Issues around inheritance rights in Africa, particularly Nigeria continue to constitute major stumbling blocks to equality in gender affairs. It is a known fact that on the African continent and indeed Nigeria, there are differences in civilizations and cultures.
It is also true that it is herculean task attempting imposition of different norms and social behaviours on a different people.
While there are narrow differences in civilizations when it comes to gender issues in African societies, there appears to be a narrower difference in Nigerian communities.
Issues around inheritance rights in Nigeria have stubbornly remained knotty ones, especially when it involves the male and female gender.
It has been a generally acceptable cultural norm in Nigerian societies that the male is accorded more superiority than the female in all ramifications.
This is irrespective of available statistics which suggest that the female child has more capacity to carry on with family legacy and, in some cases, do better than their male counterpart.
Of the two major religions in Nigeria, while Christianity has no stipulated rule on inheritance, the Islamic religion on the other hand, give credence to the female gender in terms of rights of inheritance.
Exceptions however suffice as Islam allots women half the share of inheritance as against 100 percent to men, with the same relation to the decedent. For instance, where a decedent has both male and female children, a son’s share is double that of a daughter’s.
Additionally, the sister of a childless man inherits half of his property upon his death, while a brother of a childless woman inherits all her property.
However, this principle is not universally applicable, and there are other circumstances where women might receive equal shares with their male counterparts; just as the share of a mother and father of a decedent who leaves children behind.
Also the share of a uterine brother is equal to the share of a uterine sister, as do the shares of their descendants.
Here, the practices by the Igala people in Kogi State suffix. A female heir is as good as a property to be inherited and thus, does not argue over her father’s properties with her brothers upon the father’s demise, as the first male child inherits everything, leaving the other children to his mercy.
The first son can decide not to cater for his siblings, giving flimsy excuses. A married woman works and owns everything to the husband. She claims no rights in the husband’s house. A widow returns empty to her parents, especially if she has no male off-springs.
These are serious problems militating against women socially and economically. The same practice is applicable to the Esan people of Edo State, where the practice applies in its pure form.
Under this custom, the eldest surviving son inherits all the property of his deceased father after performing the funeral rites. He however has an obligation to cater for his young siblings including girls until they get married.
In Igboland, though the customary practices of the people are not entirely uniform, they share certain things in common.
Generally, in Igboland, widows and daughters do not have right to inherit their husbands’ or fathers’ property. A widow may be allowed to live in the matrimonial home, provided she is of good behaviour and does not remarry.
However, if a woman dies and leaves personal property behind, her husband inherits her property, while her daughter would only inherit her wardrobe.
An exception to this patriarchal practice occurs when a man is only survived by daughters in which case the eldest daughter may inherit her late father’s property, provided she would remain unmarried for life.
This is called “Nrachi” custom. However, recently in Ukeje v. Ukeje, the Supreme Court upheld the right of female children to inherit their fathers’ property on the basis that any custom that discriminates against anyone because of gender is null and void.
The Court relied on the constitutional provision which forbids discrimination of any kind.
Today in Nigeria, a mere mention of the need for changes in this practice, even among the educated elites who ascended prominent thrones in Nigeria is met with strong condemnation as it is generally regarded as a taboo.
The total dominance of the male child in our cultural settings has really become a source of worry to gender sensitive advocates around the globe.
The Beijing Conference, which seems to bring leaders of government, religious groups, traditional leaders and advocates and most importantly Wives of Presidents and leaders all over the world to address gender issues especially women’s rights failed in this regard.
The African Union (AU) has, at different fora, advocated for the general abolition of this practice but to no avail.
Different pro-gender equal sensitive government have deliberately developed policies to sensitized our people on the psychological effects it has negatively on the female gender and the need for its total eradication also failed.
Our cultural behaviours and acceptable implement of cultural norms are always static from generation to generations.
The static nature of our culture which has generally affected the human rights of the female generation in Nigeria has affected us negatively as a people.
The static nature of these cultural norms which runs contrary to the dynamic cultures of the dynamic world today is one debilitating factor which affects the way the people of the developed clime views us as a people.
There is a lot of effects the inheritance policy we accepted and advocates from language to language, tribe to tribe and culture to cultures on the woman folk.
Our women’s human rights have been so bastardized in Africa and Nigeria in particular. A system of inheritance that subjugates the women folk to such vivid abuse is detrimental to our social development as a people.
A system that compensates and abuses a human being especially the women folk because her gender is looked upon as inferior is generally condemnable.
We need to reintegrate our women folk into our social strata by giving them that privileged to equally aspire to that high stake standard we have for the male folk.
This will enhance our rankings in the social world and it is generally accepted when the rights of women are enhanced and protected then the rights of the world is generally protected.
We as African needs to join the comity of developed climes by protecting the rights of women in its entire ramification especially on inheritance issues as this would psychologically and developmentally build and develop our Nation.
The government has a pivotal role to play in the area of education and more enlightenment crusade towards eradicating this sub-human way of life.
The government needs to sponsor bills and motions to the parliament to enhance the total eradication of this negative inheritance practice.
When passed into law by parliament, the government should cultivate the needed political will to pass it into law, and subsequently immediately begin implementation.
This would send a clear signal to all cultures in the country that the time of the abolition of this obnoxious practice that dehumanize a very important part of the human race.
The laws been entrenched should create stiff punitive measures and sanctions against violators of this laws as this world consciously up the governments fame as a gender sensitive one.