Women’s Right, And The Implications Of The Supreme Court Judgment On, Ukeje V Ukeje

Abstract: women from time immemorial were regarded to be property of their male counter part, as such they were not allowed or entitled to own landed properties because they were chattels. They discriminated against virtually in all sphere of life, however as the world changes they woke up from their slumber and started clamouring for equal participation.

Introduction

Example Ad #2 (only visible for logged-in visitors)

The need for gender equality and equity in socio-economic relations has remained a burning issue in the national agenda. This is attributed to the huge influence of various religions and customs in many parts of Nigeria. Women are seen as the ‘weaker sex’ and discriminated against in so many ways.

In some communities, women cannot own property nor do they have any formal property rights. The customary law in some places does not recognise the concept of matrimonial property as the woman is regarded as part of the estate of the man. They cannot inherit property including their husband’s property (Fisher, BAO, 1997; Nwoye KN, 2000; Edu, OK, 2004; Ogugua, VC Ikpeze, 2009). It is in this regard that some gender activist sponsored and presented to the National Assembly in 2010 certain Bills to domesticate the international convention and declarations aimed at promoting and enforcing gender equality, non-discrimination in social life. Prominent among these is the gender and equal opportunities Bill yet to be passed by the National Assembly. Women have not relented but continue to struggle to determine the origins of their oppression for long years, decades,and even centuries.,They established that patriarchy is a major obstacle to achieve equality in male and female rights, both legal and civil, and gender roles. Feminism goes back to the 18th century. This is when women began demanding voting equality. In fact, women’s suffrage was created as the reform movement that allowed all women to contend for public officers and exercise their voting rights taken for granted in modern times. This fight started in France and spread to other territories fast. It led many women to understand their rights and power to control and take part in political issues as equal citizens. Women fighting for their equality stated demands through political campaigns. Susan Anthony and Elizabeth Stanton were prominent American feminists who put their efforts in making a positive change achieving equality for all women. They advised women workers to become members of different trade unions to improve their economic situation and get better jobs.

Women extended their equality demands in their labor places. They encountered discrimination based on sex and racial differences. After the Civil War in America, many women fought against their lack of voting prerogatives and role in politics increasingly. People used different mechanisms to express and focus on women’s sexuality in previous years, including movie presentations, and the middle class started comprehending this concept.

In the 1960s, married and unmarried women formed special associations. They specialized in advocating for their equality in different spheres. Although they divided based on different ideological principles, they all fought for a human treatment of all women and considered it their basic target. There’s some space for the necessary amendment in women’s educational, health, property, family, and other rights to guarantee their high living standards today. We should care for its importance and impact.

Haven’t known the origin of the struggle, it is within this context of reaction and agitation against cultural authoritarianism and gender discrimination against women that their contributions analysis the recent supreme Court opinions in some cases and their implications for the protection of women’s rights in Nigeria. Also in this paper the protection of women’s rights under Nigerian law was considered.

WOMEN’S RIGHT UNDER NIGERIAN LEGAL FRAMEWORK

Apart from the international and regional declarations, conventions and norms for the promotion, protection and implementation of human rights of women, the Nigerian Constitution is replete with provisions on gender equality and protection of women’s rights. There is also the National Gender Policy and other laws directed towards the promotion and protection of women’s rights and gender equality in Nigeria. These includes  the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) provides that “the state social order is founded on ideals of social objectives, freedom, equality and justice”. Subsection (2) maintains that “in furtherance of social order (a) every citizen shall have equality of rights, obligation and opportunities before the law”; and Subsection (3) provides that ‘’The state shall direct its policies towards ensuring that-All citizens, without discrimination on any ground whatsoever and have the opportunity for securing adequate means oflivelihood…’’ Even though these provisions are not enforceable, they provide the yardstick for the promotion of human rights and the direction of state policy on protection of human rights generally. Women’s rights are, no doubt, human rights. Besides these policy strides, the fundamental rights provision of the Constitution in Section 42, provides the right to freedom from discrimination. Section 42(1) provides thus: a citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person- (a) be subjected either expressly by, or in the political application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government, to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religious or political opinions are not made subject: or (b) be accorded either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any such executive or administrative action, any privilege or advantage that is not accorded to citizens of Nigeria of their communities, ethnic groups, place of origin, sex, religious or political opinions. Subsection (2) emphasizes that: No citizen of Nigeria shall be subjected to any liability or deprivation merely by reason of the circumstances of his birth. Better still, Section 43 of the said Constitution also guarantees the right to acquire and own property anywhere in Nigeria. This applies to all, irrespective of sex or circumstances of birth. These provisions are justiceable and also provide the legal basis upon which violations of women’s rights generally could be challenged. Moreover the Constitution is the grundnorm in Nigeria and any other law inconsistent with it is void to the extent of that inconsistency (see Section 1(3) CFRN, Section 14(3) Evidence Act, 2004).

There is no doubt that the Nigerian law law guarantees women’s rights, to what extent has it been adhered to. Untill recently the supreme court of Nigeria reaffirmed that disinheritance of women’s property’s rights amount to onslught on the constitution.

Facts of the case:  Chituru Ukeje & anor v. Gladys Ada Ukeje (2014)

The respondent in this case is one of the four children of one Lazarus Ukeje who died intestate. The case originated from the Lagos High Court. When Lazarus Ukeje, an Igbo man, died without a Will, Gladys Ada Ukeje his daughter, instituted an action against Lois Chituru Ukeje (the deceased’s wife and the plaintiff’s step mother) and Enyinnnaya Lazarus Ukeje (the deceased’s son and plaintiff’s half-brother) before the Lagos High Court. The defendant/appellants in this case had applied for and obtained a letter of administration in respect of the estate of Lazarus Ukeje to the exclusion of the plaintiff/Respondent. The plaintiff, in the main, sought to be included among the persons eligible to be entitled and to administer the estate of Lazarus Ukeje, the deceased. The Court upheld the plaintiff’s claim and declared the Igbo customary law which excluded female children from inheritance as unconstitutional. Dissatisfied with this judgement, the defendants appealed to the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the high court, whereupon the defendants/appellants then proceeded to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court in a unanimous decision confirmed the decisions of the two lower courts which had declared unconstitutional the Igbo customary law of inheritance which excludes female children from eligibility to inherit the property of their fathers. The Supreme Court, in the words of Rhodes-Vivour, JSC, who read the lead judgement, while acknowledging that what was in issue is largely the paternity of the respondent declare thus: agreeing with the High Court, the Court of Appeal correctly found that the Igbo native law and custom which disentitles a female from inheriting in her late father’s estate is void as it conflicts with section 39 (1) (a) and (2) of the 1999 Constitution as amended. This finding was affirmed by the Court of Appeal. There is no appeal on it. The finding remains inviolate. … No matter the circumstances of the birth of a female child, such a child is entitled to inheritance from her late 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 Constitution, a fundamental right provision guaranteed to every Nigerian. The said discriminatory customary law is void as it conflicts with section 42(1) and (2) of the Constitution (2014) LPELR-22724(SC) pp32-33). Concurring with this finding, Ogunbiyi, JSC re-emphasised the unconstitutionality of the custom thus: The trial court I hold did rightly to declare unconstitutional the law that disinherit children from their deceased father’s estate. It follows, therefore, that the Igbo native law and custom which deprives children born out of wedlock from sharing the benefits of their father’s estate is conflicting with section 42(2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended ( ((2014) LPELR-22724(SC) p37).

THE IMPLICATIONS OF THE JUDGEMENT ON WOMEN’S RIGHT

The Supreme Court opinions in these appeals are quite commendable. They have provided stronger judicial and thematic platforms for the protection of women’s rights and inheritance rights of women in particular. The opinions have finally settled the contention over the inheritance rights of women under the customary law. It has become clear and settled that any customary law and practice which disinherits a woman is repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience and also in conflict with section 42 of the Constitution and therefore unconstitutional. This covers widows and other female children of the family. It does not matter whether the female child is born out of wedlock. The Supreme Court emphasized that this finding of the lower courts in favour of women in this regard is “inviolate”. The Supreme Court applying the repugnancy test in Anekwe’s case emphatically stated that any culture that disinherits a daughter from her father’s estate or wife from her husband’s property is repugnant to natural justice and that the perpetrators of the culture and custom should be punitively and decisively dealt with to serve as a deterrent.  The Supreme Court in Anekwe’s case has not only given further impetus to the use of repugnancy test in dealing with issues of customary law and practices which impugn on women’s rights and gender equality but tacitly cleared the uncertainty in Mojekwu v Iwuchukwu. The supreme court judgment in ukeje v ukeje has put women in right foot with their male counter part as regards inheritance. The supreme court stoutly condemned the Igbo customary law to be discriminatory, unjust, and repugnant and voilates section 42(2) of the Constitution of Nigeria. Hence women can strongly rely on this judgement to stand firm in pursuit of other rights denyed them.

Conclusion

The Supreme Court pronouncements in these cases are commendable and remain a fundamental step in the protection of women’s rights in Nigeria. It has provided an unequivocal readiness of the court to protect and safeguard the women’s rights in Nigeria. The pronouncements represent a definitive judicial opinion on the status of customary laws and practices that cultivate gender inequality. It has provided a benchmark for the evaluation of customary laws and practices that are considered discriminatory or inimical to the enjoyment of women’s right using constitutional parameters and repugnancy principle. The issue of protection of inheritance rights of women therefore is no more that of want of law as the Supreme Court has cleared the customary law inhibitions. What is needed now is awareness creation in respect of the existence of such rights generally and the peoples readiness to enforce and execute such rights in case of any violation or threat thereof.

 

 

Agu Moses Chukwudi

Faculty of Law, Enugu State University of Science and Technology

Email: carsonmoseschuks@gmail.com

Phone number: +2349079754250