Daily Law Tips (Tip 685) by Onyekachi Umah, Esq., LLM. ACIArb(UK)
Across Africa and other continents of the world, beyond academic achievements, career success, wealth and even sanctimoniousness, women are openly regarded, addressed and treated as mere property/tool of men. Since women are treated as mere property, selfish males and brainwashed female perpetrators argue that a woman cannot own a property.
It is mostly considered a taboo for a woman (not minding her age), to talk in certain meetings, walk freely without male company, negotiate land transactions and even tenancy, or attempt to inherit any property from her parents or husband. Even families, communities, schools and religious organisations, teach and expect women to be seen but not heard, to look and not talk, to observe and not react.
In most parts of the world, women are not treated as another sex but as the “weaker sex” and “lesser human beings”. This work answers the question; whether a woman without a male child can inherit her husband’s property in Nigeria, having in mind the discriminatory traditions and customs across Nigeria.
The Male Child and the Discrimination of Women:
Most traditions, consider a woman with a male child to be a better and higher woman. By this, a woman with a male child is offered rights to inherit her husband’s property. In most cases, women with male children are made to believe by custom, that their marriages are sealed and that their husbands cannot divorce them (this is deceitful, since same customs allow polygamy and very easy divorce). The above situation is clear expression of ignorance of human rights of women (Right against discrimination).
No woman needs a child to be entitle to any human rights or to be entitled to inherit property of her husband or father. Simply, no woman can be discriminated against by any person, by reason of her sex (for being a woman). Any tradition, custom, culture, religion, practise or ritual that says otherwise is contrary to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and as consequently, such tradition become nullified. The Supreme Court of Nigeria has long upheld this position in numerous cases over the years. Below is the clear words of the Supreme Court on this issue.
The Supreme Court and Women’s Right to Inherit Property:
The greatest of all courts in Nigeria is the Supreme Court of Nigeria. It is the apex court and has the final say on all issues brought to any court in Nigeria. The decisions of the Supreme Court bind all judges and courts in Nigeria. The learned justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria have in their judgments confirmed the powers of women to inherit the property of their husband, whether or not such women have children, male or female. The words of Justice Ogunbiyi of the Supreme Court of Nigeria on this issue are below.
“In other words, a custom of this nature in the 21st century societal setting will only tend to depict the absence of the realities of human civilization. It is punitive, uncivilized and only intended to protect the selfish perpetration of male dominance which is aimed at suppressing the right of the womenfolk in the given society. One would expect that the days of such obvious differential discrimination are over. Any culture that disinherits a daughter from her fanther’s estate or wife from her husband’s property by reason of God instituted gender differential should be punitively and decisively dealt with. The punishment should serve as a deterrent measure and ought to be meted out against the perpetrators of the culture and custom. For a widow of a man to be thrown out of her matrimonial home, where she had lived all her life with her late husband and children, by her late husband’s brothers on the ground that she had no male child, is indeed very barbaric, worrying and flesh skinning. It is indeed much more disturbing especially where the counsel representing such perpetrating clients, though learned, appear comfortable in identifying, endorsing and also approving of such a demeaning custom. In a similar circumstance as the case under consideration, this Court in Nzekwu V. Nzekwu (1989) 3 SCNJ page 167 held amongst others and ruled “that the plaintiff had the right of possession of her late husband’s property and no member of her husband’s family has the right to dispose of it or otherwise whilst one is still alive.” The impropriety of such a custom which militates against women particularly, widows, who are denied their inheritance, deserves to be condemned as being repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience. The repulsive nature of the challenged custom is heightened further in the case at hand where the widow of the deceased is sought to be deprived of the very building where her late husband was buried. The condemnation of the appellants’ act is in the circumstance without any hesitation or apology.” Per OGUNBIYI, J.S.C ( Pp. 36-37, paras. B-D), in the case of ANEKWE & ANOR v. NWEKE (2014) LPELR-22697(SC).
Offence of Denial of Inheritance:
In 2015, the National Assembly (Nigeria’s federal legislature) made the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015 to discourage violence against human beings in Nigeria and to severely punish offenders. The said law listed the denial/violation of the inheritance/succession rights of a widow as a harmful traditional practise and declared such harmful traditional practises as unlawful and criminal. The Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015 is popularly known as the VAPP ACT, it is operational in the Federal Capital Territory and many states across Nigeria, have adopted and enacted similar laws. So, there are now the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Law in many states across Nigeria.
Any denial or attempt to deny a widow (a woman that has lost her husband to death) of her rights to inherit any property of her husband is a crime. Aside being a family matter, it is now a criminal matter and should be reported to the law enforcement agencies. The violation and denial of the inheritance/succession rights of a widow punishable with maximum of 2 years imprisonment or and fine of N500,000.00. The punishments for attempting such offence or assisting and aiding such offence is a maximum of 1year imprisonment and or fine of #200,000.00.
Recommendation and Conclusion:
Men and women are equal in Nigeria, none is higher or lesser. What applies to women must apply to men. The constitution of Nigeria gives fundamental human rights to persons in Nigeria, irrespective of sex. The Constitution of Nigeria frowns against discrimination and no person should be treated lesser because of his/her sex.
Whether a woman or wife has a child or not, she has all powers and rights to inherit the property of her husband. Also, whether a man or husband has a child or not, he has all powers and rights to inherit the property of his wife. Any person, group, clergy or traditional ruler that says or does otherwise has violated the fundamental human rights of the victim and must be prosecuted, immediately. Any tradition, custom, religion or culture that says otherwise is unconstitutional and nullified. No culture, religion or tradition is higher or greater than the constitution of Nigeria. The victim of a violation of fundamental human rights, should approach a State High Court or the Federal High Court or the National Human Rights Commission for adequate remedies/compensation.
Kindly note that the law creating the above offence is operational in Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. Similar laws are now operational in Oyo, Ogun, Lagos, Osun, Ekiti, Edo, Anambra, Enugu, Ebonyi, Benue, Cross River, Kaduna, FCT, and Plateau states. Soon, more States will enact similar laws as we encourage states to do so and condemn violence. However, it is advised that the punishment stated in the VAPP Act be made to be minimum punishment instead of maximum punishment to avoid releasing offenders with mere slaps on wrists.
My authorities, are:
1. Sections 42 (1), 43 and 44 of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.
2. Sections 15, 47 and 48 of the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act, 2015 and similar laws across states in Nigeria.
3. Articles 2 and 13 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act
4. Articles 13, 15 and 16 of the Convention of Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
5. Judgment of the Supreme Court in the case of ANEKWE & ANOR v. NWEKE (2014) LPELR-22697(SC) and in the case of Nzekwu V. Nzekwu (1989) 3 SCNJ page 167
6. Judgment of the Court of Appeal in the case of UGBENE v. UGBENE & ORS (2016) LPELR-42110(CA)
7. Judgment of the Court of Appeal in the case of MOJEKWU v. MOJEKWU (1997) LPELR-13777(CA)
8. Judgment of the Court of Appeal in the case of AMUSAN & ANOR v. OLAWUNI (2001) LPELR-6976(CA)
9. Judgment of the Court of Appeal in the case of OKAFOR v. ISITORH & ANOR (2015) LPELR-25892(CA)
10. “The Women’s Rights Movement, 1848–1920” (History, Art & Archives, United States House of Representatives)
11. Gretchen Gavett, “What Research Tells Us About How Women Are Treated at Work” (Harvard Business Review, 27 December 2017)
12. Onyekachi Umah, “Women Have Equal Rights To Own/Inherit Any Property In Any Part Of Nigeria Irrespective Of Culture/Religion”, (Daily Law Tips [Tips 521])
13. “25% of women report discrimination, unfair treatment at work”, Noria Corporation (Reliable Plant)
14. “Women’s Rights in Nigeria: What’s Holding Nigeria’s Women Back?” (World Politics Review, 3 January 2017)
15. Onyekachi Umah, “Approval For Marriage Of Female Officers/Staff Is Unconstitutional and Discriminatory” (Daily Law Tips [Tips 660])
16. Leone Usigbe, “Nigerian Women Say ‘No’ To Gender-Based Violence” (United Nations)
17. “Human Rights Situation in Nigeria and Women’s Rights Concerns in Mauritania: Submission to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights” (Human Rights Watch, 27 April 2018)
18. Onyekachi Umah, “Abolished Anti-Women Custom of Onitsha People of Anambra State, Nigeria” (Daily Law Tips [Tips 522])
19. Judge Vanessa Ruiz, “The Role of Women Judges and a Gender Perspective in Ensuring Judicial Independence and Integrity” (UNODC)
20. Onyekachi Umah, “Citizen By Marriage Is Discriminatory and Against Nigerian Women” (Daily Law Tips [Tips 653])
21. Onyekachi Umah, “Abolished Anti-Women Custom of Yoruba People of Nigeria” (Daily Law Tips [Tips 653])
22. Aderemi Ojekunle, “It’s Not Freedom For Women in Nigeria as 23 States Hold Back Signing on the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act”, (Dataphyte, 15 June 2020)
23. Onyekachi Umah, “Can a Married Woman Inherit Her Parents’ Property?” (Daily Law Tips [Tips 535])
24. Onyekachi Umah, Denial of Inheritance Rights Is A Crime In Nigeria (Daily Law Tips )
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