A Cry For Gender Equality In The Determination Of Family Property

By Henry Uduak John INTRODUCTION Gender equality, also known as sexual equality is the state of equal ease of access to resources and opportunitie

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By Henry Uduak John

Gender equality, also known as sexual equality is the state of equal ease of access to resources and opportunities regardless of gender including economic participation and decision-making; and the state of valuing different behaviour aspiration and needs equally, regardless of gender.

Gender equality, equality between men and women entails the concept that all human beings both men and women are free to develop their personal abilities and make choices without the limitation set by stereotype, rigid gender roles and prejudices. Gender equality means that the different behaviour, aspirations and needs of women and men are considered, valued and favoured equally. It doesn’t mean that women and men have to become the same but that their rights responsibilities will not depend on whether they are born male or female. Gender equality means fairness of treatment for women and men according to their respective needs. (ILO, 2000 pg 48).

Women’s right are the right and entitlement claimed for women and goals worldwide and it’s from the basis for the women’s right movement in the 19th century and feminist movement during the 20th century. In some countries these rights are institutionalized or supported by law, local custom and behavaiour, whereas in others they are ignored and suppressed, women in most societies especially in the Nigeria states are being denied some of the legal and political rights accorded to them. Women’s right guarantee that women will not face discrimination on the basis of their sex. In some Nigerian states cultural beliefs allow women only limited roles in the society, people even up till date are of the belief that women’s natural roles are as mothers and wives, they also believe women to be better suited for child bearing and home-making rather than for involvement in the public life, business or political activities.

Women’s right includes the following:
 The right to bodily integrity
 Right to vote
 Right to enter into legal contract
 Equal right in the family
 Right to own property
 Right to education

For the purpose of this piece, I shall only narrow myself to the Right of Women to own property.
No part of family ownership of land has generated controversy, obfuscation and Miasma like the patrimonial right of women. The term family for the purpose of family ownership of property is restrictive and narrow. In the decided case of Coker V coker. The court defined family to refer to the children of a man that will inherit his property after his death. This definition excludes the widow of the late man. Also in Ezekwe V Onyema, family property was defined by the court of appeal as property which devolves from father to children and grandchildren under native law and custom.The definition given above about family for the purpose of inheritance exclude widows, it only recognized only male children that will inherit his property after death. The rule stopping women from inheriting appears stronger and rigid in certain sections of the country. The court in Chinweze V Mazi held that the interest of a wife in the property of their deceased husband is basically a life interest. In Nnezeanya V. Okagbue, the court held that although widows are normally given living apartment, they couldn’t as a rule inherit their husband’s land. This rule appears ubiquitous in various communities in Nigeria. While in most parts of Nigeria, the children of the founder succeeds the founder if he died intestate (without a will) in a community in Benue state, Otukpo to be precise, a man’s brother succeed him upon his death, while the wife is an object of inheritance by the brother too. In some of the societies, not only the widows are discriminated against, the daughters are discriminated also. They could only aspire to the position of principal members as they often times told bluntly that they can never be heads of families.

Under the Yoruba customary law system, a widow has no right of inheritance in her husband’s property Sogumo Davis v Sogumo. A woman is described as chattel to be inherited by relations of her deceased husband and for this reason she cannot inherit her husband’s property. In Akinnubi V Akinnubi, the Supreme Court restated this age long rule as follows:
“It is a well settle rule of native law and custom of Yoruba customary law, a widow under an intestacy is regarded as part of the estate of her deceased husband to be administered or inherited by the deceased’s family…..
Under the Ibo customary law, widows can only occupy their deceased husband’s property subject to the family approval and her good behaviour. In Akwa Ibom state, women do not inherit and even the female children of the deceased are being denied of family property.
In the case of Mojekwu V Mojekwu, the subject matter of dispute was a property acquired by Kola tenancy by the deceased. Okechukwu Mojekwu, who is survived by his wife and two daughters, the only son of the late brother now seeks to acquire that property and exercise such rights as the owner of the property against the widow and surviving children of the deceased. He claimed this according to the Nnewi custom, the first son of the late brother, in the absence of any male child by the deceased, the court of first instance obliged him. At the court of appeal, Niki Tobi, His Lordship as he then was, Delivering has judgment in that case has this to say about such custom.
“Is such a custom consistent with equity and fair play in an egalitarian society such as ours, where the civilized sociology does not discriminate against women? Day after Day, month after month and year after year, we hear of and read about customs which discriminate against the women folk in this country. They are regarded as inferior to the men folk, why should it be so? All human beings, male and female are born into a free world and are expected to participate freely without any inhibition on grounds of sex apart from being unconstitutional is antithesis to society built on tenant of democracy which we have freely chosen as a people. We need not, travel all the way to Beijing to know that some of our customs including the Nnewi Olu Ekpe custom relied upon by the appellant are not consistent with our civilized world which we live today including the appellant. In my humble view, it is the monopoly of God to determine the sex of a boy and not the parent”.

No doubt this judgment was and is water shed in the annals of family ownership, of land in Nigeria, but the truest reality is that there abound some communities who still practice these barbaric customs of discriminating women in property inheriting. An example is my mother and sister, in the alienation, partitioning of their family property, my mother lost out from her father’s property and also lost out from her late husband’s property, my sister was not accorded any share of the fathers property which still aliens to the barbaric practice of side lining women in inheriting family property.

Accounting for this, is the fact that family property is not to be given out from the family or better still sold out. This practice is in conflict with our constitution and decisions of court. It is also repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience. This practice is in conflict with section 42 (1) and (2) of the 1999 constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria, which section provides that
“A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not by reason only that he is such a person.
(a) Be subjected either expressly by or in the practical application of any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative actions of government to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria other communities, ethics groups, places of origin, sex, religious or political opinions are not made subject; or

(b) Be accorded either expressly by, or in the practical application of any law in force in Nigeria or any such executive or administrative action, any privilege or advantage that is not accorded to citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethics group, places of origin or political opinions.

Gender equality which entails that all human beings both men and women be given equal treatment should be the practice of all Nigerian Society irrespective of the culture. Universal declaration of human right of 1948 promotes Gender equality, our constitution which is our ground norm provides for Gender equality.
Women should be accorded the rights to inherit property from their father, grandfather and husband. These will place a sense of equality in our society to do otherwise is to spite on our constitution and even the international laws.


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Published for the Gender and Accountability Project