The law and inheritance rights in Igboland

When I was growing up, I never thought I would lose any of my parents. In fact, I was thinking that we would live together forever. Thus, the last thing on my mind at that time was death of any of them not to talk of inheriting stuffs from my dad in particular. So, when my dad died, it dunned on me that death was and is still an inevitable phenomenon that could come knocking at the time one least expected it.

Losing my dad was the first time I had lost a loved one and the experience was surreal. At the time, it was unbelievable. Nothing prepared me for dad’s death. I was not there with him to experience his brief illness. Thus, the feeling of his loss was so overwhelming that it made me to reflect and relate to some of my friends who had lost their parents some years past.

The seeming fight for the inheritance largesse was absent for two obvious reasons. First, we didn’t know the details of what my dad left as we were consumed with mourning. Secondly, no one was selfish to scheme others out because of the unity he left the family with. Therefore, there was no need to make noise about what he left or didn’t leave for us. Our father did not leave us with a legal will.

But I could recall the mad rush for properties that ensued whenever a rich person died. Because of the absence of a written Will, the fight for a deceased estate by the survivors usually was intense and in most cases, would leave a lasting weal in the family’s relationship. Majority of the time families tend to fracture because of the absence of a wealthy man; this particular one was not an exception. The fight for the deceased estate seemed to be execrated by the tradition that would deny the females in the family the inheritance right.

Also, I could recall in another situation, nothing of that nature happened in that case. My friend’s dad didn’t leave them with physical properties and they didn’t care. They cared much for his love for and expectations of them. Nevertheless, little did we know that his dad invested in stocks worth of millions of naira. They realized this years after his dad passed away. When it was time to divide up the money they realized from selling the stocks, I personally advised him to ensure that his sisters received their equal shares.

However, properties outside the ancestral homes or land are different. It is stubbornly difficult for any female to inherit any ancestral land or house in Igboland no matter what civilization brings or what the supreme court says about the tradition. Though the Nigerian Supreme Court has in 2014 unambiguously rendered the Igbo tradition that denied women inheritance rights of their fathers’ property unconstitutional by affirming two lower courts decisions, yet the practice is very evidence in most Igboland today.

Igbo customs and tradition still prohibit female offspring from inheriting father’s ancestral property.

Some people in the Diaspora weighed in on this sensitive issue Commenting on the issue, Judge Chioma Ihekere expressed, “Of course women should be allowed to inherit from their fathers and husbands! My blood is just as much from my father as my brother’s is. The old ways in this issue are incredibly archaic and are an indication of how far

Nigeria really has to go in order to be considered a progressive nation.”
Barth Iriele opined, “My comment is that ladies should be included in financial part of the inheritance because it will help them to overcome problems in their matrimonial homes, but they should be excluded from landed properties. That’s my opinion.”

Chief Ken Jerry Ike used verses in the bible to buttress his point. He said, “Inheritance was the gift of honor and support given by a patriarch to his sons (and sometimes daughters). Most Igbo cultures have biblical resemblance (Leviticus 25:23-38). The Bible laid out specific guidelines for inheriting family property: the eldest son was to inherit a double portion and the remaining portion goes to the other sons of the family. (Deuteronomy 21:15-17); if there were no sons, daughters were allowed to inherit their father’s land (Numbers 27:8); in the absence of direct heirs, a favored servant or a more distant kinsman could inherit the land (Genesis 15:2; Numbers 27:9-11). At no time could the land pass to another tribe. The point of passing on the land was to ensure the extended family had a means of support and survival.”
Chief Ike continued, “The major reason why the Igbo culture excluded the daughters in the sharing of family inheritance (landed property) was to avoid the land passing to another family (tribe) since the daughters will eventually get married. It made a lot of sense to me because back in those days all landed property in question were located in patriarch’s ancestral home.”
“These days, things have very much changed. People own property in different cities. I am of the opinion that people should be encouraged to include their daughters when sharing landed property located out their ancestral home,” Chief Jerry Ken Ike concluded.
Atty. Cordelia Nwokocha stated, “Although the general rule is no inheritance right for women, there are many exceptions to the rule. Furthermore, courts are now gradually reversing those rules that are undermining women’s right.
For instance, if your father has no male child, in some Igbo communities, the unmarried daughter will be allowed to cultivate her father’s land. If your father owns property outside the family compound, the daughters are entitled to share from the sale of the property.
However, where there is a male child, the greedy ones are bent on denying their sisters their share of the inheritance. Regardless, I hope the laws should be universal where sons and daughters are treated equally without discrimination.”

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Author: Rapheal