If offspring to inherit his property to the

If awarded a LAWA fellowship as I earnestly hope, I
intend to conduct a major research on Gender-Based Discrimination in
South-Eastern Nigeria with emphasis on Female Disinheritance under Igbo
Customary Law. I have more than passing interest in gender-based
discriminatory practices in the South East of Nigeria because my roots are
traceable to Ikem-Ivite, Nando in Anambra State.

 The ‘oli-ekpe’ custom
which endorses the practice of primogeniture and female disinheritance is a
cardinal feature of Igbo customary law. This custom entitles the closest male
relative of a deceased person having no male offspring to inherit his property
to the exclusion of his female children and his widow who is also a ‘property’
to be inherited. The custom was originally intended to preserve family
property, especially land, as female children may get married and family
property may be lost to the family to which they are married; and the male
relative who so inherits property was expected to administer the estate and
take care of his widow and children on behalf of the of the deceased.  But
the custom has since outlived its usefulness as instances abound in which greedy
male relatives take undue advantage of this customary practice to the detriment
of 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 male
relatives practically confiscated and completely took over the property of
their deceased brothers who had only female children, thus rendering the
children (and widows) homeless! And worse still, very few of these victims have
the wherewithal to seek redress in court!

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 There is, of course, a wide
range of gender-based issues which derogate from the human rights of women in
Nigeria, notably: harmful traditional practices, domestic violence, rape,
trafficking, defilement of the girl child, forced childhood marriages, female
genital mutilation, harsh and punitive widowhood rites, sexual harassment, etc.
But since it is not feasible to explore all of these issues affecting women in
a single research essay, I propose to address the subject of female
disinheritance which has defied constitutional guarantees and judicial
decisions.

 

For instance, section 42 of the
Constitution of Nigeria 1999 provides inter alia for the right to
freedom from discrimination on the basis of sex or gender, and also that no
Nigerian Citizen should be subjected to any disability or deprivation merely by
reason of the circumstances of birth. There are also decisions of the Court of
Appeal and the Supreme Court of Nigeria which have struck down the
objectionable ‘oli-ekpe’ custom as unconstitutional and repugnant to
natural justice, equity and good conscience. See Mojekwu v Mojekwu 1997 7
NWLR (Pt. 512) 283 (CA) and Ukeje v Ukeje 2014 11 NWLR (Pt. 1418) 384
(SC).  Unfortunately however, the non-discrimination clause of
the Nigerian Constitution and the decisions of the courts have had little or no
practical bearing on the lives of women as they are largely being observed in
the breach.

 

It is therefore imperative not only to
investigate why the practice of female disinheritance is still prevalent in
South-Eastern Nigeria, but also to explore what can be done to advance, assert
and protect the human rights of widows and female children caught in the web of
this patently unacceptable gender-based discriminatory practice in our 21st
century world. 

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