The Supreme Court, on Wednesday, August 19, ended a long-held Igbo custom; that forbids women from inheriting their late father’s estate; on the grounds that it is discriminatory and conflicts with the provision of the constitution.
According to the ruling, the practice conflicted with section 42(1)(a) and (2) of the 1999 Constitution.
The judgment was on the appeal marked: SC.224/2004 filed by Mrs. Lois Chituru Ukeje; (wife of the late Lazarus Ogbonna Ukeje) and their son; Enyinnaya Lazarus Ukeje against Mrs. Cladys Ada Ukeje (the deceased’s daughter).
Cladys had sued the deceased’s wife and son before the Lagos High Court; claiming to be one of the deceased’s children and sought to be included among those to administer their deceased’s father’s estate.
Consequently, in the course of the trial, the court discovered that she was a daughter to the deceased; and qualified to benefit from the estate of their father who died in Lagos in 1981.
Thereafter, the Court of Appeal, Lagos to which Mrs. Lois Ukeje and Enyinnaya Ukeje appealed, upheld the decision of the trial court, prompting them to appeal to the Supreme Court.
In its judgment, the Supreme Court held that the Court of Appeal, Lagos was right to have voided the Igbo’s native law and custom that disinherit female children.
Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour, who read the lead judgment, held that “no matter the circumstances of the birth of a female child; such a child is entitled to an inheritance from her late father’s estate.
“Consequently, the Igbo customary law, which disentitles a female child from partaking in the sharing of her deceased father’s estate is a breach of Section 42(1) and (2) of the Constitution; a fundamental rights provision guaranteed to every Nigerian.
“The said discriminatory customary law is void as it conflicts with Section 42(1) and (2) of the Constitution.
“In the light of all that I have been saying, the appeal is dismissed. In the spirit of reconciliation, parties to bear their own costs,” Justice Rhodes-Vivour said.
The landmark ruling is bound to come as succour to many, who have frowned at the age-long practice.