By Luminous Jannamike
ABUJA – Stakeholders, including experts in family law, yesterday, in Abuja, proffered solutions to the cultural practice of preventing women and girls from inheriting the properties of deceased relatives as witnessed in some parts of the country.
They spoke at a roundtable on women and traditional inheritance organized by Epiphany Azinge Foundation with the theme: “Breaking the barriers of gender discrimination.”
The roundtable was aimed at creating a platform to find lasting solution to the seeming discrimination against women in property inheritance in various parts the country.
The keynote speaker, Prof. Joy Ezeilo (OON), in her presentation, said law reforms and enforcement, as well as increased awareness on the part of the public were fundamental to tackling the impunity that characterize widowhood practices in Nigeria particularly in rural settings.
Ezeilo, Dean of Law Faculty in the University of Nigeria Nsukka, said: “For close to three decades, new laws haven’t been made with regards to administration of estates in this country. We need new laws, and also need to implement our international obligations that are very clear on what should happen in circumstances where the head of a family dies intestate (without leaving behind a written will).
“Importantly, awareness creation is key; because it is when people are enlightened that they can recognize their rights and demand enforcement. We have Supreme Court judgments that say women can inherit property in the Southeast and other Igbo speaking states as wives and daughters. But, how many people are aware of them?”
On his part, the Executive Secretary of National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, Tony Ojukwu, said: “We need to look at the issue of bride price again. In the olden days, by paying bride price, it was as if men were paying for the services of the women and the women now belong to them like commercial articles. That is why in some cultures, when a man dies, his brothers inherit everything including his wife.
“There should not be a reason why two people in love cannot marry themselves without the payment of bride price so long as their families consent. The removal of bride price before marriage will create equal standing in the relationship and cure the feeling of women being inferior to men in the society. Inheritance should be approached from the angle of equal human right. If we do, then we have a revolution in our hands.
For the President of the Customary Court of Appeal (FCT), Justice Abbazih Musa Abubakar Saddeeq, the Supreme Court decision in the case of Ukeje vs Ukeje has voided native laws and customs that disinherit women.
However, Justice Saddeeq added that since native customs and traditions are intrinsic in human nature, mere legislations and judicial pronouncement are not enough to address the barriers to women inheritance. He stressed the need for increased advocacy on the issue especially in rural communities.
Setting the tone for the discourse, convener of the roundtable, Prof. Epiphany Azinge (SAN), in his remarks, said it is old fashioned to continue to believe that a girl child is inferior and unequal to a boy child two decades into the 21st century.
He said the judiciary has done their work with regards to women inheritance but the greater challenge is for the society to rise, draw from, and apply the existing judicial pronouncements on the matter, adding: “Mothers should also rise up to their responsibilities.
If they do not assert their positions and authorities, their husbands will not understand that they are not doing the right thing when no will is written and their daughters are not settled whilst they are still alive.”