“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…” – Justice Rhodes-Vivour
The recent judgement by the Supreme Court of Nigeria voiding the Igbo custom that prevents females from becoming beneficiaries of family estates is a welcome development. With this judgement, many who would have been unfairly schemed out of their rightful inheritance by mischievous family members would hopefully be saved from such oppression.
Over the years, many women have been frustrated, tortured and even lost their lives in a misguided attempt by their families to enforce a clearly unjust custom. Society evolves and many Igbo customs like the killing of twins, the Osu caste system, the ritual of shaving women’s heads when mourning their husbands, men/women not permitted to see their spouses’ corpses, the menace of masquerades etc. have been engaged by the Church and dismantled in many Communities. It is however commendable, that the judiciary has in this instance, risen boldly and unequivocally put this matter to bed and spared many families of unnecessary conflicts.
Distressing stories of incomprehensible dimensions of cruelty, litter the landscape and shows the unimaginable heights family members can go to in a bid to achieve their selfish ends. While I might not be privy to all the details in the two tales below, to mount a defence for the perpetrators, the plots smack of desperation and the lack of human sympathy for the vulnerable and defenceless.
Eze, a reputable industrialist and entrepreneur, owned thriving businesses in Nigeria and Cameroon. While his business empire grew, he and his wife sought and prayed for God to bless their marriage with children. She eventually conceived and had a baby girl, after ten years of marriage. The family was excited at the turn of events and a massive feast was thrown in celebration. Few years after, Eze was brutally mowed down by assassins on his way home. Soon after his burial, trouble started. His wife was ejected by her husband’s brother from their mansion in a highbrow neighborhood and quartered in a flat in the other side of town. He went on to hijack everything that belonged to her husband and took violent steps to intimidate her, when challenged. Not having had a son, the stage was perfectly set for the brother-in-law to actualise his ambitions and utilise the massive resources now in his control to bat away her attempts to seek recourse through helpful Civil Society Organisations. Incensed, the family went further to send her packing to her father’s house, with her daughter in tow. The legitimacy of their daughter to be the heir to the estate, was not even considered. Eze’s story is the usual template; a young, rich businessman who dies accidentally leaving behind no will and leaving his family at the mercy of his kinsmen.
Obi’s story was slightly different; a school teacher and an author, Obi was married and had five daughters. He was fairly well off and was getting steady royalty payments from his publishers, for his works. He died of the effects of an ailment, after months of battling with the sickness. His brothers’ primary focus once he passed away, was to have access to his death certificate. Fortunately, his wife was wise enough to seize control of the certificate and disrupt their plans to exclude her children from their inheritance. Despite their threats, they could do little as Obi had clearly named his first daughter as his next-of-kin in his agreements with his publishers. That action alone, ensured his family had access to his royalty payments though it did not stop the small victory of his kinsmen taking over his house in the village.
The Supreme Court’s bold judgement therefore should be celebrated for not only defending the constitution of the Country but for bringing solace to those, oppressed by the ones who were meant to comfort and protect their interest. Perhaps, this landmark judgement would bring an end to the suffering of these women who have been deprived and exploited, while mourning their loved ones.
Yes, their grief might yet cease.