AN APPRAISAL OF THE INHERITANCE RIGHTS OF WOMEN IN NIGERIA UNDER THE ACT AND THE VARIOUS CUSTOMS IN NIGERIA


AN APPRAISAL OF THE INHERITANCE RIGHTS OF WOMEN IN NIGERIA UNDER THE ACT AND THE VARIOUS CUSTOMS IN NIGERIA  

ABSTRACT

The study examines an appraisal of the inheritance rights of women in Nigeria under the act and the various customary law. The study is consistent with prior research about abuse of women inheritance rights across cultures and how eastern part of Nigeria has liberated women from the denial of inheritance rights. An empirical study that actually revealed how the eastern part of Nigeria have actually given women inheritance rights incompliance with the eastern part of Nigeria law of inheritance also desirably investigate possibility of an exceptional gap with regard to the efficacy of eastern part of Nigeria law of inheritance in relation to women’s inheritance rights.

In summary, the protocol provides that State Parties: *"Shall combat all forms of discrimination against women through appropriate legislations, institutional and other measures which shall include constitutional provisions on equality between women and men by ensuring its effective application and integration of gender perspective in their; policy decisions, legislation, development plans… to eliminate the idea of male superiorly over the females…." *Heads of states are expected to adopt and implement appropriate measures to prohibit any exploitation… of women from all forms of violence by ensuring that law enforcement organs at all levels are equipped to effectively interpret and enforce gender equality while promoting law reforms on existing law to protect women’s rights . States parties shall provide women with access to land and other means of production and for women to participate in the formulation of cultural policies. To mainstream gender in the control of productive resources such as land, right to property, access to credit, skilled services at urban and rural levels and reduce high level of poverty among women. * The Vienna declaration and programme of action emphasizes that the human rights of women which includes the girl-child are inalienable, integral, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated inter-connected and universal. It aims at the eradication of all gender based violence.

The study hereby concluded that; Nigeria has failed to domesticate CEDAW, the women’s Bill of Rights to accord with the provisions of the constitution before any treaty can be applicable to Nigeria as buttressed. It follows therefore that any discriminatory customary law practice contrary to the provisions of the African Charter is unconstitutional thus void. One wonders why such discriminatory customary practices continue to prevail in some parts of Nigeria especially among the Igbo tribes leaves a lot to be desired. Some claim it is based on the brain washing of the females of the supremacy of customs and the conventional practice of seeing as abomination taking family members to Court on issues of rights. Moreso, the inability of the Courts to apply the provisions of Human Rights to women issues. It is so because the Courts find it difficult to apply women’s human right when cases relating to such rights are instituted in the Court of law.

The study hereby suggests that; Policy makers should live above tradition biases. Religious leaders and communities can provide fundamental resources to raise awareness of the harms and impermissibility of domestic violence and provide support for victims. Women should be encouraged through education and economic empowerment to occupy their right place in the society. Willing of property should be encouraged within the limit of eastern part of Nigeria context so as to prevent crisis among the family after the death of the property’s owner. Traditional rulers should establish inheritance institutions like the where tradition legacies will be officially distributed among the legal heirs in accordance with the tradition injunctions. Abuse of women inheritance right should be recognized as considered as a crime like any other criminal offences and victims should be penalized before the law. Finally, religious and traditional leaders should be engaged in the distribution of the deceased estate because they are the one who meditates in these cases at the local government level.

CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

Introduction

            This paper examines the various inheritance laws in Nigeria with a view to appraise the inheritance rights of women in Nigeria.  establishing its bias in relation to gender. It will also look at the effect of these practices on the socio-economic empowerment of women in the larger society. It will also review the steps taken to curb the trend and the progress made so far if any.   

            The inevitability of death brings with it a plethora of challenges for the family of the deceased; apart from the burial rites and ceremonies, foremost on the list of challenges is what to do with the property of the deceased. In Nigeria, when a person dies, and leaves property, the property of that person is given to another person or people as their inheritance. Who inherits this property is decided in different ways; a person can decide before he or she dies who should inherit his property and under the English law, this is written down and signed in a document called a Will. But where there is no Will, other laws are used to decide who gets the property.

            Customary law is often used in this instance and there are as many variations as there are ethnic groups in the country. As observed, inheritance rights like most rights, are tilted towards the male gender. The cultural practices of the various constituent tribes, societal norms, illiteracy, poverty, and religious beliefs have all fuelled the continuing inequitable representation of women directly and indirectly. And even though there are laws, conventions and treaties that advocates for the equal treatment of all human beings regardless of their sex, tribe, origin and circumstance of birth, these discriminatory practices still operate today unfettered.

Background of Study

The inheritance practices of intestate estate under the customary laws in Nigeria have almost as many variations as there are ethnic groups in the country and they are predominantly patrilineal that is relating to, based on, or tracing descent through the paternal line. Inheritance and succession under native law and custom is determined primarily by the customary rules of the place of origin of the deceased person and not by where he resides or where the property is situated.  These practices conform to the primogeniture rule which is a system of inheritance or succession by the firstborn child, specifically the eldest son[1] who consequently becomes the head of the family. He occupies the family house, holding same as trustee of the other children, male or female.

            For example in Yoruba land , the distribution of an estate of a deceased person who dies without a valid Will is per stripe; i.e. by the number of wives that the deceased had and not by the number of children[2]. In Calabar, the eldest surviving male member of the deceased person succeeds as the head of the family and inherits the deceased estate. Also among the Fulani, the eldest son inherits his deceased father's cattle, the main asset in those days, out of which he makes presents of some of them to his younger brothers according to their needs. Finally under the Bini custom, the right to succession of the entire estate belongs exclusively to the eldest son of a deceased person who acts as a sort of trustee for the other children[3].

Statement of the Problem

One can easily perceive from the foregoing statements that the Nigerian woman (the widow) and the girl child typically get little or nothing in comparison with their male counterparts when it comes to intestate devolution of property. This is because these customary laws exhibit an over-whelming sympathy for the male gender and has as a consequence, sustained an unjust and disproportional treatment of females in Nigeria. The continued practices of these laws constitute a major obstacle to gender equality, economic empowerment of the female gender and actualization of social justice in terms of development, peace and security[4]. These discriminatory aspects of property inheritance under customary law in Nigeria manifests in different forms and scope ranging from primogeniture rules to the right of spouses and they run contrary to various international conventions and more importantly, to the Constitution[5] of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Research Questions

This paper shall address these important questions:

1.         What are the various laws on inheritance rights of women in Nigeria?

2.         What laws are in existence to combat this trend and how effective are they?

Aim of Research Work

            This research work aims at an appraisal of the inheritance rights of women in Nigeria under the Act and the various customs in Nigeria. Customary practices bordering on inheritance evidently demonstrate varying degrees of gender discrimination as widows and their female children receive very little compared to the males. This discriminatory trend fuelled by ignorance, tradition and religion serves as a bar to the economic and financial empowerment of women and their right to self-actualization. Without question, the poverty in this country is related to deprivations due to unequal distribution of wealth (land) and if everyone is allowed to benefit equally from an inheritance, it would catalyze economic growth, development and ultimately poverty would be eradicated.

            The paper will analyse some customary law practices on inheritance with a view to unearthing such norms that perpetuate gender discrimination and impede the empowerment of women in Nigeria. It will also look at the provisions of existing local and international laws that deal with inheritance and the progress each law has made in combating this ugly trend. Finally, this paper shall proffer possible recommendations for reform to help the government and other stakeholders who are or are likely to be so affected.

Research Methodology

This essay will adopt the doctrinal and comparative research methods; reference will be made to both primary and secondary sources such as relevant books, journals, statutes, legislatives and internet sources. References will also be made to international conventions and the position of the law from foreign jurisdictions.

Scope and Limitations of the Study

This study will deal primarily with inheritance; its history, the customary laws practices of the major ethnic groups of Nigeria which are: Igbo, Yoruba, Bini, Esan, Urhobo, Islamic law and Hausa inheritance rights of women under the Wills Act of 1832 & the relevant Wills Law of selected states. It will also examine the reasons why these discriminatory practices are still in existence despite the various laws already in place. Also, the human rights implications of discrimination against women as regards inheritance rights will be considered and it will point to the effect this worrisome trend is having on the nation's economy and her reputation in the global world view.

Significance of Study

The significance of this study is aimed at the enlightenment of the reader, who will become aware of the discriminatory practices of inheritance against women and its damaging effect on the overall socio-economic development on the country. Also, the reader would be exposed to the laws, both domestic and  international, presently in force to curb this trend and how effective they have been.

Research Structure

This research work will span five (5) chapters; the first chapter will introduce the topic and intimate the reader with the general scope of this research paper. It addresses the Introduction, Background of Study, Statement of the Problem, Aim of Research Work, Research Methodology, Scope and Limitations of the Study, Significance of this Study and finally the Research Structure

Chapter Two - Literature review: The chapter will review the various arguments, points of view of numerous scholars on the inheritance rights of women in Nigeria. It will also explore the meaning of inheritance and the effect of inheritance laws on women in Nigeria. 

Chapter Three - This chapter will review the customary inheritance practices in some ethnic groups in Nigeria and in particular, the Igbo, Yoruba, Bini, Esan, Urhobo, Igala and Itsekiri tribes will be reviewed. Also, the paper will look at inheritance practices as dictated by the two major religions in Nigeria - Christianity and Islam. It will examine the discrimination against women from a human rights perspective and establish a relationship between these discriminatory practices and the overall low income levels poverty levels prevalent in the rural areas.

Chapter Four - This will review the domestic  laws in existence that govern inheritance practices outside the purview of customary law. Such laws like the The 1999 Constitution, Wills Act, Administration and Succession (Estates of Deceased Persons) Law, Administration of Estates Laws of Lagos, and the Wills' Laws of various States as . Also this chapter will look at the provisions of the relevant Human Rights Treaties, Conventions and Agreements that protect and promote Women's Rights particularly the socio-economic rights like land and inheritance rights

Chapter five provides conclusions and recommendation for the study

[1] Chambers 20th Century Dictionary 4th Ed., 1981

[2] Onuoha R.A., "Discriminatory Property Inheritance Under Customary Law in Nigeria: NGOs to the Rescue" The International Journal of Not-for-Profit Law, (2008), Vol.10, Issue 2

[3] Okeaya-Inneh K.S., Benin Native law and Custom at a Glance, (Benin City: Gift-prints Associate; 2007)

[4] Ikpeze O.V., Gender Dynamics of Inheritance Rights in Nigeria: Need for Women Empowerment (Onitsha: Folmech Printing & Pub. Co. Ltd; 2009), p. 54

[5] The highest law of the people of Nigeria, against which, any law (or practice) in contradiction, is invalid.

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AN APPRAISAL OF THE INHERITANCE RIGHTS OF WOMEN IN NIGERIA UNDER THE ACT AND THE VARIOUS CUSTOMS IN NIGERIA



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