she told me of how he shared his inheritance equally among his eight children,” Obi said.

On the way forward in strengthening the law she said that; “We need to create more awareness for the law against gender discrimination, because in the real sense discrimination is still happening.

“We also need to talk to our men to begin to believe in their daughters, we have seen women who have succeeded and have made good names. We also need to ensure the implementation of the various UN conventions to end discrimination against the female gender.”

Mr. Okechukwu Nwanguma, national coordinator of network of police reform in Nigeria, who also lamented on the age long practice of gender discrimination, called for a need of vigorous and sustained sensitisation, education and reorientation for both genders in the society.

“Gender- based discrimination is an age long practice founded upon and sustained by entrenched cultural, traditional and religious beliefs and prejudices. In spite of Western civilisation, our society remains patriarchal and we still have remnants of our traditional beliefs, notions and practices that sustain the practice of discrimination against women.

“It will take more than legislation to end gender discrimination. There is still need for vigorous and sustained sensitisation, education and reorientation for both men and women in our modern society. The orientation should target specially community and opinion leaders and traditional religious practitioners,” he said.

In addition, it will be to the interest of various communities and the nation in general and not only the female folk if the denial of women’s inheritance rights is brought to an end, as in the words of  Barrister Obi that women have proven to be inevitable agents of change and development.

It is therefore the responsibility of everyone and particularly the government to ensure that female children are no longer denied their rights to inherit their parents’ properties. Stiffer measures should be put in place to punish those who contravene the law. More so, more awareness need to be created for those especially in the rural settlements to know that continuing in the line of preventing females their birth rights is a punishable offence by the constitution. Individuals should deem it necessary to write their wills with the names of their female children included as beneficiaries to their properties. This will in turn go a long way in bringing this discriminatory act to an end.