Roles of women are often denied. Society, Religion and Custom are fabricated to relegate women and treat them like mere property of men. However, as the last hope of the common man, the Nigerian Courts have emphasised on equality of all human beings. In the souther part of Nigeria, lives the busy famous city of Onitsha. Onitsha is the commercial capital of Anambra State with one of the busiest markets in Nigeria. Like any other nation, people of Onitsha have customs, including customs that discriminate, oppress women and females.
The Supreme Court of Nigeria, have abolished numerous customs and traditions that have been seen to be contrary to the constitution of Nigeria. The constitution of Nigeria is the greatest of all laws, rules, regulations and customs in Nigeria. As expected, any law, rules, tradition, custom, religion, practise or conducts that contradicts the constitution is illegal and invalid.
Below are the clear words of learned justices of the Court of Appeal while abolishing an anti-women and oppressive custom of Onitsha people of Anambra State.
“It is settled by a long line of judicial decisions that any custom or arrangement that enables inheritance of the estate of a deceased intestate by his male children to the exclusion of his female children or that entitles such male children to eject the female children from their family home cannot be enforced because it discriminates against the female children on the ground of sex and subjects them to deprivation of their rights in violation of their fundamental rights to freedom from discrimination given to them by S. 42 (1) and (2) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
“I hold that the rule of Onitsha customary law that provides that the male children of a deceased intestate shall inherit his landed properties or realties to the exclusion of his or her female children or that enables such male children to eject the female children from the family house or deprive them of the right to live in such family house is a violation of the appellant’s fundamental and inalienable right to freedom from discrimination on grounds of sex and circumstances of her birth absolutely vested in her by S. 41 (1) and (2) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria , and is therefore unenforceable against her and is null and void.”
“There is no doubt in my mind that any rule of customary law such as in the instant case which discriminates against female offsprings of a man who died intestate, from having a share by inheritance of their father’s estate, is not only repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience and ipso facto, unenforceable, it is also contrary to the Constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom from discrimination firmly enshrined in Section 42(1) & (2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended.”
“Further see Section 18(3) of the Evidence Act. The reason for the unenforceability of such a customary law is not farfetched. It is simply due to the indisputable fact no child determined whether or not he/she would be male or female. Not even the parents had that privilege of determining the sexes of their children. It is only the Omnipotent and Omniscient Creator who knows that.”
“I think it is axiomatic to say that the custom of the Onitsha people of Anambra State which the respondent is proud of, to disentitle her sister from being a co-inheritor of their late father’s estate and going to the extent of pushing her out of the said property, is clearly barbaric and the height of insensitivity of a man to his sister. A widow for that matter. It is shameful. It is unacceptable. That custom belongs to the stone age!” Per, EMMANUEL AKOMAYE AGIM, J.C.A
My authorities are:
1. Section 42 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.
2. OKAFOR v. ISITORH & ANOR (2015) LPELR-25892(CA)
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