Nigeria inheritance: ‘My brothers took everything when my father died’
Women are still routinely being cut out of their parents’ inheritance in parts of south-eastern Nigeria, despite a Supreme Court ruling that it is discriminatory.
After Onyinye Igwe lost her father two years ago, life became financially difficult for her even though he was a relatively wealthy man, leaving behind houses, land and money in the bank.
Her father, like most men in this conservative country who are superstitious about writing a will, died intestate so the duty of sharing out his estate fell to his children.
Despite being the first child, Ms Igwe, 29, and her five other sisters received nothing – everything went to the three men in the family as is the custom among the Igbo people.
“The men [her brothers] claimed all that our father had.
“They told us [women] that we are going to get married into another person’s home so we don’t have to inherit anything from our father. Because that’s the tradition, we didn’t fight with them,” she told the BBC.
As a result, she could no longer afford to go to university and now runs a small business selling cooked noodles in Abagana town in south-eastern Anambra state.
‘Here the men take it all’
Not far from where she lives I met Evelyn Onyenokwalu, the first child in a family of four.
When her father died, her only brother – the last child in the family – inherited the father’s entire estate, including the family house.
“So many people got involved before my brother gave me one room [in the family house] and he said I should not be locking the door.
“There was a time I was broke because my brother rented some of the rooms and did not give me a share from it,” she said.
Her brother, Oscar Nonso, a musician who now runs a poultry business in the compound he inherited, said he had done nothing wrong and had only followed the tradition of his people.
“Here the men take it all, they give to their women whatever they wish,” he said.
“This fighting for inheritance in your father’s house is just like fighting for [a] double portion, because when you [women] get from your father’s house, definitely you will get from your husband’s house,” he said.
‘You’re saying girls do not belong’
The Nigerian constitution prohibits such gender-based discrimination but many Igbo people still stick to their traditions.
In most families, property left behind by fathers is divided among male children – the size of each person’s share is determined by age so older siblings tend to get more – and women are excluded. In some cases where shares are given to women, they are limited to things owned by their mothers and cannot inherit lands and houses.
Many Igbos believe that ancestral family land should not be inherited by women as they are expected to leave the community when they get married, while men remain to carry on the family heritage. There is also the fear of husbands gaining access to a family’s land through marriage if women are allowed to own land.
Family houses are seen as the exclusive inheritance of male children in order of seniority – this comes from a time when an Igbo man lived separately from his wives and children within the same compound in a house called the obi. At his death, the obi said to contain religious artefacts passed on to the first male child. Where there were no male children, it passed on to other male members of the extended family, but not the man’s wife or daughters.
But not all women are putting up with this tradition.
A landmark case that lasted more than 20 years was resolved in 2014 in favour of a woman who took her family to court for disinheriting her.
Nigeria’s Supreme Court ruled that it was discriminatory to exclude female children, “whatever the circumstances of their birth” from sharing in the parents’ estate and that the Igbo custom, which conflicted with the constitution, was therefore illegal.
But not much has changed despite that ruling.
Continue reading; BBC News