If awarded a LAWA fellowship as I earnestly hope, Iintend to conduct a major research on Gender-Based Discrimination inSouth-Eastern Nigeria with emphasis on Female Disinheritance under IgboCustomary Law.
I have more than passing interest in gender-baseddiscriminatory practices in the South East of Nigeria because my roots aretraceable to Ikem-Ivite, Nando in Anambra State. The ‘oli-ekpe’ customwhich endorses the practice of primogeniture and female disinheritance is acardinal feature of Igbo customary law. This custom entitles the closest malerelative of a deceased person having no male offspring to inherit his propertyto the exclusion of his female children and his widow who is also a ‘property’to be inherited. The custom was originally intended to preserve familyproperty, especially land, as female children may get married and familyproperty may be lost to the family to which they are married; and the malerelative who so inherits property was expected to administer the estate andtake care of his widow and children on behalf of the of the deceased. Butthe custom has since outlived its usefulness as instances abound in which greedymale relatives take undue advantage of this customary practice to the detrimentof the widow and biological children of the deceased who happen to be females.I have witnessed ugly scenarios in Ikem-ivite, Nando, Anambra State where malerelatives practically confiscated and completely took over the property oftheir deceased brothers who had only female children, thus rendering thechildren (and widows) homeless! And worse still, very few of these victims havethe wherewithal to seek redress in court! There is, of course, a widerange of gender-based issues which derogate from the human rights of women inNigeria, notably: harmful traditional practices, domestic violence, rape,trafficking, defilement of the girl child, forced childhood marriages, femalegenital mutilation, harsh and punitive widowhood rites, sexual harassment, etc.But since it is not feasible to explore all of these issues affecting women ina single research essay, I propose to address the subject of femaledisinheritance which has defied constitutional guarantees and judicialdecisions. For instance, section 42 of theConstitution of Nigeria 1999 provides inter alia for the right tofreedom from discrimination on the basis of sex or gender, and also that noNigerian Citizen should be subjected to any disability or deprivation merely byreason of the circumstances of birth.
There are also decisions of the Court ofAppeal and the Supreme Court of Nigeria which have struck down theobjectionable ‘oli-ekpe’ custom as unconstitutional and repugnant tonatural justice, equity and good conscience. See Mojekwu v Mojekwu 1997 7NWLR (Pt. 512) 283 (CA) and Ukeje v Ukeje 2014 11 NWLR (Pt. 1418) 384(SC).
Unfortunately however, the non-discrimination clause ofthe Nigerian Constitution and the decisions of the courts have had little or nopractical bearing on the lives of women as they are largely being observed inthe breach. It is therefore imperative not only toinvestigate why the practice of female disinheritance is still prevalent inSouth-Eastern Nigeria, but also to explore what can be done to advance, assertand protect the human rights of widows and female children caught in the web ofthis patently unacceptable gender-based discriminatory practice in our 21stcentury world.