Women in Eleme Local Govern-ment Area of Rivers State have protested the culture of denying women the right to inherit family property.
The women raised their voice at a one-day programme on Story Telling on Women Inheritance held at St. Stephen’s Anglican Church, Alode, Eleme last Tuesday.
The programme was organized by Mba Okase Initiative Eleme and supported by Kebetkache Women Development and Resource Centre.
Leader of Mba Okase Initiative, Eleme, Dr. Patience Osaroejiji, said, “Eleme culture and traditions have had no place for girls and women with regards to inheritance of land and houses, either from their father’s side or their husband’s side. This has resulted to so much suffering and has created poverty amongst us as women.”
She said this state of affairs has crippled women materially and has made it impossible for women to pursue their economic, social and political aspirations successfully, adding that women who dared to sponsor themselves in political and economic ventures, were stigmatized and branded as irresponsible.
Apart from inheritance rights denial, women are not included in leadership and decision making organs of the communities such as the community development committees, youth leadership and the council of chiefs.
“The only place our daughters are functioning in families is to get married and be the ones to care for those who deny them their rights,” she added.
Dr. Osaroejiji said that even these days when communities share land compensation monies, Eleme women are not counted among those to benefit.
“They remember them when mummy or daddy is ill or any problem hits the family. During the sharing of father’s property, she is not in the picture. They only give her two yards of George wrapper,” she stated.
She however, thanked the Rivers State House of Assembly and the governor of Rivers State, Chief Nyesom Wike, for enacting the Women Inheritance Law, which entitles women to share in their father’s properties.
Dr. Osaroejiji urged women to take advantage of the law and seek court protection of their rights in the share of their parents’ property.
Land in Eleme culture can only be owned by men, who may lease out to women for farming purposes. Several years ago, when the host communities of Indorama Eleme Petrochemicals Limited started receiving dividends on their equity shares in the company, communities like Akpakpan, Njuru and Okerewa paid male children higher dividends than the female children. Daughters of the communities that had married out were not considered to benefit from the dividends because the communities said they now belong to their husbands’ communities.
A community like Okerewa did not pay the dividends to their daughters married outside or to their daughters who had returned home after they were divorced from their husbands. It was not until 2022 that a new leadership in the community reviewed that. But they only paid a fixed amount of money to their daughters that were married out and the ones that had returned home after they secured divorce from their husbands.
However after sustained protests from women and civil society groups, the discrimination against women in the payment of dividends and land compensations have been between male and female members of the communities have been dropped. But many families still discriminate against women in the sharing of proceeds from the sale of land. The argument is that land is always held in trust by the male descendants as the females would marry and move out.
However despite being denied material benefits and inheritance rights in their fathers’ families, women are burdened with heavy responsibilities in their fathers’ homes.
The first daughters play major roles in the burial of their fathers, which require spending a lot of money to entertain guests and feed the community and religious organisations that their fathers belonged to. They are also the first people to contact, when family members need personal care, and when their fathers’ families are embroiled in conflicts.
This point was buttressed by Chief Mrs. Mercy Edee, a midwife from Okerewa Community, who revealed that women who were married out of their communities were denied the dividends paid to the community from the Indorama Eleme Petrochemicals equity shares.
“We went and bought big drinks and wine and gave to the chiefs. They drank and went away. They said we should go, that we belong to our husbands, but, as the Lord would have it, those who are on the seat now later called us and compensated us with N50,000 each. Those whose marriages did not favour and came back home, they gave themN100,000 each,” she said.
“Pray that government should look into this matter because it is paining us badly,” Chief Edee added.
Also speaking, the female traditional ruler of Alode, Madam Mercy Nnenna Onungwe, appealed to the state and local governments to come to the aid of Eleme women by ensuring that they got their rights of inheritance whether in the father’s homes or their husbands’ home.
In a message he sent to the programme, the chairman of Eleme Local Government, Chief Obarilomate Ollor, said the local government was following after the footsteps of the Rivers State governor and was already including women in strategic appointments in his government.
The chairman, who was represented by Hon. Lawrence Osarobe, said women had the right to share in the properties left behind by their fathers.
The monitoring and evaluation officer of Kebetkache, Mr. Jacob Iniodu, urged the women to get conversant with the Violence Against Women law and the Prohibition of Curtailment of Women’s Rights Act and assert their rights under the laws.
Highlight of the programme were two drama presentations that depicted how the Eleme woman is denied her rights in the family, property inheritance despite her contributions to the stability and progress of the family.