By Dr. Joel Ademisoye
I want to sincerely thank the First Lady of Ondo State, Arabirin, Chief Betty Anyanwu- Akeredolu for extending an invitation and giving me the opportunity to join her at the workshop marking the 2018 International Women’s Day in Akure involving: The Forum for Wives of Ondo State Officials (FOWOSO), which organized the Workshop in partnership with the Office of the First Lady and Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Social Development, entitled, “The Nigerian Women and their right to inherit property”. The workshop took place on March 7th, 2018 in the state capital. I am indeed honored to be an active participant in and an observer of the unique workshop to address the Gender disparity in Nigeria, held at Babatunde Ajasin Auditorium at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Social Development in Akure. I am delighted to report that the event was historic, monumental and it was worth my time, because the lecture was very informative and educative for women, whose right to inherit property has been ignored, trampled on and marginalized. On the first day marking the International Women’s Day in Ondo State, the FOWOSO workshop on the Nigerian Women and their right to inherit property was declared open with a Welcome Address from the First Lady, Arabirin, Chief Betty Anyanwu- Akeredolu to the gathering of enthusiastic women and men. In her opening remarks, she lamented the inequality state of women with men in the country citing the lack of right for the Nigerian Women to inherit property as part of the social injustice in Nigeria. Also, she observed that the Nigerian women are not benefiting from the global liberalization tendency and practice as seen in other countries. Furthermore, the First Lady used the occasion to eliminate the gap between men and women in the Nigerian society. She appealed to women to actively participate in politics at various levels of governance and to seek political offices at local, state and National Assembly. This is a political means in promoting and protecting the interest of women and passing the laws which are favorable to them in the country. Nonetheless, at the end of her address to the workshop, Arabirin Akeredolu employed the Theme of this year’s International Women’s Day, which is “Press for Change” to appeal to and encourage the Nigerian women to demand and fight for their right like men to inherit property in the country. Other government officials were in attendance and spoke at the workshop include the State Commissioner for Women’s Affairs and Social Development, Hon. Omowunmi Olatunji Edet and the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice of Ondo State, Hon. Barrister Kolawole Olawoye. However, Barrister Kehinde Adegbite as the Guest Lecturer, made his presentation characterized by depth knowledge, which was very revealing about the obstacles to and the intervening factors preventing women from inheriting property from their father or their husband. I consider the workshop an ‘eye opener’ for women, because many cases and experiences were cited, shared and explained from the legal framework and constitutional perspective to debunk the socio-cultural myth underlying the predicament of and the constraints preventing Women from exercising their right to inherit property across the country. I regarded the workshop to be empowering the women by removing the ‘shackles of illiteracy’ holding back women from inheriting property from the father or husband in Nigeria. What are some of the goals of the workshop? 1. To sensitize and promote awareness among women concerning their right to inherit property in Nigeria; 2. To improve women’s knowledge and understanding of their rights concerning the laws of inheritance of property in the country;
3. To empower women in their ability to exercise the right of property inheritance (land or houses or business); 4. To expose women to the barriers and obstacles to inheritance of property in the country; 5. To acquaint women with the legal instrument and constitutional rights, which are relevant and germane to promoting and protecting their right to inherit property and useful in solving issues relating to it in Nigeria and 6. To promote Gender equality in the country. Thereafter, Barrister Kehinde Adegbite took to the podium to examine and to critically discuss the history, cultural and religious factors impeding the rights of the Nigerian women to inherit property across the country. The lecturer employed the Triangle of the Nigerian laws involving the: A. English laws, B. Customary laws and C. Islamic laws as basis for the discussion of the topic entitled “the Nigerian women and their right to inherit property”. For instance, the Customary Laws are derivatives from beliefs, customs and traditions of the native people in different parts of the country. Hence, property inheritance laws are influenced and shaped by customs and traditions of the people allowing for variances among ethnic nationalities throughout Nigeria. This helps to explain the difference in property inheritance laws between the Igbo and Yoruba ethnic groups in the country. For example, in Igboland, a male dominated society, the first male child has the undisputed, unchallenged right to inherit the father’s property. Similarly, this practice of First Male Child inherit is the practice in Edo State. The customary right favoring male child leaves the father’s female children as non-beneficiaries of the property in question(land or a house). But, Barrister Adegbite failed to discuss the property inheritance under Islamic laws, because of the lack of knowledge and familiarity with those laws in the Northern region of the country. Furthermore, the lecturer focused on English laws, which had its genesis in 1882 law to promote the rights of women to own property, its amendments through the acts of the parliaments and the legislature in Nigeria. For instance, there was extensive discussion of the Section 42 of the Nigerian Constitution and its implications for the rights of women in terms of discrimination against anyone based on one’s circumstance by birth in Nigeria. The rights of Nigerian women are guaranteed and protected against discrimination regardless of their circumstances in the Nigerian society. In spite of this anti-discrimination laws on the books, it is a truism that the Nigerian women are objects of cultural and institutional discrimination in our country. This workshop is essentially an effort by Arabirin Akeredolu to tear down the walls of discrimination against women in Nigeria. As part of the solution strategy, Barrister Adegbite directly and emphatically suggested the Writing of a Will during one’s lifetime. He discussed the importance and relevance of writing a Will. What is a Will? It is a document in writing which indicates who are the beneficiaries from a person’s property, it must be typed, signed, dated and its preparation be supervised by a competent lawyer. Remember: The Executors of the Will must be named and indicated in the document. For example, the Will prepared by the famous Barrister Gani Fawehinmi was useful in sharing his property after death. It reduced tensions and eliminated conflicts over who gets what in the course of distributing the property following the death of the owner. We must shy away from the habit of not preparing a Will, because of the cultural taboo or belief that by writing a Will is tantamount to death sentence or a curse which would lead to the death of the owner of the Will. Having a written Will kept in safe place and easily accessible to the Executors of the Will must be taken into account.
Consequently, the workshop to sensitize and uplift the awareness among women on their right to inherit property in the country is of paramount importance. In essence, this is part of the many challenges facing women in the country, because of the ignorance as to what action to take on inheriting the father’s or husband’s property in the country. After the death of a father or a husband, the sharing of property without a written Will can be a challenge and a contentious exercise in many parts of Nigeria. This workshop is an instrument for equipping women as to the legal rights and options available to seek redress in the family feud over the property inheritance in Nigeria. As part of the constraints on women’s rights to inherit property in the country is keeping CEDAW in abeyance, an adopted UN Convention in 1979, which prohibits all forms of discrimination against women by persons, organizations and enterprises and it was later ratified as a Treaty by many countries including Nigeria in 1981. Today, 37 years later, Nigeria is yet to domestic this treaty by the country’s National Assembly. It must be noted that the International Treaty has profound consequences and ramifications for the discrimination practice against women in our country. But, the National Assembly has treated the treaty with levity and discontent having been ignored over the years by the lawmakers. Alternatively, I consider the Nigerian Marriage Act as life saver for the Nigerian women in the realm of disputes over right to property inheritance, especially her husband’s property. With a legal marriage performed at the court registrary and a marriage certificate in hands, the women are in good position to approach a competent court to seek judgement in her favor concerning her right in the disputed property.
Today, the Forum for Wives of Ondo State Officials (FOWOSO), a brainchild of Arabirin, Chief Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu, is the host of this workshop making the organization an Agent of Change for women’s issues in the Sunshine State. This maiden workshop held to mark the 2018 International Women’s Day is a testament to the efforts to change the status quo and to “Press for Progress” among the Nigerian women in creating a level playing field for men and women in the country. As part of the political push for Gender Equality in Nigeria, the strategy must and should embrace a holistic approach to understand the myriad of challenges facing women in the country and employ a realistic and pragmatic approach in solving these endemic and historical issues limiting women’s ability to fulfill their dreams and to attain their full potential as free human beings. Hence, the race to free the Nigerian women from societal encumberances and governmental institutionalized discrimination must be expunged and discarded. It is high time that Nigeria joins the Community of Nations in changing the prevailing conditions and practice of anti-women politics and public policy in bringing about Gender Equality across the entire country. I consider the interest of women in property inheritance in Nigeria as a ‘sacred cow’, which men, National leaders or ethnic groups shy away from the topic and wouldn’t like to commit to and to hold the ‘Bull by the horns’ in solving the perennial issue, which is culturally conditioned, socially tolerated and undermining the economic contribution of women to National Development in the 21st Century Nigeria. There is an urgent need for a paradigm shift in respect of the Nigerian Women and their right to inherit property in the country. For instance, the current practice of no right for women to inherit property if they are married according to native and customary laws, need to be constitutionally reviewed and changed to accommodate their rights. Therefore, it is imperative that the new property inheritance law should promote Gender Equality and be inclusive in admitting women as beneficiaries of property left behind following the demise of a father or a husband throughout Nigeria.