Nigerians are very respectful of their cultural laws and traditions. The customary inheritance law is one of those which has been around for a long time and is still being carried out by many communities. However, these laws do not favour women because properties or assets are in many cultures willed to only males within the family.
After it was reported that some family members of the owner of the building which collapsed recently in Ikoyi, late Femi Osibona, had already started struggling and bickering over properties, assets and bank details with his wife, a twitter user with the handle @X_alonso_ responded to the issue by saying; “I am an Igbo man and my omenala gives me full right over the properties of my siblings when they’re no more. As a woman, when your husband dies, just have it in mind that your contract in the family has been fully terminated. Know this and know peace.”
The tweet sparked a lot of conversations and replies over the weekend. Although a few were supportive of the tweet, it came under heavy criticism by many others. Actress and reality tv star, Erica Nlewedim, was one of those who responded to the tweet.
In her response, she said; “Wow, I can’t believe that they’re people who think like this! Your sibling that hustled and left property for spouse and kids is not an adult like you? What happens to the immediate family? Are you a leech?”
In Nigeria, inheritance poses a big threat to women, especially when the deceased husband has left behind properties, assets, wealth and also has a lot of family members. For many wives and daughters, it’s often a tussle for them to lay their hands on their husbands or fathers’ properties.
In April 2014, the Nigerian Supreme Court ruled in favour of Gladys Ada Ukeje who sued her deceased father’s wife, Lois Chituru Ukeje, and her son, Enyinnaya Lazarus Ukeje and demanded that being her father’s daughter, she was entitled to a share of his estates.
In the Supreme court’s ruling, it criticised the Igbo customary laws in relation to inheritance and for not recognizing the female child to inherit any part of her father’s property. It also mentioned that the Igbo inheritance laws were not in line with the Nigerian 1999 constitution and was also creating room for discriminatory practices against women.
Mrs Favour Chidozie, while narrating her story to Daily Trust on Sunday, said the only reason why she was able to secure part of her husband’s property was because she and her husband had decided to set up an account that will cater to his family in his absence. She also said that her husband made sure that such accounts did not reflect on his statement of assets.
“My husband knew how his family members would behaved should he die, so we decided to set up an account with funds that would cater to the children and I. When he finally passed on, his words came to pass as many of his family members refused to give me a share of the property. It was only one of the siblings who spoke on my behalf and reminded them that his children had to be catered for.”
Mrs Chidozie describes herself as lucky because she was already working and well to do, so with or without the money, she would have been able to take care of herself. However, her only anger would have been if her children didn’t take over any of their father’s properties.
“My husband worked hard to get all he had. He wanted to make sure that his children will be comfortable should anything happen to him. It would be painful to think that his family tried to will away all those properties under the guise that they now control the property and so will cater to the children’s needs whenever it arose.”
Another widow, Mrs Shade Adeoye, said the situation is easier when the family is an elite class, filled with people who already have their wealth and have gained exposure to western culture. She noted that when her husband passed, her in-laws respected his wishes and didn’t contend with her for any of her properties.
“I’m lucky to have married into a family that have fully adopted the western culture and way of life. When my husband passed, his brothers were patient until the will was read and all the properties were allocated as he wished. Not for one day did they attempt to fight or collect any properties that had been given to me and my children.”
Mrs. Adeoye also noted that though some cultures like the Igbo culture demands that the first son or brothers of the deceased inherit the properties, many struggles/fights for the collection of inheritance is due to poverty.
“Whenever I hear issues of inheritance struggle between family members, its mostly because the people trying to benefit are not so well to do. Most times, these people were benefitting from the deceased and now that he is no more, they see grabbing the properties and assets as a quick way to get rich, without caring about the family he has left behind.”
Mrs Nancy Emenike who also spoke on the issue, noted that inheritance is an important topic to be discussed amongst partners. She said situations could occur where the husband is no more and hadn’t put in place defences for his wife and children.
“I personally believe that the way couples discuss school fees, housekeeping bills and other things is the same way inheritance should be discussed. A man is the guard of his home and this is one of the many ways he can guard his wife. His family may not even be the type to bother about his properties. Nonetheless, it’s important for couples to discuss what property would be allocated to the wife, children and what will be shared to the other family members should the husband pass.”
She also suggested that “Laws like these are what should give women the motivation to do more for themselves even though all their needs can be catered to by their husbands. A financially independent woman is more likely to gain respect from her in-laws than one who has no business or job.”
Mr Samuel Chukwu, a father, told Daily Trust on Sunday that even though he intends to write a will, he has decided to have a meeting with his brothers over his properties. He explains that; “I have two daughters and no boy. Customarily, my daughters and wife aren’t entitled to anything so, I have to ensure that my brothers will respect my wishes and not go against it.”
Mrs Halima Bakare, a gender activist, said that refusal to allocate inheritance such as land, buildings to women is a way of keeping gender inequality on its feet. She noted that; “A woman who acquires wealth and properties is seen as a powerful woman and in a system where patriarchy rules, it cannot stand.”
She, however, called on fellow activists to advocate more on women rights as it relates to property and inheritance. She mentioned that discriminatory laws that do not allow women rights to their father’s or even brother’s property should be re-evaluated or better still abolished.”