RULING as discriminatory and in conflict with the constitution of the Igbo law and custom that prohibits female children from inheriting their late father’s estate, the Supreme Court yesterday nullified the practice.
In its judgment on the appeal filed in 2004 by Mrs. Lois Chituru Ukeje (wife of the late Lazarus Ogbonna Ukeje) and their son, Enyinnaya Lazarus Ukeje, against Mrs. Cladys Ada Ukeje (the deceased’s daughter), the apex court held that the practice conflicts with Section 42(1)(a) and (2) of the Nigerian Constitution.
Cladys had sued the deceased’s wife and son at the Lagos High Court, claiming to be one of the deceased’s children and seeking to be included among those to administer their deceased father’s estate. The trial court found that she was a daughter to the deceased, who died intestate in Lagos in1981, and was qualified to benefit from his estate.
Also, the Court of Appeal, Lagos, to which Mrs. Lois Ukeje and Enyinnaya Ukeje appealed, upheld the decision, prompting their appeal to the Supreme Court. In its judgment last Friday, however, the Supreme Court held that the Appeal Court was right to have voided the aspect of Igbo native law and custom that denies female children inheritance.
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 later father’s estate.
“Consequently, the Igbo Customary Law, which disentitles a female child from partaking in the sharing of her deceased father’s estate is in 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.”
Justices Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen, Clara Bata Ogunbiyi, Kumai Bayang Aka’ahs and John Inyang Okoro, who were part of the panel that heard the appeal, agreed with the lead judgment.