Nigeria’s Supreme Court Upholds The Rights of Igbo Female Children to Fathers’ Inheritance

Nigeria’s Supreme Court Upholds The Rights of Igbo Female Children to Fathers’ Inheritance

In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court of Nigeria has upheld the judgment of the Appeal Court respecting the right of a female child to her father’s inheritance. The Apex Court judgment has however, disrupted a long-held tradition of the Igbos that prohibits female children from inheriting their father’s properties.

The Supreme Court ruled that the tradition contradicts Nigeria’s constitution and it is discriminatory. It said the practice is a clear violation of section 42(1)(a) and (2) of the 1999 Constitution.

Gladys Ada Ukeje, the daughter of late Lazarus Ogbonna Ukeje had filed a suit challenging her family’s decision to disinherit her from her father’s estate based on the Igbos’ native law. The trial court had ruled in her favor, but the widow of late Mr. Ukeje, Mrs. Lois Ukeje, and her son; Enyinnaya Ukeje appealed the ruling of the trial court.

Consequently, the Appeal Court upheld the judgment of the trial court, prompting the duo to appeal to the Supreme Court. The long legal battle that started in 2004 with the file number SC 224/2004 ended in a historic verdict which does not give only Gladys a right to her father’s inheritance, but every other female child of Igbo race.

In its ruling, the Apex Court held that the Appeal Court has been right in its judgment that nullified the Igbo tradition that prohibits females from inheritance.

The panel made up of Justices Samuel Walter Nkanu Onnoghen, Clara Bata Ogunbiyi, Kumai Bayang Aka’ahs and John Inyang Okoro and others, agreed with the lead decision.

Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour, reading the verdict said: “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.”

Rhodes-Vivour added: “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.”

While the ruling has voided the practice of disentitlement of a female child in Southeast Nigeria, it has also created a new conflict. The tradition has been upheld for ages, and consequently many have found the Supreme Court’s judgment unacceptable.

Igwe Simeon Osisi Itodo, the traditional ruler of Aji autonomous community in Igbo-Eze North Local Government Area of Enugu State, told Vanguard that the Supreme Court ruling will not change the custom of Ndigbo, and any effort to enforce it will bring chaos.

“There are traditions which had existed before the law. Before the emergence of law courts, Igbos have their tradition and custom which cannot be wiped out because of Supreme Court ruling.

“We are not against that ruling but we would not abolish our customs and traditions which all of us met. You can imagine a married woman coming back to her father to share his property with the sons.

“We would not allow it because it would breed chaos and troubles in our communities. If there are customs that allow such inheritance, let the people continue the practice but it won’t work in Igboland. In India, women pay the dowry but the reverse is the case here. We would not abolish our unique customs because of court ruling,” he said.

While there are many voices in support of the court’s judgment, many have acknowledged the difficulty in its implementation.

Another Monarch, Igwe Christopher Nnamani of Likke Iheaka, in Igbo-Eze South Local Government Area of Enugu State, who added his voice to the development said the Igbo custom that denies females’ right to their fathers’ property has been unfair, and needs to be changed. But he acknowledged that it would be difficult to introduce something new in place of the old custom.

“This unfair treatment of female children does not happen in Northern or Western parts of Nigeria. This explains why females with affluence lord it over their male counterparts in Igboland when they remember the injustice they have suffered in the past.

“If a male becomes the eldest man in his community, he would be entitled to some privileges, which may come in form of royalties but the reverse is the case for the women in Igboland. The challenge is how to implement it now because it now because it is an old tradition in Southeast Nigeria,” he said.

The tradition has been based on the fact that a girl-child will be married off, maybe far away from home where she cannot play the custodian of the inheritance. Moreover, for Ndigbo, a female child’s inheritance lies with her husband who is believed to have inherited his father’s property.

However, a twist in the custom that birthed the judgment is the urban setting, where Igbo fathers own properties far away from home, where inheritance is not governed by native laws and practices.

Additionally, the 21st century ushered in a new era of thinking and a brigade of rights activists ready to fight till the last drop of blood to kill the old norms that have subjugated women.

However, it is not the first time the Supreme Court is ruling in favor of Igbo women in this matter. There has been such a judgment in the past, but it has failed to change the custom particularly in the Southeast. And based on the views of the custodians of Igbo customs, the recent Apex court ruling may have little effect on the tradition.

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12 thoughts on “Nigeria’s Supreme Court Upholds The Rights of Igbo Female Children to Fathers’ Inheritance

  1. The Supreme Court has thrown the cat among the pigeons, I mean, who will go to people’s villages to enforce this kind of ruling? If you come back with your head still on your neck, then you will live forever. The borrowed constitution and our English court doesn’t really have the competence to deal on this kind of custom; it can only end in chaos. It could work for properties owned in the cities, but married women going back to their father’s house to drag lands with their brothers? It will certainly turn ugly.

    We haven’t figured out how to stop banditry, kidnapping and communal clashes in the rural areas, now we think we have the capacity to use national constitution to address cultural issues; we are not that smart yet.

    Young girls are still being married off in Nigeria, but we are yet to start throwing all the men that do it into jail; not everything you need a law to fix, it never works.

    Reply
    1. Wetin dem wan take village land do? It is the properties in the Citi that is the ‘koko’. You think it is village land that made somebody to go get supreme court judgement?
      Meanwhile, if you want criminality and marriage to underaged girls to stop, please do what Ada did, take them to court.

      Reply
  2. If the female cannot inherit anything in the villages because of “implementers” of tradition, they can inherit in the cities; in Lagos, Kano, Port Harcourt, Enugu, etc where many Igbo men have properties. Still, a good judgement. I am sure the late Ukeji’s properties couldn’t have been in the villages alone or one Obi somewhere in the village. Men can inherit the Obi but women can inherit so many other things.

    Reply
  3. Truth be told, I am for culture because just like laws it provides boundaries. However, we must ask why a particular cultural provision is the way it is because of relevance. These days the sons get ‘married away’ just like the daughters unlike in the days when they stayed in the family compounds and brought their wives in. If Emeka is in Malaysia and Ada is with her husband in Aba which is their hometown, I doubt if he can claim to be ‘custodianing’ the family from there. Bottom line, ask why? Your forefathers used to walk from Umuahia to Onitsha, will you do that today?

    Reply
    1. Sunshine Sunday asika · Edit

      I appreciate the assistance of appeal court in South East, the idea definitely good for a female child to be part and pataker of their family prorpaty no problem in the whole Igbo land, the approval of marriage is that diary you pay, that’s make it out right, the law will be effective if the said woman is not married, you can you eat your cake and still have it, instead the law will abolish bride price, this bride price is the certificate of occupancy, in reference, I and my wife have become one as the custom demand, she sheer my father’s properties with my brothers and she with her fellow woman in the family, so I think that law good but it will be hard to induce,

      Reply
  4. We are happy that the Supreme Court has interpreted the right side of the Constitution. Igbos are not different from other Nigerians.Any female child even if she leaves in Malaysia and comes home often is better than that son who leaves in far away Maidugri or Lagos but cannot visit lgboland in several decades. Pls let us embrace the rule of law.

    Reply
    1. I think the properties being referred to here are the one(s) in the cities not the ones in the village. In many families today, women train their siblings in higher institutions, keep their sick aged parents in their homes and take good care of them. Sometimes when they are sick it is their female children who settle the hospital bills if the males cannot do it. Or share the bills with the males. These days women even build houses for their parents if they have none. So they contribute in no small measure to the welfare of their parents. Gone are the days when all expenses of a family are left for only the males to bear. Anyway, I don’t think the properties in dispute here are the ones in the village but the ones in the cities. So I commend the supreme court for upholding the judgement of the appeal court. With time, a family will no longer have regrets if it has all females. Such traditions as this should change with time.

      Reply
  5. It is absolute nonsense because western education can’t control the right of the supreme gods.Maybe one day women will start paying the dowries of men or every man has to go through a surgery to change their reproductive systems in order to start conceiving children and all that shits.
    FOR THE GOOD OF MANKIND,let these satanic leaders in the higher echelons never try the gods of the land to avoid catastrophy in our lands.

    Reply
  6. I want to please know if this law is retroactive. If for instance, a woman who had a male child in his father’s house, was not given a share of her father’s property because of her sex, but manages to train her only son who happens to be fatherless but decides to stay in his mothers village. Can this child based on this supreme court judgement demand for his mother’s rights?

    Reply

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