The Enuani Principles Of Patrimony And Inheritance By Fortune Onwordi - THE DAILY CRUCIBLE

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Wednesday, August 26, 2020

The Enuani Principles Of Patrimony And Inheritance By Fortune Onwordi



Nearly among all the communities in Enuani(Anioma part of Delta State), inheritance is governed chiefly by two principles - age and gender. Depending on the cultural circumstance, none of these principles takes precedence over the other. 

Among a man's children the "ọkpala-okei" first son is the head of his siblings. Even when he is not the oldest child, he is accorded the respect due to him. 

He remains answerable to his fathers (this includes his biological father and uncles). Upon the demise of his biological father, he becomes answerable to his fathers (uncles) and is traditionally owned by the oldest man in the family (ọkpala-ụnọ). An Ọkpala-ụnọ may or may not be the man who sired the child. The Ọkpala-Ụnọ is also answerable to the "Ọ̀kpala-Ebo" the oldest man in the lineage.

Alongside the first son, is the "Ada" oldest daughter among a man's children. The Ada is answerable to her mother, the "Ada-ezi-n'ụnọ" oldest female aunt in the family, who is answerable to the "Ada-Ebo" oldest woman born in the lineage.

Interestingly, in the principles of bequeathal, this traditional pyramidal hierarchy is altered and inverted to accommodate the youngest son in a family, often referred as azụ-ngwele or Uju-nwa.

Upon the demise of a man, the ọkpala-okei leads his siblings to announce the whereabouts of his father and perform his traditional funeral rites. The Ada leads his female siblings to play her role and perform the public mourning, singing and eulogising the dead, albeit posthumously. This is an elaborate ceremony that will be discussed in another article. 

After the funeral, the son leads his male siblings to share the inheritance bequeathed to them. In so doing, some factors are traditionally considered.

Firstly, the land area where a man is buried must be bequeathed to the first son. He is the only person traditionally empowered to build upon his father's grave.
However, if the grave is located inside an existing building, the first son reserves right to that particular spot while his siblings are accommodated if need be, in their father's house. It remains a family house where everyone is welcome.

Secondly, the first son must allocate to all his siblings a space for farming or habitation (if the land is enough) from their father's property. Where he so refuses, he can be dragged before the Ọkpala-Ụnọ or the Ọkpala-Ebo.

In all, nothing is traditionally allowed as patrimony to the girl child unless she is an Idegbe. This has been a source of heated debate about the gender discriminatory practice among families in Enuani. 

However, the case is different when a woman dies. When a woman dies, the traditional funeral is carried out by the Ọkpala-Okei and Ada. 

The ọkpala-okei goes to announce the whereabouts of his mother to her kinsmen (whether she is from Ijesha or Kafanchan) and proceeds with his siblings to perform the traditional funeral rites (if his father is late as it should traditionally be). The Ada leads her female siblings to play her role and perform the public mourning, singing and eulogising the dead. 

After the funeral, the property of the mother is shared by the female children, excluding the sons. 

However, if she had a house, it is bequeathed to her last son, earlier referred as "Azụ-ngwele". 

This gender based discrimination in the sharing of patrimony and inheritance has prompted the introduction of the legal document known as a will. 

Despite the constitutional backing of the gender equal rights of inheritance, the traditional practices have continued to thrive. 

The provisions contained in section42(1)(a) and (2) of the 1999 Constitution, as interpretated by an Appeal Court Judge, Justice Rhodes Vivour, upholds 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. “Consequently, the Igbo customary law, which disentitles a female child from partaking in the sharing of her deceased father’s estate is breach of Section 42(1) and (2) of the Constitution, a fundamental rights provision guaranteed to every Nigerian."

The culture of not allowing the girl child an inheritance is believed by traditionalists to help her focus in her marriage and not return to her father's house.

Conversely, the practice has deepened gender discrimination and increased the preference for male children, as some sort of legacy.


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