On property rights for the Igbo woman


Congratulations and commendations are in order. Congratulations to the daughters, sisters, and wives of Abia State, to wit, Igbo land, for the Abia State “The Female Persons’ Right of Inheritance of Property Law 2022. Commendations to Governor Okezie Ikpeazu and the Abia State House of Assembly for their courage and sense of duty. Ikpeazu assented on November 29 2022.

Caveat emptor. The law is merely a wake-up call. Women and the men who support them would have to gird their loins for the battle ahead for its implementation. It promises to be tough. However, it should not be too difficult given the skillsets of the female gender, including guile, stooping to conquer and the support of an enlightened society. Their forebears led the Aba Women’s Riots against fiscal injustice!

The Abia Women’s Right to Property legislation builds on the Supreme Court’s judgement in Ukeje versus Ukeje. On April 14, 2014, the Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, confirmed the findings of two lower courts, which had found unconstitutional an Igbo customary law of succession excluding female offspring from eligibility to inherit the property of their fathers.

I wrote a slight note of appreciation for the Abia law in a post on Facebook. I got an inbox message from my friend to whom I assigned the name Daniel Ekwekwe for this essay. My friend is highly educated; he justifies the previous disinheritance of women to family property on the need to sustain marriage! I’m sharing our conversation below.

Ekwekwe: Good afternoon, sir. I am one of those who need to be educated on how the law on female inheritance will become operational in Igboland. I will group the properties owned by the Igbo into two categories for easy analysis. Properties outside the village and within the village. The first category could be anywhere – Aba, Abuja, London etc. I am not sure a law is required to direct a man on how to redistribute his property at his death when his will acts as the supreme allocator under the law. Then, that leaves us with the properties in the village. Are those included? How will the daughter married to a husband in Akure, Okene, Orlu, or Ibusa return home to share land/house with her brothers and their wives/children? Let’s assume she gets a house or room at her wealthy father’s big compound. How does she appropriate her right to ownership? Will she return home to inherit the property, rent or lease the village house? How about the inheritance? Would her children, for an Akure, Okene, Orlu or Ibusa man, follow her to Abia to inherit the property from their maternal grandfather?

Nwakanma: Are you seriously asking or playing defence for the dying order? The answer is yes; she will inherit just as others inherit.

Significantly, it would compel changes in the culture. It is as simple as how our people decided it was okay for females to join their brothers in getting western education. It then conferred an advantage on such women.

Ekwekwe: I do not see the correlation between western education and property rights discussed here. No, I don’t. I think someone who hasn’t considered all the dimensions wants the Igbo to achieve parity with the Yoruba and Hausa on how property is shared in the family without first understanding the religious, legal, and moral underpinnings of their inheritance tradition.

Not justifying discrimination against any group or gender, the Igbo have different interpretations and ground rules on marriage from the Hausa and Yoruba. Among the latter, polygamy and divorce are acceptable norms and count in consideration for the distribution of property. It’s not uncommon for Yoruba and Hausa’s daughters to remarry several times. For them, marriage is an open system; their daughters go in and come out at will. That informs the wisdom in arming them with property for stability when the expected turbulence comes. Yoruba and Hausa families even buy ALL the furniture and household items their daughter takes to her husband’s home, from beds to buckets to brooms. She leaves with her entire collection when she’s divorced. Marriage is an entirely different legal and moral perspective among the Igbo. It is a final rite of passage, with no exit point or return possibility. The daughter is sent off to help her husband build a prosperous home, and she sits with him on the throne to manage the wealth (which they created together). One man, one wife. That’s the concept of osodiachi. Are the Igbo now trading marital stability for property justice, considering that under these circumstances, both systems are mutually exclusive?

Nwakanma: How can you justify the injustice against our daughters on the altar of assumed marital stability? How? You argue that the fact of denying women property rights compels them to stay in marriages no matter how lousy, and it is okay?

Ekwekwe: Igbo daughters are not “denied” property rights. That’s the deliberate and convenient misinterpretation fuelling this revisionist agitation. The properties belong to her mother. Her mother motivated her father to build wealth. What they owe her and her sisters is a good upbringing, good education and helping her find her own man with whom she goes to create their wealth and properties. We are rewriting the motivational DNA that has powered the Igbo spirit. Replacing it with nothing better than a rentier culture of entitlement and demotivation

Nwakanma: You are writing fiction in defence of something vile.

The above indicates that many justifiers of the old order would fight the new one. They will manufacture myriad reasons.

Daniel Ekwekwe is one of the justifiers and defendants. The defence fails to consider other areas. Does it mean that a woman of marriage age seizes to be a part of her father’s family? What if she does not marry? Does she become a bat? Or what if she marries and the marriage ends? She loses at both ends.

Experts say, “There are four property rights (bundle of rights)defining an owner’s right. These are i. The right to use it, ii. The right to earn income from it iii. The right to transfer, alter, abandon, or even destroy it and iv. The right to enforcement of these rights. – Hon Justice Jubril Idrissu (2021)

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The Constitution of Nigeria 1999 as amended protects rights under its section 43 thus: “Subject to the provisions of the Constitution, every citizen of Nigeria shall have the right to acquire and own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria”.

Court records do not support the specious argument of my friend about the Yoruba. However, it is a belief many Igbo commonly hold. “In the case of SUBERU Vs JIBOWU (1957) SCNLR 45, The Court held that: “it is a well-settled rule of native law and custom of the Yoruba people that a wife could not inherit her husband’s property since she is like a chattel to be inherited by a relation of her late husband”.

It took long battles in and out of court for the Yoruba to treat their daughters better.

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The Women’s Right to Inheritance Law may compel another look at the principle of primogeniture and its application. It is obnoxious, and I say so as an assumed beneficiary as an Okpara. The application has been terrible.

Igaramba Amaghinwanne inherited the family house as the first son. Nature favoured him once upon a time, and he came into huge money as payment for an injustice he suffered. He came home, refurbished, modernised the family house and drove away his siblings. Yes, he prevented them from further access to the house. It applied to his two brothers and four sisters. His unmarried sisters cannot come home or do so only if they have someplace to squat. This fellow sends out Christian motivational messages regularly!

He denied his siblings the luxury of childhood reminiscences in their father’s house. They cannot move into the compound and recall their early days with father and mother or remember scenes in paeticular corners of the house. He appropriated it all.

Amaghinwanne and several Igbo who lean on Mosaic laws and customs ignore the injunctions on the first born to ensure fairness and justice or the case of Zelophehad’s daughters in Numbers 27. (NKJV)

27 Then came the daughters of Zelophehad, the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, from the families of Manasseh, the son of Joseph. These were the names of his daughters: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. And they stood before Moses, before Eleazar the priest, and before the leaders and all the congregation, by the doorway of the tabernacle of meeting, saying: “Our father died in the wilderness; but he was not in the company of those who gathered together against the Lord, in company with Korah, but he died in his sin, and he had no sons. Why should the name of our father be removed 1from his family because he had no son? Give us a 2possession among our father’s brothers.”

So Moses brought their case before the Lord.

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “The daughters of Zelophehad speak what is right; you shall surely give them a possession of inheritance among their father’s brothers, and cause the inheritance of their father to pass to them. And you shall speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘If a man dies and has no son, then you shall cause his inheritance to pass to his daughter. If he has no daughter, then you shall give his inheritance to his brothers. 10 If he has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to his father’s brothers. 11 And if his father has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to the relative closest to him in his family, and he shall possess it.’  And it shall be a statute of judgment to the children of Israel, just as the Lord commanded Moses.”

It is hard to believe that our people never read this portion of the Holy Book. Makes you agree that sheer masculine greed underlines many nwanyi emela (forbidden to women) strictures such as how tradition says they should not eat gizards! Laughable but sad.

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