REVISITING THE DECISION OF THE SUPREME COURT CASE OF UKEJE V UKEJE VIS A VIZ IGBO CUSTOMARY LAW

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ABSTRACT

This research study borders on examining the discriminations that women in Igboland face as regards the acquisition of property and inheritance of same upon death of their husband or father. It is a settled fact that women would grievously suffer from various inequalities and discrimination. So the Supreme Court in the case of ukeje v ukeje held that any customary law which says or tends to suggest that a female child cannot inherit the property of her father is not only unconstitutional but also null and void. In an attempt to identify the problems of gender discrimination of women’s right to inheritance under Igbo customary law are due to some factors which include non-codification of customary laws, illiteracy, limitating  the right of women in and out of marriage due to obnoxious custom. The research is an attempt to identify those laws that discriminate against women from inheritance within the Igbo customary law which the law intends to wipe our through effective and legal means. This will be done by a critical analysis of the celebrated case of ukeje v ukeje and other legislative enactments and Judicial decisions, information gathered from researches and authors. The findings are that with the recent judicial decisions and our legislations, these obnoxious custom can be scrapped out entirely in Igboland. In achieving this, the researcher adopted doctrinal and approach. It relies on primary and secondary sources of gathering material l. Therefore, This work recommend the need for free legal services and advice as regards property rights should be made available to women in Anambra State to enable them protect and enforce their property rights. This could be achieved by targeting strategic places like churches, markets and rural areas which have large population of women who are not educated. Also there is need for improvement and enforcement of our laws on women’s right to inheritance. Recommendations are made and if followed will help liberate women from the shackles of property rights deprivation.

CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

  1. Background of the Study

Inheritance is defined as “hereditary succession to a Property, title, office, e.t.c. a continual right to an estate Invested in a person and his or her heirs”1.The meaning of succession is however defined as “the legal transmission of an estate, throne from one person to another, that to which a person succeed as heirs”, in other words Succession is the transmission of rights and obligations of a deceased person in respect of his estate2. From these definitions ,it can be said that in an ordinary sense that ,inheritance means the passage of a deceased possessions to his or her heirs, while succession is the transfer or passage of a deceased possessions to another person, not necessarily his or her heirs. Conclusively it can be said that there is little or no difference in the two words, therefore the two words will be used interchangeably in the course of this work.    

To inherit means to come into possession by transmission from past generations3 or to receive especially as a right. Inheritance in legal parlance therefore is the entry of a living person or living persons into possession of a dead person’s property4. Over time inheritance has come to mean anything received from the estate of a person who has died, whether by the laws of descent5

One of the incidents of father-child rela- tionship in Nigeria is the right of the child to inherit the property of the father, on the death of the father. Where the deceased has more than a child, the children are entitled to inherit his property on his death. The sex of a child is immaterial, so that in inheritance, females have the right just as the males, to inherit in and partake of the estate of their late father.

The right of inheritance is also available to children born out of wedlock, but for that right to ensure, the paternity of such children must have been acknowledged by the intestate.

A critical review of the right of in- heritance of children born out of wedlock has shown that today, children who can prove that the intestate was their biological father can partake of the estate of such intestate. Interestingly, judicial authorities on proof of paternity in order to be entitled to inheritance have revealed that any minimal proof is sufficient. Additionally, establishing paternity is now statutory in Nigeria.

The objective of this work is to critically review these judicial authorities and the statutory provision. The relevance of this work is to show that in Nigeria, the right of a child born out of wedlock to inherit from the intestate of the deceased biological father ensures not only when the paternity of the child has been acknowledged by the deceased but on proof that the child was the biological child of the deceased.

This work analyses the supreme court judgment in Ukeje v Ukeje in which the apex court in Nigeria ruled that the Igbo customary law in the south east Nigeria that disentitles a woman from benefiting in his late father’s estate is not only repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience but discriminatory and contrary to S. 42(2) of the 1999 constitution and its implications for the protection of women’s rights in Nigeria. Although customary law and practice is a major source of Nigerian law, its patriarchal nature has remained in conflict with the women’s right to property in Igbo land and Nigeria in general. This is so, despite the constitutional provisions on non- discrimination, National policy on Gender Equality and Equity and the international human rights laws. Nigeria has over two hundred and fifty (250) ethnic groups and a huge number of customary laws. The distribution of a deceased estate under customary law is based on the customary doctrines of inheritance and succession of property anchored either paternal or maternal lines. When a deceased dies intestate, his personal customary governs the distribution of his property no matter where the property is situated or where the death happened. This work aims at critically analyzing the problems generated as a result of discriminations on women’s rights to property inheritance under customary laws of the Igbo in Nigeria with emphasis with the victorious judgment in Ukeje v Ukeje and its effects on the rights of women to property in Nigeria. The work explores the legal and policy framework upon which the protection of women’s right is anchored. The nature of Igbo customary law in Nigeria, the progression of Ukeje’s case from High Court, Appeal Court to Supreme Court and the impact of the case on judicial protection of women’s right to property in Nigeria.

REVISITING THE DECISION OF THE SUPREME COURT CASE OF UKEJE V UKEJE VIS A VIZ IGBO CUSTOMARY LAW