appraisal of the inheritance rights of women in Nigeria under the Act and the various customs in Nigeria




1.1 Background to the Study

The term right refers to the freedom and liberties of human beings to live with dignity. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights[1]. Women‘s right as a term refers to the freedoms inherently possessed by women and girls of all ages, which may be institutionalized, ignored or illicitly suppressed by law, custom and behavior in a particular society[2] . These liberties are grouped together and differentiated from broader notions of human rights because they often differ from the freedoms inherently possessed by or recognized for the male folk. Although the activism surrounding this issue claims an inherent historical and traditional prejudice against the exercise of rights by women, but nonetheless, the emergence of municipal, regional and international laws over time have indeed relegated this claim.

Women   rights   are   protected   under   a   wide   range   of   international   and   regional   instruments including   declaration   and   covenants.   Human   rights   declarations   represent   a   commitment   by signatory countries to meet stated human rights standards. Covenants, also known as treaties or conventions, are international law agreements entered into by governments. Once covenants or treaties are ratified they become part of domestic law[3]

The patterns of inheritance and succession,[4]particularly under intestate estate under customary law in Nigeria, have almost as many variations as there are ethnic groups in the country, and many of the variations are discriminatory in practice. The law of succession and inheritance reflects Nigeria’s plural legal system. Indigenous customary law developed rules of inheritance for intestacy through the traditional canon of descent, as adapted over the years to changes in the society and the rule of natural justice as applied by the courts. Fortunately, nongovernmental organizations have been active in attempting to rectify the problems of discrimination.

Suffix to say that  in  Yoruba land for instances, the distribution of an estate of a deceased person who dies without a valid Will is per stripe; i.e. by the number of wives that the deceased had and not by the number of children[5].  Similarly, in the southern part of Nigerian like Calabar in Crosss River state, the eldest surviving male member of the deceased person succeeds as the head of the family and inherits the deceased estate. Also among the Fulani, the eldest son inherits his deceased father’s cattle, the main asset in those days, out of which he makes presents of some of them to his younger brothers according to their needs. Finally under the Bini custom, the right to succession of the entire estate belongs exclusively to the eldest son of a deceased person who acts as a sort of trustee for the other children[6].

It is against this backdrop that the present study seeks to investigate an appraisal of the inheritance rights of women in Nigeria under the Act and the various customs in Nigeria

[1] Article 1, Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly (1948)

[2] Women‟s right, definition in Webster’s New World College Dictionary,4th Edition, Wiley Publishing, Inc., Cleveland, Ohio, 2010 on <>, Accessed on the 15th August, 2014. Used by arrangement with John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

[3] 6 Ogugua V.C. I., Op.cit at 84

[4] 2 See T.O. Elias: Nigerian Land Law (1971) 4 th edn., Sweet & Maxwell London, chapter 8

[5] Onuoha R.A., “Discriminatory Property Inheritance Under Customary Law in Nigeria: NGOs to the Rescue” The International Journal of Not-for-Profit Law, (2008), Vol.10, Issue 2

[6] Okeaya-Inneh K.S., Benin Native law and Custom at a Glance, (Benin City: Gift-prints Associate; 2007)