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Sunday, 6 August 2017

How The Assets Of A Dead Igbo Man Are Shared By His Children, By Anayo Nwosu

As written by Anayo Nwosu

Unless an Igbo man wrote a WILL before his death, his assets would be shared by his children using an age-long traditional method.

As was the practice, until Ukeje and Mojekwu families brought the Supreme Court into our sharing methodology, the assets of a dead Igbo man were shared amongst his male children alone.

Under the traditional sharing method, the female children are excluded in the share of their father's estate or assets.

While he is still alive, a reasonable Igbo man is expected to share all his assets, particularly undeveloped plots of land and landed property to all his male children in a traditional practice known as "idu ana obi" or "idu uno".

At the attainment of age 60 or when some of a man's senior male children are old enough to build a homestead or to marry,  a man is expected or reminded to share his property in the presence of his nuclear and extended families. Whichever way he does the sharing is sacrosanct.

The female children are settled differently.

Their fathers give or allot them some assets during their marriage ceremony of "Amalum Uzo Ogo" or "Ogo bia malu ani" i.e. a ceremony whereby the son-in-law invites his Inlaws to come know his house after concluding the traditional marriage rites.

Many Igbo families now do this daughter's settlement  at the venue of her wedding reception. A bride from a wealthy home could be gifted a house, car or motorcycle or tricycle in addition to key household items.

Any of the male children especially the economically stable one(s) could take possession of his share of the undeveloped land while his father is still alive to build his own homestead once he presents a goat or its monetary equivalent to his father.

The goat presentation is key in that it is the irreversible seal on the transaction.

Failure to present a goat makes the transfer of ownership inchoate, inconclusive and revocable by the father or his first son when the father dies.

If a man dies without sharing his assets and without writing his will, the responsibility of sharing the assets falls on the first son and never the widow of the deceased.

The right of the first son to share his father's estate is not contestable in the whole Igbo land. Whichever way he shares the assets cannot also be questioned. He could only be appealed to, persuaded or cajoled to be reasonable or compassionate.

Scattered in Igbo land, are very wicked and greedy first sons who disproportionately shared their father's estate or have refused to even do the sharing.

Under normal circumstances, the first son shall retain the last house or compound in the village where his father resided or lived before he died. The house being referred to is the one in the father's hometown.

It doesn't matter if a man built and owned only one house before he died. That only house goes to the first son.

The first son would now allot undeveloped land to other brothers to go build their own homestead.

Nobody, not even his mother or the widow can annul a decision of a greedy first son who could decide to give half plot each to his three younger brothers and keep to himself the remaining ten plots.

If the dead father had other property outside his town or in the city, the first son allots whichever one he likes to his siblings and retains others.

The oldest or the first son of a man is the alpha male.

Please note that the oldest son could be demoted by his father and replaced with another son who would now become his Obi and will perform the sharing. The chosen now becomes the first and shall do the sharing.

Most men that demote their first son do give the demoted son a land or a house away from the family compound.

The demoted oldest son can only hold elder's office known as "Okenye or Diokpa"  but never as an Obi or enjoy the office or the entitlements of the first son.

The Igbo sharing method is different in a polygamous setting.

It is a different story if the deceased whose assets are being shared, married more than one wife; let's say for instance that he had three wives each with sons.

Wives without male children would be given farmlands to cultivate but the ownership of the farms and their huts or homestead where they live remains with the first son when the woman dies and the last of the female children gets married.

It is still the duty of the first son to share the assets in a polygamous family but he is bound to follow an ancient traditional formula.

If the dead man had married three women who had at least a male child for him, the  first son of the man must share his father's assets into four but not necessarily in equal measure.

After grouping the assets into four  portions, the first son is empowered by the tradition to be the first to choose. So you can imagine how he would have grouped the portions.

His first pick is for the maintenance of the Obi or the stool of his father.

Thereafter, he shall pick another portion which he will share with his siblings.

Then the oldest son from another mother but younger than the oldest son of the father takes one portion from the remaining two and goes to share with his siblings or "umunne".

The last portion is taken by the next in rank who is the oldest male of the third wife.  He will subsequently share his with his siblings or "umunne".

The only son of a mother is usually the envy of his half-brothers as he alone would enjoy his portion of his dead father's inheritance.

The first son of each widow has the right to share what he and his brothers inherited as he likes and there is no appeal.

Please note that nothing is given to a son of a baby mama or side chick of a dead man in Igbo land. The son belongs to her mother's people.

The sharing method described above had been applied in Igboland until two women from the families of Mojekwu and Ukeje challenged the practice in court. The matter dragged up to the Supreme Court.

In Mojekwu's judgement, now known as "Oliekpe Nnewi", the Supreme Court ruled that a widow of a dead man, and not his relations, owns the late husband's assets and can sell, will or mortgage the assets as she pleases.

The implication of Mojekwu's judgement is that a widow can hand over her late husband's assets to her daughters and their husbands.

In Ukeje's judgement, the Supreme Court ruled that even though a daughter has married that she is still entitled to have a share of her father's assets.

In fact the Supreme Court made the first daughter in that case, being the oldest child, the administrator of the estate of her  late father even though she was married and was living with her husband.

The judgement of Supreme Court once pronounced, becomes a law above the customs and tradition.

Hence, the powers of the first son have been whittled down just as the age long practice of excluding the female children in the share of their father's assets is now illegal.

But Chief E. Ojukwu of Uhuagu Nnewi did not wait for the Supreme Court judgement before he included his female children in the share of his assets. All his children know what would belong to them when he is no more.

But, chief is still alive and is waxing strong.

After my meeting with Chief E. Ojukwu and hearing of his tradition shaking act, I took my own to another level.

I have registered a company whereby all my children would have equal share and no one shall be a majority shareholder. They have to agree to sell or share any of my assets.

Having given them or made provision for them to attain the highest education they desire, "ha jee gbaba mbo onwe ha" meaning let my children go and struggle to acquire their personal assets.

Any decision by my children to sell off all or any of my property must be a collective one.

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