I had to give time to enable me carefully address this issue. The unresolved issues of succession in Nigeria.
It is one that is not palatable to me even as I feel it. Although, I may not be directly affected, I am sitting on a wit end to prop up legal sentiments for victims undergoing the plights of gender bully in the execution or administration of a testament.
Succession in customary law has not filled the aperture of gender inequality in Nigeria. It has not in the littlest of ways caved in the widening gulf between the testamentary instruments of the deceased with a view to giving proper interpretation to it when repugnant to natural justice, and the laws governing wills and succession.
Overtime, the principle of primogeniture has been the basis ofvsuccession in most ethnic groups save for the Yorubas and other exiguous and not too prominent ethnic groups. From the whole Calabar area, the Binis, Igbos and a host other ethnic groups, the inheritance of a deceased property has always been by the eldest son.
Although to some extent the Yoruba customary law have subscribed to marginalizing the widow of a deceased, their mode of inheritance has always been that of the eldest surviving child, be it a male or female.
In the light of the decision reached by the court in AKINNUBI V. AKINNUBI, ‘that a widow under intestacy is regarded as part of the estate of her deceased husband to be administered or inherited by the deceased family’, I cannot but wonder whether any custom in Nigeria really stands absolved of any form of gender brutality. In other words it is itching to the ears and a provocative joke for a court to term a living soul a chattel, a property to inherit as its fellow property.
This judgment is in its context repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience. It is as well contrary to public policy. By virtue of Section 18 of the Evidence Act (2011), such a custom should not be enforced by a court of law let alone being upheld as judgment.
Furthermore, it is contrary to Section 42(2) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The said section provides the right to freedom from discrimination. Lest I forget, It is interdict to make such reference of a human precisely the feminine gender as a property, as such utterance is offensive and a defamation of person even though same was issued by persons supposedly to be custodians of the law.
It is sheer pity that our Nigerian system with learned knights as judges still bind round their necks manacles of repugnant customary ties. It is disheartening that the courts are comfortable in delivering a sidelined and inequitable judgment in favour of a custom that bequeaths no substantial benefit to a widow but diminishes her from a reasonable human with will and capacity, to a subjected “property” devolving on a successor. Is this not barbaric?
Exacerbatingly, the Supreme Court has sheepishly held in SUBERU V. SUMONU that; “It is a well settled rule of law of the native law and customs of the Yoruba people that a wife is not entitled to inheritance since she herself is a chattel to be inherited.”
If the Supreme Court had employed judicial activism and equity and put up searching questions such as, what is the reason(s) for the restriction of inheritance by a woman? Is such custom still in tandem with the drums of civilization, human rights, gender equality that the world is now dancing to? If such questions are raised suo motu, I am certain that this noisome native laws and customs of the Yorubas and its affiliates will be far from settled rule of law. These laws should be overturned by judicial precedence as was declared in line with the judicial authority of MOJEKWU V. MOJEKWU where the court judiciously and happily held that the Ibo customary law which forbids a daughter from inheriting her father’s property is unconstitutional based on unreasonable discrimination. Such embargo placed on inheritance should be lifted as regarding widows.
Specifically, rather than being subjugated to administration by a fellow human which our beloved citadel of justice wore a mask to, in line with their previous decisions that it is impossible for a property (widow) to inherit its fellow property. How practically possible is it for a human to inherit its fellow human?
A woman or widow should be an executrix or administratrix as the case may be to the estate of her deceased husband especially for thebbenefit of her infant children. This may not be to the complete exclusion of the deceased family, they could be co-administrators.
With this, equity would be said to have played fairly.
Written by PEACE OGIE.