By Blessing Ibunge
Female children in the eastern part of the country, Nigeria, have suffered so much neglect and exclusion from being involved in their family inheritance due to cultural beliefs and tradition of the Igbo people that women are more or less temporary children.
They are seen and treated as less important to the family, yet when serious need arise in the family they are looked upon for solution; the reason being that male children perpetuate the man’s generation, unlike the woman who gets married and bears the name of her husband.
Also, a female child has no hope of inheriting from her father’s property and as such she must get married. Again, she is deprived of even partaking from her husband’s estates in the event that the man dies and she has no male child or that her children are still very young and Shylock relatives want to have everything to themselves.
In some cases, the husband’s family arranges and marries a younger lady for the man in order to have male children and the first wife, who actually laboured with the man is relegated to the background and eventually pushed out of the house when the male child eventually comes from the other woman.
In spite of this, the Igbo woman is expected to remain in her husband’s house no matter any maltreatment meted out on her by her spouse or family members because she as a woman does not have a place in her father’s house. This has often brought untold suffering to most Igbo women, especially the uneducated ones.
There have been cases where a woman end up begging in streets or spending the rest of her life in a strange land because she cannot go back to her father’s house after being sent away by her husband’s family.
Furthermore, most women are often subjected to the Widowhood Tradition where they are forced to drink the bath water of her husband’s corpse when the man dies under mysterious circumstances. She is also forced to sleep with her husband’s corpse on the same bed during the night of the wake-keep and afterwards swear before a village shrine to prove her innocence or otherwise.
Until recent times that women are taking up career jobs and can actually live independently and acquire landed property, some Igbo women were marrying men that are far older than them in age or end up as second or third wives, just to have a home. A young girl who gets pregnant outside wedlock may also end up married to another woman or simply throw the child away.
Investigation revealed that in the Motherless Babies Home in Port Harcourt, for instance, most of the abandoned babies are born of Igbo girls who get pregnant out of wedlock and they prefer to throw the baby away because for them it is a taboo.
Recounting her story, Madam Martha in Anaocha LGA of Anambra State, recounted how she was forced to leave her matrimonial home for giving birth to only one female child.
Martha lamented that since she could not give her husband a male child after over 18 years of marriage, he became hostile to her, beating her at every slight provocation, calling her names, and severally threatened to send her back to her family.
“I was married to my husband for over 18 years and during these years I suffered molestation in the hands of my husband. My crime was failing to give my husband a male child.
“At a point my husband became impatient and got married to another woman, who came in and immediately gave birth to a male child. Since that child was born my life has become a nightmare. My husband even stopped taking care of me and my daughter who is presently an undergraduate.
“My husband always comes home with lots of food items, because he is working in the community only to give everything to his second wife in my presence just to make me jealous.
“Recently, in a bid to chase me out of the house, my husband threatened to kill me with a matchet in his hand. He pursued me round the compound, saying that if I do not leave his house that evening he would kill me, but by the intervention of his kinsmen around, they retrieved the matchet from him.
“The next day I reported the threat to the police and the village vigilante, where he was forced under oath not to beat me again”, she lamented.
Another sympathetic story is that of a mother of two beautiful daughters, who was denied presence at her own daughter’s traditional marriage ceremony in January this year for failing to give her husband a male child.
The lady, who preferred to remain anonymous for fear of victimisation and threat to her life said she has suffered several harassment from her ex-husband even when she is no more married to him.
“My husband drove me away from our house years ago and has always threatened to harm me whenever he sees me around the community. With the steady beating and threat from him, I became ill from where I rented a room to live with my two daughters.
“When I became helpless that I felt that I might die in the process, I contacted my family, where my sister came and took me to Onitsha for solace.
“I have two daughters that I have single-handedly trained to be women after we were driven out of their father’s house. But on the day of my first daughter’s marriage, I was denied access to witness the celebration of the child I carried in my womb and gave birth to. I suffered to train them but I thank God the marriage ceremony was a success”, she lamented.
Azuka, a young lady in her 30’s and daughter of late Madam Florence recounting the ordeal of her mother and other female siblings after the death of their father.
Azuka, who is the first child of her mother, from a polygamous home, narrated that her mother hails from the same community with her father in Anaocha Local Government Area of Anambra but had nothing to herself after the death of their father.
According to Azuka, her mother, Madam Florence, who is now late, had three daughters. Their father had houses both at home and in Port Harcourt city where they all lived till the demise of his father but her mother was denied of any of the property because she only had female children.
“Before his death in 2009, he shared his landed properties among his male children which he had with other wife, and left nothing for my mother and her children because they are all female children.
“My father refused to share the property in Port Harcourt to anyone, saying that the resources generated from it would be used to care for his wives and his eight children.
“But after my father’s burial when he eventually died, our first son, who is my step brother laid claim to the house with support from his siblings from same mother.
“When this happened, I went to my father’s brothers and kinsmen to make them compel my step brother to allow us be part of the sharing of that house but they did not even listen or say anything meaningful to me. They advised me not to even struggle for such right because my mother only gave birth to female children.
“Five years later, precisely in March 2014, my mother died in an auto accident in our village. Up till this moment that I speak with you, my father’s kinsmen and my step brother has not called us to ask us how we are faring or give us anything from the proceeds of my father’s estates.
“When my mother died we rushed to the village only for our kinsmen to tell us that my step brother must give approval before any arrangement could be made on my late mother. At that point I wept and wished I or any of my siblings was a male child.
“In order to respect the tradition and I and my two sisters waited for over one week after her remains has been deposited in the mortuary before my step brother came back and picked a date suitable to him without considering the opinion of we, the direct children of the mother.
“Also during and after the burial my step brother never showed us the written records of what went on during the burial. He said we don’t have right to know what was expended on our mother’s burial because we are women.
“What surprises me is that in other cultures, like what I have seen in Rivers State, the story is not the same and I wonder what is so sacrosanct about the Igbo tradition that they see women as less important in society despite civilisation”, she said.
Speaking on why the Igbo society do not recognise women, Parish priest of St Mary’s Catholic Church, Neni, Anaocha LGA of Anambra State, Fr Martins Anyabo, argued that the Igbos practice the Jewish tradition, where women are seen as second fiddles.
“In the first instance, Igbo people believe that they have Jewish origin. In Jewish tradition, in most cases they don’t consider women as eligible beneficiaries of their father’s heritage. In our understanding, women do not remain permanent in their father’s house, they are married out to their spouses, so there is no reason to inherit their father’s properties any more.
“Where the problem lies is, a woman will not live in her husband’s house and father’s house at the same time. So any married woman should focus on her husband’s house and not to look forward to inherit her father’s property too,” he emphasised.
Fr. Anyabo argued further that “if a woman that is married loses the husband, automatically she becomes the next of kin, and her husband’s property should be shared to her too. But in some cases, the widow may have maltreated her husband to death. In this case, the daughters in the family (Umu-Ada) and kinsmen (Umu-Nna) may want to pay her back by denying her that right to her husband’s properties.”
He condemned the situation where some families deny the widow her right for no just cause, saying, “It is not always good to intimidate women in their husband’s house. Give to every woman her due right for peace to reign. But for a married woman to come and struggle for her father’s properties, I do not agree to that, because it shows greed. Civilization has introduced Will, in which a man (owner of the property) chooses who inherits any of his properties when he dies.”
Today, some human rights organisations, including the International Federation of Women Lawyers, FIDA, are taking up cases of women disinheritance, fighting for women who are deprived of their rights in their husband’s house.
Also, the founder of the Integrated Anti-Human Trafficking and Community Development Initiative (Intercom Africa), Okoye Hope Nkiruka, said, the culture of depriving female children of their father’s property has so much impoverished women in the South-East and that is why the girl child and women are vulnerable to trafficking and other forms of abuses.
In her view, anybody still holding firm in the name of tradition or culture to this discriminatory practice against the girl child, is irresponsible and selfish.
Barr Katchy, FIDA chairperson in Anambra State, explained that “FIDA Anambra State chapter has among several efforts to assuage the plight of the women, co-sponsored laws, namely the Administration of Criminal Law, 2010 of Anambra State, the Widowhood Law of the Anambra State 2005, which was signed by the former Governor, Dr Chris Nwabueze Ngige. “We also have the CEDAW, (Centre for Elimination, Discrimination Against Violence Against Women), which is in line with the provisions of the procedure to the Africa Charter on the rights of women in Africa, although not yet domesticated in Nigeria, stressing that CEDAW instruments are domesticated in Anambra State, the State Chapter through the Widowhood Law that came up subsequently.
In many cases too, the Nigerian Film industry known as Nollywood has written and acted movies intended at abolishing this tradition. But how far this can go to affect the Igbo tradition is yet to be seen as the Igbos seems to hold rigidly to this tradition more than any other part of Nigeria.