In many Nigerian cultures, the rights of women and the girl-child are trampled upon, most especially on the issue of inheritance, where a female child is prohibited from inheriting her father’s property on the basis of her gender. This discriminatory law and dehumanizing tradition which regards women as inferior to men, is practiced all over Nigeria but most predominantly in the eastern part of the country.
However, and interestingly to the advancement of women’s rights, the Supreme Court, the highest Court in Nigeria, has voided the Igbo customary law which forbids a female from inheriting her father’s estate, on the grounds that it is discriminatory and conflicts with the provision of the section 42(1) (a) and (2) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which states that;
(1)“A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion, or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person;
(a)Be subjected either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government, to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions are not made subject
(2) No citizen of Nigeria shall be subjected to any disability or deprivation merely by reason of the circumstance of his birth.
This was as a result of the judgement given in a family dispute between Gladys Ada Ukeje, who was disinherited from the estate of her deceased father, Lazarus Ogbonna Ukeje. She sued her step-mother Lois Chituru Ukeje and her son, Enyinnaya Lazarus Ukeje 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. The trial court found that she was a daughter of the deceased and was qualified to benefit from the estate of the father.
However, Mrs. Lois Chituru Ukeje and her son, Enyinnaya Lazarus Ukeje not satisfied with the verdict, went to the Court of Appeal, Lagos but the decision of the trial Court was upheld, prompting them to the Supreme Court who also upheld the decision of the Court of Appeal, stating that the Appeal Court was right to have voided the native law that disinherit female children.
Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour, who read the lead judgement, held that “no matter the circumstance of the birth of a female child, such a child is entitled to an inheritance from her late father’s estate. Consequently, the Igbo customary law, which disentitles a female child from partaking in the sharing of her deceased father’s estates, is a breach of section 42(1) (2) of the constitution, a fundamental Human Rights Provision guaranteed to every Nigerian.
The Women’s Right Advancement and Protection Alternative (WRAPA), utterly condemns the obnoxious customary law (discriminatory law) which segregates a girl child from her rights to inheritance on the basis of her gender. WRAPA also commends the dauntlessness of Gladys in seeking legal redress and the Judiciary for rising and defending the human rights provision as enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Many thanks to the Justices Walter Samuel Onnoghen, Claral Bata Ogunbiyi, Kumai Bayang Aka’ahs and John Inyang Okoro who were part of the panel that upheld the decision of the Court of Appeal, and voided the discriminatory law.
WRAPA urges the Civil society, media and human rights advocacy groups, to continue in enlightenment of the masses on discriminatory practices that dehumanize women and the girl-child, such as; disinheritance, female genital mutilation and widowhood practices.
The importance of Rule of law cannot be overemphasized, law enforcement agencies must also be diligent in the discharge of their duties to ensure that perpetrators of these gender-based discriminatory practices are held accountable and brought to justice.