By Chioma Onuegbu – Uyo
Akwa Ibom State High Court sitting in Etinan, has nullified the ancient traditional practice in Etinan Local Government Area, which prohibits women and female children the rights to inherit their fathers and relatives’ landed property.
Justice Pius Idiong delivered his judgment in the case brought before the court by eight children of late Obong Joseph Noah of Edem Ekpat in Etinan Local Government Area, against their aunt, Mrs Gertrude Ekanem, from inheriting the landed property of her sister, late Immaculata Noah, who died without a husband or a child.
The case with suit number HET/3A/2019 between Mr Michael Patrick Noah and seven others and Mrs Gertrude Ekanem, originated from the Etinan District Court, whose judgment the appellants appealed to the Chief Magistrate Court and the High Court.
The appellants had contended that their aunt could not inherit her sister’s property located at number 24 Iman Street, Etinan, because she is a woman and had also been married out of the family.
But in his judgment, Justice Pius Idiong described such practice as anachronistic, primitive and unconscionable, and therefore should not exist in the 21st century.
He held that any custom that denies a woman an inheritance on the ground of her sex, is not only unfair, but runs contrary to the fundamental objective of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
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Justice Idiong argued that although the Courts are enjoined to apply, administer and give effects to the custom and tradition of the people of its area of jurisdiction, the Court does not have to apply customs, which are unreasonable, discriminatory and an affront to the law.
He submitted that the custom of the people of Edem Ekpat in particular and Etinan Local Government Area in general, that denies a woman the right to inheritance of parents or siblings property, who died without a male child, debases such a woman and contravenes section 42 of the 1999 constitution.
He disagreed with the Village Head of Edem Ekpat, Chief Emmanuel Okokon Eboh, who had testified as a witness that when a woman dies in Edem Ekpat without a child or husband, her property reverts to her family and not her sister, who has been married out to another family.
Justice Idiong saluted the trial District Court in Etinan for refusing to uphold such offensive customs and the appellate Chief Magistrate Court, for upholding the decision of the lower Court.
He declared that the native laws, discriminating against women, whether married or not, are nullity and unenforceable throughout Etinan Local Government Area, and therefore dismissed the appeal by the eight siblings.