Nigeria is a patriarchal society that has long relegated women to the background; this it has sometimes done through the instrumentality of Customary Law and Customary practices. Statute has however constantly remained an instrument for the liberation of women from unequal and discriminatory treatments. One of the ways through which the Law has sought to do this is by conferring property rights on women.

Property rights generally include the right to own, use, access, control, transfer, exclude, inherit and otherwise make decisions about land and related resources.[1] 

We would consider the right to inherit/acquire property as an aspect of women’s property rights.

Women have a right to inherit property from their deceased fathers and husbands and from any other person who devises property to them under their will. This right is guaranteed by section 43 of the Constitution which provides that every citizen (Irrespective of sex) of Nigeria shall have the right to acquire and own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria, while Section 42 of the Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.

When a woman is deprived of the right to acquire property by inheritance by reason only of her being a woman, that amounts to discrimination and the law would not permit it.

 There abound in different parts of Nigeria, Customary practices which tend to limit women’s right to inherit property, some of these customs tie the right to inherit to having a male child or some other ridiculous conditions. A few of these practices would be examined and if this article does not address a particular customary practice in your locality which tends to limit the right of a woman to inherit property, do not panic; just know this ‘A woman’s right to inherit property is absolute, it cannot be restricted, limited, or predicated on any condition which a man is not subjected to’.

The courts have consistently protected the property rights of women and condemned customs and practices which tend to perpetuate discrimination against women. References would be made to some decisions of the court to buttress this.

In a certain case[2], the court stated that a custom which forbade women from dealing in land was invalid. The court even went ahead to say “A custom cannot derogate from the clear provisions of the Nigerian Constitution dealing with right to own movable and immovable properties. Women can own landed properties”.

A woman who has no male child can still inherit her late husband’s property; indeed a woman without children can still inherit from her deceased husband. Female children can also inherit from their late father, and they cannot be discriminated against on the basis of sex. This was what the court had to say in a certain case:

I will have no hesitation in declaring such customary law which discriminates against female children in terms of inheritance to be repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience……. I have no difficulty in holding that the native law and custom of Umuanaga Awka which discriminates against female children of the same parent and favours the male child who inherits all the estate of their father to the exclusion of his female siblings to be repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience.[3]

Nikki Tobi, one of Nigeria’s finest Jurist, on the issue of discrimination against women had this to say:

 Day after day, month after month and year after year, we hear of and read about customs, which discriminate against the womenfolk in this country. They are regarded as inferior to the menfolk. Why should it be so? All human beings, male and female, are born into a free world and are expected to participate freely, without any inhibition on grounds of sex; and that is constitutional.

Any form of societal discrimination on grounds of sex, apart from being unconstitutional, is antithesis to a society built on the tenets of democracy, which we have freely chosen as a people….On my part, I have no difficulty in holding that ‘Oli-ekpe’ custom of Nnewi, is repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience…'[4]
In a certain case[5], a widow’s husband’s family sought to deprive her and her children from inheriting from their late husband and father on the ground that she has six female children and no male child.

Here is what the court said;
…I hasten to add at this point that the custom and practices of Awka people upon which the appellants have relied ……..is hereby out rightly condemned in very strong terms…… It is punitive, uncivilized and only intended to protect the selfish perpetration of male dominance which is aimed at suppressing the right of the womenfolk in the given society.

One would expect that the days of such obvious differential discrimination are over. Any culture that disinherits a daughter from her father’s estate or wife from her husband’s property by reason of God instituted gender differential should be punitively and decisively dealt with. The punishment should serve as a deterrent measure and ought to be meted out against the perpetrators of the culture and custom.

For a widow of a man to be thrown out of her matrimonial home, where she had lived all her life with her late husband and children, by her late husband’s brothers on the ground that she had no male child, is indeed very barbaric, worrying and flesh skinning.Indeed, the Law and the Courts of Law are committed to eradicating every form of discrimination against women.

[1] Marya Gomez & D. Hien ‘Women’s Land and Property Rights and The Post- 2015 Development Agenda’(2012)
[2] Timothy V. Oforka (2008) All FWLR (Pt.413)
[3] Motoh V. Motoh (2010) LPELR-8643(CA)
[4] f Mojekwu v. Mojekwu (1997) 7 NWLR 283 pt. 512 page 283,
[5] Anekwe V. Nweke (2014) LPELR-22697(SC)