(By Iheanyi Ezinwo) – Last Friday, Nigeria’s Supreme Court voided the law and custom which disallowed a female child from partaking in the sharing of her deceased father’s estate. Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour, who read the lead judgment at the apex court held that the practice of denying females right of inheritance was discriminatory and breached the fundamental rights provision guaranteed to every Nigerian in section 42(1)(a) and (2) of the 1999 Constitution.
According to Daily Times report, the judgment was on the appeal: SC.224/2004 filed 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).
Cladys was said to have 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 their deceased’s father’s estate. The trial court ruled that she was a daughter to the deceased and that she was qualified to benefit from the estate of their father who died intestate in Lagos in1981.
The Court of Appeal, Lagos to which Mrs. Lois Ukeje and Enyinnaya Ukeje appealed, upheld the decision of the trial court, prompting them to appeal to the Supreme Court. In a similar ruling on the matter last Friday, the Supreme Court held that the Court of Appeal, Lagos was right to have voided the native law and custom that disinherit female children. Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour, who read the lead judgment, was reported as holding 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.
It is instructive to note that other Justices who sat on the case with Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour , namely Justices Walter Samuel Onnoghen, Claral Bata Ogunbiyi, Kumai Bayang Aka’ahs and John Inyang Okoro all agreed with the lead judgment.
There is no doubt that the first group of people that should be celebrating the judgment are the women folk in Igboland, and other parts of Nigeria where female children are denied inheritance rights whenever their father passes on.
However, the judgment also has lessons for all Nigerians who are denied their rights. It is traditional for most people who are denied their rights is to stop at grumbling, and only very few go beyond that stage. But the Supreme Court judgment has shown that it is possible for an individual who has a good case to get judgment.
In Nigeria, we hear reports of abuses of rights of individuals, groups and communities by other individuals, groups, communities, institutions and governments. The recent probe of the financial transactions at the Niger Delta Development Commission by the National Assembly opened a can of worms of how elected and appointed representatives of the people shamelessly went on looting spree, against the interest of their constituents.
There are also reported cases of unprecedented corruption in different shapes and forms in Nigeria, intractable fight against Boko Haram, disregard for due processes and the federal character principle, regular and provocative massacre of Christians in Southern Kaduna, Jos and other pasts of the country are issues that should be challenged by concerned citizens before situations get out of hand.
For the doubting Thomases, the Supreme Court judgment on females right of inheritance has shown that it is possible to get justice; but someone must take the first step of challenging an offensive status quo. This line of thought agrees with the position of David Henderson that, one cannot win a race unless he runs it.
Indeed, Nigerians have complained enough: it is high time some of the issues that have been a clog in the nation’s wheel of progress are challenged to ensure that reason prevails and the country put on the fast lane of development. This is one way Nigerians can protect the integrity of our constitution, achieve justice and peace in a country where every citizen has a sense of belonging and freedom to pursue his dreams.
Nigerians must be encouraged to avail themselves of opportunities to achieve peaceful changes where and when necessary, and as they do so, those who are enjoying the mandate of the people must resist the temptation of taking the citizens for granted. This line of thinking will not only inspire the citizens to be patriotic, it will also make violent protests and change an unattractive option at any time, and for whatever reason.