It has been a long held debated issue about female inheritance in Igbo culture. While a few places in Igbo land like seek their inheritance through the mother, majority of Igbo’s get their inheritance from their father. This made it hard for the women to inherit properties in their father’s house.
However, in a landmark judgement by the Supreme Court of Nigeria, the apex court quashed the practice, citing that it offended the constitution of the land, and therefore inconsistent. By this inconsistency, the Igbo practice of disinheriting female children cannot be allowed to continue. This means that women are by this judgment allowed to receive inheritance in Igbo tradition.
In the lead judgement read by Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour, he 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.”
This judgment is different from the inheritance gotten through a Will. Igbo women do get inheritance through Will, but the judgment goes to the root of the matter, to a core Igbo tradition that existed before the constitution was ever made. The judgment itself is a deep drive to the root of intestacy. Intestate is the state of things when someone dies without making a Will or properly sharing his property to his dependents, relatives or friends.
“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,” said the lead judge, Justice Rhodes-Vivour who delivered the lead judgement.
The following Justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria also agreed to the lead judgement:
• Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen,
• Justice Clara Bata Ogunbiyi,
• Justice Kumai Bayang Aka’ahs and;
• Justice John Inyang Okoro.
They were all part of the judges that heard the heard the appeal.
The case (SC.224/2004) was initiated at the Lagos High Court with the claimant suing the wife and son of the late Lazarus Ogbonna Ukeje, claiming that she is the daughter of the deceased.
“Gladys had sued the deceased’s wife and son before the Lagos High Court, claiming to be one of the deceased’s children and sought to be included among those to administer their deceased father’s estate”
She won the case at the High Court in Lagos, prompting Mrs Lois Ukeje and her son, Mr Enyinnaya Ukeje to appeal to the Court of the Appeal where they lost again before the final appeal to the Supreme Court. In a landmark decision, the supreme court quashed the Igbo female inheritance tradition, citing that it was unconstitutional.
The judgment as anticipated, is currently being recieved with mixed feelings by Igbo people around the country.