Member’s Corner

Writing a Will and Inheritance under the Igbo Native Law and Custom – By Barr. Fidelis Anayo Akonobi

The Igbos as people is uniquely and naturally endowed with commercial acumen which is almost invariably harnessed in their trades and converted into gains or profits. This character trait is inherent in most Igbo stock and this is why there is a notorious saying that “ndi igbo anaghi azu ahia uru n’adighi” meaning that no Igbo person engages in any business which offers no gain or profit prospects. This divine instinct has propelled the Igbos to scatter across the globe. In fact, it is widely believed that there is no part of the world that you will not find an Igbo person. Aside from the government that regulates the overall economy, the Igbos functionally controls the commercial activities in Nigeria. They have also excelled in various other spheres both locally and internationally. This has culminated in the Igbos being widely regarded as a prosperous race.
Many Igbo men and women live in opulence with a lot of money and property and this presupposes that upon their death, there is always a legacy to bequeath to those that survive them. Unfortunately, most Igbos are reluctant to put down in written form when they are alive how they wish their properties to be distributed to those that survive them after their death. They do not consider it serious or important. They see it as something that reminds them of death. They deliberately forget that death is sure. In the Bible, it is written in the Book of Hebrews 9:27 that it is appointed unto men to die once and after that judgment by God. To many, the thought of death is unimaginable and unacceptable. That is why they are imbued with the acute misconception of regarding death as meant for others and not them. It is for that same reason that they may well be above 70years, possessing a lot of properties but still ignore the issue of drafting a will. Some even wait until they see death approaching on their sick bed before hurriedly writing their will and at that point in time, some of them may have lost the capacity to reason properly. The sooner they realize that death is a natural and divine appointment which all must keep and not wish away, the better for them.
A will has been defined as a disposition or declaration by which the person making it (the testator) provides for the distribution or administration of his property after his death. A document is not a will unless it is testamentary that is unless it speaks from death. The concept of a will is not altogether strange to the Igbos. “Ike Ekpe” is an oral or sometimes a written declaration of wishes of a man to be implemented after his death by those he leaves behind. Most legatees hold such declarations sacrosanct and strive to implement strictly the wishes of the dead man because it is widely believed that if they deviate, the spirit of the dead will haunt them. However, some do not feel bound or obligated to respect the wishes of the dead, they often say “onye nwuru anwu kee epee, ndi di ndu ekegharia ya” meaning that a dead man may say his wish before he dies but those alive can change it.
In order for a will to be valid, it must be made by a person who is 18 years and above, and made voluntarily without any pressure from any other person. The maker of a will must at the time he is making it be of sound mind. This means that he must be fully aware of the nature of the document he has made and signed, and aware of all his property as well as the identity of the people who may inherit them. A will must also be in writing, signed by the maker in the presence of two witnesses. The two witnesses must also sign in the presence of the person making the will. A will has other legal niceties and technicalities which we may not go into here for reason of brevity.
Certainly, a will can solve problems. Its importance cannot be ignored. If a man makes a will it means that he has while alive excused his heirs from all those rules of inheritance under his native law and custom. The Igbo custom unlike the Yorubas disinherits female children in relation to landed property and places undue importance or glorifies the head of the family such that he owns everything leaving the others to inherit virtually nothing, Reliance on the ‘Umunna’ (Kinsmen) to settle disagreements arising from inheritance issues may be problematic. Some Umunnas may be corrupt or dubious or may be influenced by some inheritors against the others. This is why it is appropriate for a man to distribute his property to his heirs according to his wishes as stipulated in his will. The acrimony and upheaval which may erupt in the course of distribution of a man’s wealth between his loved ones or family members after his death may be avoided by the presence of a will.

State Pardon For Looters – By Barr. Fidelis Anayo Akonobi

Many reasons have been touted by the Federal Government of Nigeria for its decision on Tuesday 12th March, 2013 to grant pardon to some ex-convicts notable among them are the former Governor of Bayelsa State Mr. DSP Alamieyeseigha and the former Managing Director of Bank of the North Mr. Shettima Bulama. These persons were at different times convicted of offences bordering on fraud, corruption and looting of public treasury. But it is evident that the more officials of the Federal Government strove to force the decision down the throat of Nigerians the more superficial and unpopular the decision appears. Scathing remarks have been made by a cross-section of Nigerians in condemnation of that decision led by anti – corruption civil society groups. The United States of America has also expressed disappointment that those found guilty and convicted of corruption could be pardoned by the President Good luck Jonathan’s administration.

Presidential spokesmen Dr. Doyin Okupe and Dr. Rueben Abati have exerted themselves to defend the indefensible. They said that the President acted within the ambit of the provisions of Section 175 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria bordering on the prerogative of mercy. Under this provision, the President is empowered to in respect of offenders grant pardon, remission or respite and such powers shall be exercised by him after consultation with the Council of State. President Jonathan’s spokesmen had argued that past Presidents of this country had invoked this power and pardoned persons like Late Chief Obafemi Awolowo and the Late Ikemba of Nnewi, Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. According to Dr. Okupe, Alamieyeseigha deserved the pardon as he is a foremost leader of Ijaw Nation and his political and stabilizing influence in that region has impacted on the overall economy of the nation bringing crude oil exports from the abysmally low level of 700, 000 bpd to over 2.4 million bpd.

Be that as it may, I am very convinced that the widespread disapproval and criticism of Alamieyeseigha and Shettima Bulama’s pardon is as a result of the nature of the offences they committed – their corruption status; after all six other persons were pardoned concomitantly with them by the President including General Oladipo Diya, Late General Musa Yar’Adua and Late General Abdulkareem Adisa but theirs have generated no controversy. Fair minded Nigerians would not criticize President Jonathan for exercising this power in favour of Alamieyeseigha simply because Alamieyeseigha was his former boss or that both men came from Bayelsa State. In my mind, the condemnation of this pardon goes beyond these parochial considerations.

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