Stella Dimoko Supreme Court And The Igbo Culture In Head-On Collision Over Female Inheritance


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Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Supreme Court And The Igbo Culture In Head-On Collision Over Female Inheritance

The Supreme Court judgment granting inheritance to the girl child in Igboland has put an end to a culture that has held the society together as patriarchal. TONY OKAFOR assesses how this judgment may improve the lot of the girl child in the area of inheritance

Before the judgment, it was almost like an abomination, to say the least, for a typical Igbo father to bequeath an estate to his female child. This practice necessitated the saying, ‘Nwanyi bu ama onye ozo’ (a girl child belongs to another family).

What did the Supreme Court say? The apex court in what has been described as a landmark decision, upheld the right of a female child to inherit the property of her father in a unanimous decision. By that judgment, the court voided the age-long Igbo tradition and customary law, which forbade a female child from inheriting her father’s estate.

The Supreme Court voided the tradition and custom on the grounds that it was discriminatory and conflicted with the provision of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

The court specifically held that the practice conflicted with Section 42(1) (a) and (2) of the 1999 Constitution.

The judgment was given in an 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 Ms Gladys Ada Ukeje, who is the deceased’s daughter.

Gladys 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 the deceased father’s estate.

The trial court found that she was a daughter to the deceased and that she was qualified to benefit from the estate of her father, who died intestate (without a will) in Lagos in 1981.

The Court of Appeal, Lagos, to which Lois and Enyinnaya 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 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.”

Justice Rhodes-Vivour added, “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 are to bear their own costs.”

The judgment has evoked mixed reactions from custodians of Igbo culture, lawyers and commentators.

Victor Ononye, a public affairs commentator said, “That judgment will haunt those who delivered it, because what goes around comes around. You do not give a judgment that not only negates the tenets of age long tradition and culture and foist disharmony on families, where women scorn and wantonly abandon marriages and return home to cause trouble with their male siblings.

“Those judges merely countered natural justice. Right from the time of Adam and the Biblical time, men were established as heads of families and I hope those judges have families. The judgment was more of an academic exercise that conflicts with tradition and culture.

They have created another round of trouble. By the way, in Igboland, few women, who do not marry, always have a place to stay. The courts should be mindful not to set fire on families. They should also deliver judgments that can stand the test of time.

“A good percentage of women desire to marry, leave their fathers’ compounds and start new families with their husbands without creating division in their fathers’ compound. Why would any sane woman come back to split her father’s family, married or not? That judgment is something else.”

For Uche Okafor, a lawyer, the judgment will need distinction or review.

He said, “The Supreme Court judgment needs judicial interpretation/review. The judgment was about an unmarried daughter of a deceased man, who was denied her father’s hereditament. If the woman was married, would the Supreme Court have given the same opinion? Would that not amount to equity aiding double plates for a married woman to get shares from her matrimonial home as well as from her maiden home? I think the judgment needs to be distinguished.”

But Chief Akunwebe Emechebe, an Igbo culture enthusiast, disagreed with the lawyer.

He said the judgment should apply to both married and unmarried daughters of a man.

Emechebe stated, “The court interpreted and applied the law as it is. Our laws – the constitution, the statutes and the international conventions – frown on discrimination against persons on the grounds of sex and not on the grounds of the marital status of a person.

Unless and until these laws are amended to bring the aspect of married or unmarried in the laws, the position of the laws as it is today is the position taken by the Supreme Court.

“The courts are not interested in whether the female in question is married, unmarried, remarried, divorced, etc in their decisions.”

The Bishop, Diocese of the Niger, Anglican Communion, Anambra State, Rt. Rev. Owen Nwokolo, described the judgment as a welcome development.

He said female children were not second class citizens and should not be treated like one.

The cleric stated, “Female children should be accorded the same rights given their male counterparts and therefore should not be discriminated against.

“Families should put the judgment in practice and female children should stand up and claim their rights. It is not only Supreme Court judgment, but a God-given right and they should claim that right.”

Ngozika Iheagwam, a housewife saw the judgment as an unwanted reversal of a people’s culture and opined that the ruling would cause chaos in many Igbo societies.

She said, “What concerns the Supreme Court with the Igbo culture? Every woman should look forward to getting married and settling down in her matrimonial home.

“Why should she start going back to her father’s home to start fighting over property with her male siblings? That judgment will manifest absurdity in Igboland. I don’t support it.”

The President, Ohanaeze in Anambra State, Chief Damian Okeke-Ogene, said bequeathing property to a man’s daughter was not alien to Ndigbo, and as such, the Supreme Court judgment should not be seen as strange or a surprise to Igbo people.

He said, “Most fathers buy cars, build houses and so on for their daughters upon marriage. So, it’s wrong to say that the Igbo don’t give their daughters their property.

“If a daughter is not married or is divorced, our custom and tradition require the father to provide accommodation for her in his house. If a man has a commercial property, say a house, he can give a part of it to his daughter to manage and earn money from it accordingly. All these are done in Igboland. So, it’s wrong to say that a girl child in Igboland is disinherited from her father’s property.

But I must say that not everything can be shared between the male and female children of a man.

“Ancestral property is exclusive to male children of a man and our daughters know that very well.”

He added that it would be an absurdity and even an abomination for a man to bequeath such ancestral property to his daughters.

“Who will ever think of a man to give his Obi (ancestral home/house) to a daughter, who may be married to an Ibadan man in the name of equity or law? That’s unthinkable. Therefore, the Supreme Court judgment has limitations or exclusions like any other law, but it is not totally strange to us, the Igbo,” Okeke-Ogene stated.

For the traditional ruler of Nawfia and Umunri, Igwe Chijioke Nwankwo, the Supreme Court judgment could be enforced but would be difficult to implement in most Igbo communities.

According to him upon marriage, daughters are settled by their parents, who give them certain shares of the family property, a privilege he said male children do not enjoy during their marriage.

The monarch stated, “Igbo people don’t bequeath the female children certain property for security reasons.

Certain property, particularly land, in Igboland belongs to the living, the dead and those yet to be born. So, you don’t give such out to a female child, who may have a bad marriage and such property will be lost forever.

“Some revert to the families upon the death of the beneficiary; that is why the Igbo don’t give such property to women, who may even transfer the land to philanderers.”

Only time will tell how the judgment will fare in the Igbo society.



  1. And whats so wrong for female to own property. Poverty mentality wont kill them. Most of them fighting this na only 1plot 7boys go share

    1. Why is this judgement just getting attention?

      I remember discussing it with my male colleague and he was ranting because they were battling their father's property at that point. I told him to better include his three sisters and referenced this case for him. He wanted to die. Said that if the girls don't talk he will play ignorance of the law

    2. But an Igbo woman can inherit property and land of her deceased Oyinbo, Yoruba or Hausa husband.

    3. It’s sad that we can’t inherit properties from our fathers, naturally, but when there is need to renovate the family house or buy a land somewhere or offset some land bills, we are called upon to do so without batting an eyelid. Most times, the excuse we hear for the boys who can’t foot such expenses is, he is not working or earning as much as his sisters. In the end, he inherits properties he never contributed a dime towards.

      It’s sad!!!

    4. God go bless!
      My sister you need to hear more true life stories from Igbo women .
      Atimes you want to look the other way but we can't and still go ahead to help!
      It is well!

    5. And yet they are the best and above all tribes in Nigeria. There are many things Kanu turned a blind eye at. There is osu problem and this iniquality among their children.

    6. Anything good is what we want

  2. Thats why some igbo men will give birth to football team just to have boys. Imagine rubbish they will try and try till de get didirin

  3. It will only cause them to start killing their sisters during the time of sharing inheritance. Some of them will go to that length

    1. Very scary, i don't doubt this at all.

      The things people have done for land eh

  4. But it is ok for ancestral inheritance of Ibadan or Hausa man to go into the hands of igbo girl in the case of death or bad marriage? . Very selfish igbo men . How can you claim that Male igbo in bad marriage can not loose all to even a white woman
    You igbo girls still have a lot to do with your bastedised selfish culture.

    1. What have you done with your own stupid culture? Idiot

  5. This is a very welcome development. i hope it will be put into practice....

  6. See the stupid comment by the housewife. I bet she's one of those whose husbands are waiting for their richer relative to die so they can disinherit widows and their daughters. Tufiakwa!!!

    1. You saw that, right. What a funny woman. I doubt that lady is her own daughter.

  7. Married or unmarried the girl child deserves her share of the property, it's like saying the boy child should not get inheritance from his parents because he would still acquire more of his own,

    Some women with failed marriages this would give a call back plan, it could also be a source of lively good for the lady,

    It's not fighting for inheritance it's getting what is due to a child of the family.

    And yes I am Igbo and married.

    For me the whole African thingy of inheritance should even be put away with.nowadays you see youths fighting for it even when their parents are alive.

    I told my dad and would continue to say so the best you have done for your children is to train us, what you acquired use it to enjoy your old age, everyone should gan work for their own.

    1. This your English does not look like sugar. More like barbiesalt

  8. Finally ehn, the girl child has suffered in this world. I'm igbo and at this point I'm even ashamed that this is still a debate in the society I come from.
    A society that the strength of a family is measured by the number of male children a man has.
    Please igbos this is not tradition, it is wickedness. That a widow with only female children is stripped off her husbands property with nothing to look after her kids. What then differentiates you from slave owners, after all the reason she came into your family is no more so to hell with her.
    This is bad, I'm ashamed on behalf of my people. I apologize on behalf of my people

    1. I am telling you, based on the above comments from the men, they are being greedy, selfish and myopic, which division will it bring to the Family? Are the female children outsiders or what? Such unfair treatment, and some women also are in support, people really need to have their eyes opened and know that this is just pure greediness and laziness on the part of the men.

    2. All these females beating their chests and commenting have not even sat down to examine both the practice and the Supreme Court decision. Commenting based solely on emotion and gender serves no purpose at all. Inheritances is not only about what the female receives rather about ensuring that whatever one inherits from the parent (father) is permanently secured within the family as an enduring heritage, generation after generation. For instance, an Igbo woman whose husband is Kanuri has, by the very act of marriage, become Kanuri herself by default. Her children would never be Igbo even though she contributed 50% to producing the kids. In such a situation would it be right that she inherits lands and properties especially those in the ancestral village from her father bearing in mind that the essence of such inheritances is to keep the ancestral lineage and homestead for the next generation? A married female just can’t accomplish such onerous task especially as she, being married, is already in the process of creating her own family and future lineage different from her original lineage. And, looking at the period such customs arose, a female might even marry into a rival family to her original family. Marriage is the point of departure from a parents home for a woman. It’s only men who remain within the family fold from birth to death ensuring its sustenability for years to come.

  9. Even the educated ones still defended this wicked and satanic agenda of a tradition?

  10. This is a welcome development....

  11. This is a welcome development....

  12. So Nigerians don't know that is female children that takes care of their parents more than the male. Even when a girl is married she still remembers her parents unlike the men that marries and face their immediate family. I'm just imagining my brother that have never bought ordinary puff puff for my father coming to claim inheritance as per only male child, na lie, we die there. Era of monkey dey work bamboo dey chop has passed.

  13. The Igbo's have this male Superiority complex mentality and I blame most of their females for this, they prefer to be housewives rather than work and earn their own money and respect.

  14. All I can see are those happy women dancing in the picture 😂😂😂 SDK u is weekid

  15. Stupid cultural traditions. So the male child is superior to the female even though no male can enter this Earth without a woman. The very source of your existence is seen as inferior,foolishness. This worship of males need to end. Then when the parents get old and frail it is the female child that is expected to care for them. Women just seen as workhorse for all and expected to get nothing for their labours. I support the judgment 100%.

  16. Na wah. Even when the lady works hard and buys her own property and stuff, once anything happens to her u will see her brothers fighting her own children to inherit it. All this inheritance boils down to is greed. Anyway me I support the judgement.

  17. I remember when i saw my late dad's will. I felt very bad that i got just moribund shares while the property went to the boys. But i remain eternally grateful that my father ensured that i got the best education he could afford. Today thanks to my education, God gave me a voice in my family. I can afford what i wasn't bequeathed. To God be the Glory.

  18. This is an amazing judgment which conforms to the word of God. See Exodus 26,27 and 36 (the daughters of Zelophehad).

    A child is entitled to an inheritance from the parents, whether male or female except where the deceased parent expressly exempts the child from doing so.

    This is a locus and it has come to stay, we will definitely enforce it, come rainfall or sunshine.

    Igbo kwenu!

  19. Even the educated ones will come here to display their ignorance.

  20. Very shameful set!!! Some enlightened families now include their families in the inheritance, come ti think of it , it's the girls that gives outstanding care and upkeep to their parents but once the father of the house passes on the brothers or males all come out to inherit property meanwhile a lot of them do very little to take care of their parents. This is why a lot of Igbo men have lost their lives because they can go to any length to be in charge. Some of them even deny their late siblings who left their wife and children their fathers right. Forgetting that in the long run every man will give account of their lives to God.

  21. This here maybe a general practice in Igbo land but some family has since being giving inheritance to their female folks.
    Let's take my family as an instance. We are Igbo. Before my parents death my dad made sure all his earthly possessions were shared evenly among his nine children (both male and female). In fact, my dad knew his children so well that he gave inheritance to us that will be beneficial to our chosen life path.

  22. I support the supreme court decision,let the female child be included in her father's inheritance. This reminds me of a woman that died leaving only one married female child with lots of land. The lands were sold after her death and the money shared between the kinsmen without given the female child any. I was so angry that I had to ask my dad why, he told me it's how things are done.

    This is greed and sheer wickedness against the female child in the Igbo land. If it happens you are unmarried you will leave like a slave in your father's house. The kind of space that will be given to you will be out of pity and you will be disrespected always. Thanks to the supreme court for this, let's see how it works out.

  23. I think the first time Stella posted it, igbo women were defending the custom that the supreme court has no business getting involved with their culture and tradition. Someone even said when the female daughter goes home with her children, the children are treated specially and should she leave her marital home during to divorce or widowhood, her brother/s would take care of her and her children. What happens if the brother is greedy? What if the brother is nice but his wife is hellish and won't allow the husband for right by his sister? It's better everyone gets their share and manage it by themselves. Stop discrimination against the girl child.

    1. If u happens to be nwanwa ( maternal grand child)? You are treated like a second king, especially if your father is of another ethnic stock. They will tell you to do anyhow, if you have problem anywhere, that your mother's place is the safest sanctuary.

  24. I can't wait to get for this to scale through. I will immediately sell all the land(and my family has lots) apportioned to me right from source so that my wicked uncles will not get anything. They know I don't need it but I will derive great pleasure watching them bite their silly fingers.

  25. The important thing to understand about females not inheriting in Igboland is that female children are considered to be in “transit” in their parents homes as such they are not permanent stakeholders in such families. That’s, the Igbo culture, custom and tradition never conceived of a situation where a female child would not be married.And, a married female, Igbo or any other ethnicity or race, normally belongs with her husband. She’s a stakeholder in her husband’s home once she marries and leaves her parents home. Also, when these inheritance laws or customs were instituted only land and houses could be inherited so it made sense that female children were excluded, not out of hatred or discrimination but pure logic and pragmatism.

    1. Well times have changed a great deal. Many girls/women are now unmarried due to many factors beyond their control. Still, many women are now divorced/single parents in the Nigerian/Igbo society and will need some form of livelihood to carry on. This inheritance law makes so much sense for the girl child, going into the future of things.

  26. Anonymous,
    Please take sometime to ruminate on this matter; it’s unenforceable modernity or no modernity! The reason behind the practice was very well considered; it was not a spur of the moment practice. The point is that only a male child continues the longevity of his father’s lineage. A married female cannot sustain the continuous existence of her father’s lineage even if she is married to a man from her father’s village. It’s only the male children who remain within the family and would always return back to the family. For female children, once they are married, they are lost to their family forever as they become like tourists to their original families, only visiting on special occasions because they have, in practical term, lost true membership in the family by reason of marriage. This is the nature of females hence, personally, I consider females to be universal citizens.


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