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Relief for women as lawyers seek implementation of native inheritance laws


Relief may soon come the way of women as lawyers began an awareness campaign for  implementation of the provisions of law on gender discrimination, especially as regards women traditional inheritance. 
At the maiden colloquium of Epiphany Azinge Foundation held last week in Abuja, the convener of the programme and former Director General, Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, Professor Epiphany Azinge, described the continuous discrimination against women on the basis of gender as an anomaly. 
Titled, “Women traditional inheritance in Nigeria: Breaking the Barriers of Gender Discrimination”, the roundtable brought together legal luminaries, gender enthusiasts and members of the academia to chart a way forward.Some of them include the Dean of law faculty, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Professor Joy Ezeilo; Chief James Onoja (SAN); Professor Nnamdi Aduba, Chief Rita Garuba as well as  Mrs. Onikepo Braithwaite.  Also at the event was the Executive Secretary, National Human Rights Commission, Mr. Tony Ojukwu.

In their various contributions, the guests decried the huge gap between judicial pronouncements and actual practice, particularly at the rural areas. Citing the Supreme Court judgment between Ukeje and Ukeje, Professor Azinge blamed the gap between provisions of law and their implementations or enforcement on dearth of awareness.
Azinge maintained that it was an anomaly for women to be discriminated against in the 21st century in spite several international conventions against such practices.Speaking on the motivation for the roundtable discussion on gender discrimination, the Professor stated that he has come to understand that the pronouncements of the Supreme Court on Ukeje and Ukeje seemed to have complied with the provision of Section 42 of the Constitution but the challenge has remained the application or implementation of the pronouncements.
Recall that in the much quoted Ukeje vs Ukeje matter, the Supreme Court had in its judgment, invoked the provisions of Section 42(1)(a) and (2) of the Constitution in quashing the unknown Igbo customary law that disentitles a female child from partaking in the sharing of her deceased father’s estate.
Section 42 (2) of the 1999 Constitution provides that citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place or origin, sex, religion, political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person shall be subjected either expressly by or in the practical 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 or origin, sex, religion or political opinion are not made subject.
It held further that “no citizen of Nigeria shall be subjected to any disability or deprivation merely by reason of the circumstances of his birth.”In view of the above, Prof. Azinge felt that it has become imperative to engage in an awareness creation that would bring about change in attitude by village elders and traditional institutions who are custodians of tradition and some of the harmful practices against women.
He said:  “The law in paper and the law in action are two different things. We want to start the sensitization and advocacy that would bring the judgment or pronouncement closer to the people.“We also want to appeal to the conscience of the people at the rural villages and get the elders and traditional autorities to appreciate that we have moved on as a people in terms of the pronouncements of the court, and that we should start changing our attitude.
“Again, it was another opportunity for people to realise that even if it is not possible for the traditional institutions and people to apply the provisions of the law of Ukeje and Ukeje, they can as well seek alternative means of resolving the issue, which include either settling their daughters while they are alive or by writing a Will that they know can be complied with or adhered to at death.”
He held that it is anachronistic and totally repugnant for Nigerians to continue to believe that a girl child is not equal or at per with the male child.“We have seen them do better in many ways, academically and career wise and increasingly,  we are seeing that most of our judges are women, and we cannot continue to relegate them.
“But again, it is a challenge to the womenfolk to try to rise up and make their marks in such a way that when such a matter comes before them as a female judges, they know what to do, because if judges who are females are able to rise up and defend their own, I believe we can make progress.

“More importantly, mothers should also rise up to the responsibility because in most of these moves, if the mothers do not assert their authorities, their husbands will never get to understand that they are not doing the right thing. “The judiciary has done its work; it is now left for the society to see how they can work towards applying Supreme Court’s pronouncements on in the case of Ukeje vs Ukeje”, Azinge stated.

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