In some parts of Igbo-land, a wife has a right to reside in her husband’s house as long as she remains the wife, a right that terminates as soon as her husband dies. Her only saving grace, however, becomes her male children who have an inalienable right to reside in and make claims over her husband’s property. If she doesn’t have a male child, technically she becomes homeless for the rest of her lifetime, unless she is ready to be inherited by her husband’s younger brother who, in turn, becomes her new husband and therefore retains her rights by co-habiting with her.
In Igbo culture also women are not entitled to inherit land from their father’s side. But among the Yoruba’s, it is the opposite. In Igbo culture also, a woman cannot be the family head no matter her seniority level in the family or academic attainment. Even when the estate left behind has some money, it is inherited by all his sons to the exclusion of his daughters. If the deceased had no sons, then his eldest brother would inherit his property. The only means by which a female child can inherit her father’s property in the absence of a male child in Igbo culture, however, is to remain in the family with the hope of bearing a male child who becomes an heir. And no family prays for such a situation!
In some parts of Northern Nigeria, women’s right of inheritance is assured and the share they are to have in the property is predetermined. If a man dies without will or wish, his widow is entitled to only a quarter of the estate. But if there are children or grand- children, her share will be reduced to one-eight. Where the marriage is polygamous, the wives share the one-quarter or one eight equally among them.
Discriminatory provisions in indigenous laws and customs especially regarding inheritance by women have brought a lot of physical, emotional and psychological problems. It is said that a healthy life involves a sound functioning of mind and body.
Most women in Nigeria, especially of the Igbo stock, do not enjoy this condition due to dispossession and oppression involved. This feeling of ‘I’m a second class citizen’ hunts them for life and they move about with the psyche weighing them down. They feel inferior, deprived and downcast. Most women die because they don’t have a male child and some of them develop psychological problems that may lead to premature death.
Since all human beings are born free without any inhibitions on grounds of sex, as stipulated in the constitution, any form of discrimination is antithetic to a civil society built on tenets of democracy, a system Nigerians have freely chose as a people. Women should learn to take matters that concern them to the courts, and refuse any kind of pressure to withdraw matters from the court for adjudication at home. This is because any kind of adjudication out of court would be according to the ‘omenela’, the same institution that has subjugated them for centuries in the name of custom and tradition, using the dictates of the Elders and the Umuada.
Women should seek for a discrimination-free revolution in matters concerning them. The spirit of the new bloodless revolution initiatives for women emancipation should be for them to take matters concerning them to courts of justice anywhere in the affected areas.
BY LOVETH EZEUGWU