A critical Examination of the inheritance rights of women under the Act and the various customs in Nigeria

A critical examination of the inheritance rights of women under the Act and the various customs in Nigeria


Inheritance is simply the practice of passing on your belongings, assets and properties to your beneficiaries. Most times when inheritance matters are brought up, it tends to be quite a sensitive subject for any family.

In Nigeria, when a person passes on without a Will, the assets of the deceased may be distributed using the customary laws. Alternatively, the immediate family members can apply for a letter of administration from a state high court or the ministry of justice.

Nigeria has over 250 ethnic tribes and this means that the pattern of inheritance under customary law will vary according to each ethnic group. Inheritance is commonly patrilineal and sharing of assets tends to be in favor of the male child.Below we have listed the rules of inheritance (by customary laws) of some ethnic groups in Nigeria.

  • Inheritance in Yoruba culture

In Yoruba land, distribution of a deceased estate, who dies without a valid Will, is per stripe aka (idiigi). The properties will first be divided equally by the number of wives, and then the share due to each wife will be sub-divided equally among her own children. Polygamous families where an only child of a wife will get the same share as with the many children of another wife might bring up some dispute. In such cases, input from the family head might be necessary.

Another mode of estate distribution in Yoruba land is the ‘OriOjori’ mode where each child of the deceased enjoys an equal share of their father’s property. It has been argued that this mode will result in a fair distribution and prevent dispute within families.

Daughters have equal rights to inherit from their father’s property. Whereas, it is said that in Yoruba native law and customs, wives have no right of inheritance in their deceased husband’s estate. The way a wife can inherit from her late husband is when a property given to her can be proved to be a gift. However, in recent years, Yoruba customary marriage tends to be more liberal on wives inheriting from their husband’s estate.

  • Inheritance in Igbo land

The rules of inheritance in Igbo land is not uniform but there are certain similarities that are explained below.

The oldest son of a deceased has exclusive rights to the entire estate left behind. He is entitled to a special property by virtue of being the eldest son.  He has the right to manage and administer other properties of his deceased father for the benefit of himself and his brothers and sisters.

When a woman dies, whatever property she acquired before marriage, goes back to her family.

Under Igbo Customary Law, the female child was excluded from inheriting the property of their father or their husbands. This however stirred some discussion and in a Supreme Court decision in April 2014, the Court found that the Igbo inheritance rules that exclude women from inheritance violates the country’s 1999 Constitution which guarantees freedom from discrimination.

  • Inheritance in Benin kingdom

The same rules of succession that apply to the Benin also apply to most parts of Igbo land. In Benin Kingdom, the entire estate of the deceased belongs exclusively to the eldest son who acts like a Trustee for the other children.

There is also the custom, of returning properties of a deceased woman, which she acquired before her marriage, back to her family on her demise.

  • Inheritance in Calabar

Commonly, in the ‘Calabar’ area,the eldest surviving male member of the deceased person succeeds as the head of the family and inherits the deceased estate.

  • Inheritance in Northern Nigeria

Under Sharia law, a daughter can inherit from her father’s estate. The widow to the deceased has the right to one-quarter of the estate if her deceased husband was without beneficiaries. If there is more than one widow, one-eighth portion of the deceased property is shared between them.

In general, women can acquire property. Likewise they can pass it on to their heirs, inherit from their deceased parents, husbands, brothers, sisters, daughters and other relations.

If you’ll like for your properties to be distributed just how you wish it to be, and not according to native law and customs, you should have a detailed estate planing place.

If the customary laws were fair and equitable for both sexes, some people might have had it better,since it isn’t equitable, it’s imperative you create a lasting plan, so as to avoid situations where your properties will be left in undeserving hands.

With a Will you can leave gifts to your family, friends, an endowment fund, your favourite charity, amongst others. We have a variety of options to help you plan your estate. Call us on 01 – 2801420 for more information or send us a message

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