by Ven Dr I. U. Ibeme ; ;
Click Here For PriscAquila Christian Resource Centre
Comment on The Chapel of Grace Blog:

From antiquity, cultures and societies have always preserved estates for the
clan/family at the expense of the individual heritage. In many cases even
alienated estate is redeemed back or inevitably restored at the termination of a
lease period. While men are used to preserve family/clan lineage and so
inherit the family estate, the women are used to breed across clans/families
and so have to share in the heritage of their husbands. Thus the men serve
local patrilineal and defence purpose for the clan, while women serve wider
interlineal and conciliatory purpose for the race. With the custody or
trusteeship of clan/family estate on the men, they gain material advantage
over the women. Subsequent erroneous demand for bride price as a payment
rather than as a present by parents, the perversion of polygamy by men,
and the fear of women engaging in black-widow racketeering have led
cultures and customs to misconstrue and misplace wives as components of,
rather than as co-possessors of their husbands’ estates. The Church restored
wives as monogamous co-possessors with their husbands through the Wedding

There are misconceived insinuations by some adherents of anti-Biblical
ideologies/religions and accusation by anti-Christian movements (who associate
the Church with mundane socio-cultural practices or legalities obtainable in the
Greco-Roman empire, especially when Christian and Jewish influence became
dominant). On the contrary, the Bible neither commanded nor indicated that
women should not inherit estate or possess their own property. Instead, earning
money to acquire property was deemed virtuous for women (Prov 31:16), while
endowing daughters with estates as dowry was practiced, even after marriage
(Josh 15:16-19).
When the question about women inheritance arose in the case of Zelophehad’s
daughters whose father had no son (Num 27:1-11), the Bible endorsed
daughter’s right of heritage similar to those of the sons, in the absence of a
male offspring (Josh 17:3-6; Job 42:15). In absence of any offspring, the
inheritance goes to the kindred in degrees (Num 27:8-11). Except for the
firstborn who inherits a double portion (Deu 21:15-17), inheritance is shared by
lots among all other offspring heirs (Num 26:53-56; 33:54; 36:2). Both
testamentary and nuncupative Wills may overrule the heritage lots (Gen 48:2122; Josh 17:14-17; 1Chr 5:2; Eze 47:13) and even the heritage right of the
firstborn and bestow such to the chosen or preferred son especially for
succession in covenant office (Gen 21:9-13; 1Kin 2:12-17). Through faith and by


grace, the New Testament Gospel mystery grants to all male and female Church
SAINTS alike, the intimacy and security of the BRIDE Church and the
authority to also be the SON Church that will co-inherit the Kingdom of God
together with the GROOM-SON Christ (John 1:12; Rom 4:13-16; 8:14-17; Eph
5:25-32; Rev 19:7-8).
In order to avoid inheriting from multiple lineages and heritage transfer from
one patrilineal province to the other, women’s right of heritage is foreclosed or
forfeited to their siblings or offspring when daughters have to marry (or widows
choose to remarry) outside their clan of prior heritage (Num 36:1-13). Even
when men alienate or mortgage their estates, they must do so on lease such
that the estates must be restored to their original clan in the year of Jubilee
(Lev 25:10, 23-28). Jubilee release of property does not apply to
metropolitan estates that are non-clan heritages (Lev 25:29-30).
Christ’s response to earthly estate inheritance was that, shamelessly craving
and striving to inherit the estates of dead persons is both foolish and
covetous (Luk 12:13-21). Christians should rather work to earn or walk to be
rewarded with their own possession (Psa 37:22-34; 1Cor 4:12; 2Thes 3:8-12),
though seeking reward and heritage in God’s Kingdom comes first (Matt 6:3034). In Christian marriage, as a father does not vie with his children for a share
of his heritage but holds it in trust for them till they reach adulthood or till his
death, so does a mother co-hold her husband’s estate in trust for her children
till their adulthood or till her death or remarriage. Within the prevailing ambits
of Nigerian succession laws (obtainable in other nations of the Commonwealth)
as subscribed to by the Church, the securities conferred on the widow over her
deceased husband’s estate is “possessory but not proprietary”. Therefore
she should not alienate or dispose of it without consent of her deceased
husband’s family. Even men do not dispose of inherited family property without
consulting the other family members. Heritage is a trust not a purchase.
Full private proprietary and disposal rights usually apply to personally acquired
non-clan property.

The Wedding Ring with its endowment and Christian inheritance laws
guarantee that a widow is not divested of all her husband’s estate as long as
she lives, except she remarries or her deceased husband left a legal succession
testament (in the form of a valid Will or Codicil) to the contrary. This is clearly
evident from the ancient Church’s traditional words for giving the ring. The
giving of the Bride removes her from her father’s heritage except for her dower.
The transfer of heritage security (somewhat similar to Germanic mund or
Romanic manus) through the endowment ring bond (Anglo-Saxon wed)
ensures that no one has multiple heritage lineages. This demands the prior
settlement and fulfilment of basic communal, civil, and legal requirements.
More details on the import of the Church Wedding Ring is available at



Unlike the Engagement Ring given before marriage as a token of love, the
Church rightly uses the Wedding Ring as the legal Seal of Guarantee or token of
co-heritage to endow the wife and guarantee her right of heritage in her
husband’s estate. This is similar to the indwelling Holy Spirit Who is the Seal
that guarantees the believer’s right of inheritance in Christ and assures him/her
that s/he will eventually possess the Kingdom as joint-heir with Christ (Rom
8:15-17; 2Cor 1:21-22; Eph 1:13-14). Gospel Salvation is not only by Christ’s
Blood but also by the Holy Spirit (1Pet 1:2; 1John 5:6-8); it is not only
propitiation (atonement) for remission but also adoption by regeneration
(John 1:12-13; Rom 8:23). The Christian Faith portrays the Church as the Bride
of Christ which also has full rights of joint-inheritance with Christ as Sons
with Christ (John 1:12; Rom 8:14-17; Eph 5:25-32; Rev 19:7-8). So every
Christian wife should also be co-heir with her Christian husband. Again
whether we are male or female the indwelling of the Holy Spirit confers on us
the adoption right of sonship (Gal 4:5; Eph 1:5), so both wives and offspring
(males and females) in the Church should all be heirs like sons. May the
will of God be done on earth as it is done in heaven (Mat 6:10). When giving the
wedding ring to the bride, the groom both endows her and sureties her
heritage rights with these words:
I give you this ring
as a sign of our marriage.
With my body I honour you,
all that I am I give to you,
and all that I have I share with you:
in the name of the Father,
and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Though Hellenist culture did not give women much heritage right, but Roman
law guaranteed much freedom and right to women under their informal
plebeian civil “Usus” (legal contract of mutual consent for shared nonownership use and enjoyment without bride or groom price, dissoluble)
marriage institution. Such rights and freedom were however curtailed under the
formal traditional “Coemptio” (groom-access price without sacrifice,
dissoluble) marriage. Women rights were most curtailed in the patrician
religious “Confarraetio” (bride-ownership price with ritual sacrifice,
indissoluble) marriage variety. The prevalence of plebeian “Usus” marriage
institution in the Roman Empire made it easy for the Church to accord Christian
women their due rights and freedom without much social difficulty. Church’s
indissoluble but yet Usus-like marriage conformed to the Scriptural right of coheritage (not merely right of use) by the wife in her husband’s estate while she
relinquished her father’s heritage. However other non-Romish local cultures
within the Roman Empire had no Usus-like practices that gave women due
Christian privileges.



There are four types of inheritance that apply in Nigeria: (1) Statutory
(Intestate), (2) Testamentary, (3) Customary and (4) Concessionary.
Intestate Inheritance devolutions depend on the type of marriage contracted
(Customary Marriage or Statutory/Ordinance Marriage) and the net value
of the entire estate. Testamentary devolution applies fully to freehold titles that
are private or personally acquired estate, investments and endowments but
does not apply fully to communally owned heritage and such estates held as
trusts. Concessionary Succession is done by legitimate inheritors with kind
consideration for any non-adopted and extramarital children who are
testamentarily or statutorily unfavoured because they are not legally entitled to
INTESTATE STATUTORY SUCCESSION: According to Canon and Civil Laws of
succession applicable to Christians and Christian Marriage in Nigeria (see more
details below), in the case of husbands who died intestate (without making a
Will), the widow until her death or remarriage, usually retains one third of the
estate if there are legitimate
descendants (male and female
children/grandchildren) and kindred (parents and siblings) or two thirds the
estate if there are no such descendants but only kindred; she retains all if there
are no descendants or kindred. At the death of both parents or remarriage of
widowed mother, their property fully devolves to the descendants and/or the
kindred as the case may be. For wives who had acquired their own fortunes and
died intestate, their property shall devolve to their widowers, descendants
and kindred following the same rules of thirds as above. The rule of thirds
here is such that the widow(er) and offspring of the deceased if any, shall share
two thirds while any sibling and parent of the deceased shall share one third of
the deceased’s estate.
TESTAMENTARY SUCCESSION: Being the oldest in the nuclear family, the
husband should readily and willingly plan to die first before his wife and
descendants, if all things are equal. Since no one knows when death would
come, it is therefore necessary for him to ensure testamentary succession or
other forms of entrusting, bequest or bequeathal (e.g. next-of-kin and specified
titles) for the devolution of his estate early in his marriage. Wives with freehold
property should also make Wills. Death activates Wills but remarriage
disannuls any pre-existing Will.
Some of the advantages (See of
making a Will include:
1. A Will overrules both Customary and General Law rules of
inheritance and succession;
2. The Testator (Maker of the Will) can by his/her Will distribute his/her
assets in the manner desirable to him/her;
3. The Testator (Maker of the Will) can appoint the persons who would
manage his/her estate on his/her demise;
4. It saves the additional cost of applying for Letters of Administration and
paying inheritance tax(es), which are usually high and would constitute an
inconvenience to one's beneficiaries, where no Will is made;


5. It comes into effect immediately the Testator becomes deceased
(Heb 9:16-17) and even before its approval by a Court of Law.
Customary and Islamic Laws allow for oral (nuncupative) Wills, which may or
may not be written, for the disposition of part but not all of one’s estate after
one’s decease.
Key information that the Testator (Maker of a Will) should state in the
Will include:
1. His/her full names including his alias if any, address, occupation,
telephone numbers, etc;
2. His/her proposed executors/trustees; these are usually very close
3. Instructions as to burial and associated expenses;
4. Instructions as to the distribution of all his/her properties; full details of
these properties must be given;
5. Instructions as to what happens to properties acquired after the making of
the Will;
6. Any other instructions.
Note that a Will need not be in any special form or language. In addition, a Will
would be declared invalid where it is not signed at the end, in the presence of
at least two or more witnesses (not beneficiaries) who MUST both be
present at the same time and sign the Will simultaneously after the
Maker has signed in their presence. The Witnesses need not read the
contents of the Will.
A Will may become invalid where the Maker:
1. Gets married and does not make a new Will;
2. Makes a subsequent Will or Codicil; a Codicil is an addition or supplement
to a Will;
3. Expressly revokes his Will;
4. Destroys or makes any kind of alteration;
5. Expressly revives a previous Will.
NOTE that Section 8 of the Wills Law discourages an attesting witness or the
Wife of the Maker of the Will or any person claiming under him, from benefiting
under the Will attested to by one of them. However, a beneficiary under secret
trust, who witnesses the execution of a Will, will not forfeit his interest as his
interest dehors, i.e. outside the Will and not from the Will.
CUSTOMARY SUCCESSION: For undeveloped customary or communal lands
held or inherited as ancestral or native trust by the husband, customary or
communal rules of devolution would be expected to apply, since such heritage
trusts do not confer absolute title to freely dispose. The Yoruba polygamous
customary succession is usually per stripe (idi-igi among wives) rather than per
capita (ori-jori among male and female offspring) except for monogamists. For
the rest of southern Nigeria, customary succession is mainly by the principles of
primogeniture (eldest son) trusteeship and reversion of the deceased wife’s
premarital estate to her family of origin. In northern Nigeria, the Maliki code has
been absorbed more or less into customary succession, especially for Muslims.


The Probate Registries, Welfare Offices and Lawyers are best equipped with the
necessary expertise to resolve the complex rules of deposition and execution of
Wills, and intricacies of devolving intestate estates.

The material in this section were derived from an e-document on the internet titled “LAWS AND PRACTICES RELATING TO
WOMEN’S INHERITANCE RIGHTS IN NIGERIA: AN OVERVIEW” written ca. 2002 by Joy Ezeilo, LLM (Lond) B.L. of
the Faculty of Law, University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus and now the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in

Nigerian colonial experience left her with a plural, complex legal system made
up of Nigerian legislation, received English Common Law, Customary Law (including
Islamic law) and judicial precedents by Federal Courts and State Courts. Nigerian
legislation consists of statutes and subsidiary legislation. Statutes consist of
Ordinances, Acts, Laws, Decrees and Edicts.
Being a federal state, all the three levels of government in Nigeria namely,
Federal, State and Local Government have powers to make laws. Whereas the federal
law applies throughout the country, the state law is limited to the territorial
jurisdiction of the state. Each of the 36 states of Nigeria has power to make her own
laws and to apply local customs within the state legal system which may vary from
one geographical area to another within the same state.
The complex interaction of this multi-tiered legal structure which functions,
simultaneously, in conjunction with very significant informal social controls based on
gender, ethnicity and religion affects the status of women, particularly in marriage.
A woman’s right to property depends on the type of marriage she contracted.
There are two types of marriages that are recognized under the law: statutory
marriages (which include ordinance Christian marriages) and customary marriages
(which include marriages under Islamic law). Therefore, any discourse on women’s
inheritance rights in Nigeria must be done in the light of diversity of the legal systems
that may apply.
1. The Wills Amendment Act, 1837 and the Wills Amendment Act, 1852,
regarded as statutes of general application in ALL NIGERIA.
2. The Wills (Soldiers and Sailors) Act, 1918 which deals with the formal
validity of Wills.
3. The Administration of Estate Law 1959 (the Wills Law, CAP 133, Laws of
4. The Administration and Succession (Estate of Deceased Persons) Law, 1987
applicable in EASTERN NIGERIA particularly Anambra, Enugu and Ebonyi
States (there is now Administration of Estates Law of Abia State, 2010). The
provisions of part 4 of the 1987 Edict are similar to those in the Wills Act,
1852 and Wills Law, 1959. It is important to note that these laws apply
in respect of the spouses of a statutory marriage and their children.
5. Local Customary regulation and Islamic Codes on inheritance and Succession
for marriages not contracted in accordance with the Marriage
IN THE EASTERN STATES OF NIGERIA, the Administration and Succession (Estate
of Deceased Persons) Law, 1987 prescribed detailed rules of distribution of real and
personal estate on intestacy in Section 120 as follows:



If the intestate leaves a husband or wife but no children, parents or brothers or
sisters of the whole blood, the residuary estate shall be held on trust for
the surviving spouse absolutely. However, where the surviving spouse is
the wife and the intestate leaves brothers or sisters of the half blood, the wife’s
interest will be for her life or until she marries, whichever first occurs.
Thereafter, the residue of her interest shall go to the intestate’s brothers and
sisters absolutely in equal shares. The children of a deceased brother or sister
will take the share to which his parent would have been entitled if alive.


Where the intestate leaves a husband or wife as well as children’s children
(whether or not he also leaves parents or brothers or children of brothers and
sisters), the residuary estate shall be held on trust as to the value of
one third thereof for the surviving spouse. The interest of such spouse
shall be absolute in the case of a husband and in respect of a wife, for her life or
until re-marriage, whichever first occurs. The remainder of the estate together
with any residue on the cesser of the wife’s interest shall be held on
trust for the children in equal shares absolutely or failing children, on
trust for the children of the intestate’s children in equal shares


If the intestate leaves a husband or wife as well as one or more of the following
– a parent, a brother or sister of the whole blood or children of a brother or sister
of the whole blood, but does not leave a child, two thirds of the residuary
estate shall be held on trust for the surviving spouse. In the case of a
husband, the interest shall be absolute while for a wife, it will last for her life or
until her re-marriage, whichever first occurs. The remaining one-third of the
estate together with any residue on cesser of the wife’s interest shall be held on
trust for the brothers of the whole blood in equal shares absolutely. In the
absence of brothers of the whole blood or their children, the portion will be for
parents absolutely.


Where the intestate leaves children or children of deceased children but no
husband or wife, two thirds of the residue of the intestate’s estate shall
be held on trust for the children of the intestate equally. Of the remaining
one third, one sixth shall be held on trust for the parents and the other
one-sixth for brothers and sisters.


If the intestate leaves no husband or wife and no children or children of
deceased children, but leaves both parents, two-thirds of the residuary estate of
the intestate shall be held on trust for the parents in equal shares absolutely.
The other one third shall be held on trust for brothers and sisters, if any, in
equal shares absolutely. If no brothers and sisters survive, their share shall go
to the parents.


Where the intestate leaves no husband or wife and no issue, but leaves one
parent, two-thirds of the residuary of the intestate’s estate shall be held on trust
for the surviving father or mother. One-third of the value of the estate will be
held on trust for brothers and sisters in equal shares absolutely. If there are no
brothers and sisters, their shares will go to the surviving father or mother.


If the intestate leaves no husband or wife and no issue and no parent, the
residuary estate of the intestate shall be held on trust for the following persons
living at the death of the intestate and in the following order and manner (Num
First, upon trust for the full brothers and sisters of the intestate. But if no
person takes an absolutely vested interest under such trusts, then





Secondly, on trust for the half-brothers and half-sisters of the intestate. If
no person takes an absolutely vested interest under such trusts, then
(iii) Thirdly, on trust for the grandparents of the intestate, in equal shares. If
there is no member of this class, then
(iv) Fourthly, on trust for the uncles and aunts of the intestate but if no person
takes an absolutely vested interest under such trust, then
Fifthly, on trust for the uncles and aunts of the intestate parents.
In default of any person taking an absolute interest under the foregoing
provisions, the residuary estate shall belong to the head of the family of which
the deceased was a member. Such a head of family shall, out of the whole of
the property devolving on him, provide for the dependants, whether kindred or
not, of the intestate, and other persons for whom the intestate might reasonably
have been expected to make provision.

IN THE WESTERN STATES OF NIGERIA, the applicable Marriage Act is the
Administration of Estates Law 1959. It is important to note that, under the 1959 law,
provisions of that law do not apply for customary marriages where the distribution,
inheritance and succession of any estate is governed by customary law. This law only
applies to statutory marriages contracted in accordance with the civil Marriage
“Where any person who is subject to customary law contracts a marriage in
accordance with the provisions of the Marriage Ordinance and such person dies
intestate after the commencement of this law leaving a widow or husband or
any issue of such marriage, any property of which the said intestate might have
disposed by will shall be distributed in accordance with the provisions of this
law, any customary law to the contrary notwithstanding provided that:


where by virtue of paragraph (f) of sub-section (1) of this section the
residuary estate would belong to the state as bona vacantia, such
residuary estate shall be distributed in accordance with customary law
and shall not belong to the state; and
any real property, the succession to which cannot by customary law be
affected by testamentary disposition, shall descend in accordance with
customary law, anything herein to the contrary notwithstanding.”

IN THE NORTHERN STATES OF NIGERIA, the applicable civil Marriage Act is still the
combination of the received Wills Amendment Act, 1837 and the Wills Amendment
Act, 1852. The succession and inheritance provisions of these Acts were
approximately followed in the Western 1959 Law and the Amanbra 1987 Edict.
UNDER THE MALIKI CODE said to be developed from the Fourth Chapter of The
Qur’an (see Professor Yakubu “Property Inheritance and Distribution of Estates under
Customary Law” in Towards A Restatement of Nigerian Customary Laws published by
the Federal Ministry of Justice, Lagos, Nigeria, 1991), wives and daughters are entitled to
participate in the sharing of the estate of their deceased husband or father. According to Prof
Yakubu (ibid), the following are the primary heirs and their shares, but these are best
understood and implemented by Islamic experts:
Father, one-sixth (1/6).
Grandfather, one-sixth (1/6).
Mother, one-sixth (1/6) with a child and one-third (1/3) without a child.
Grandmother, one-sixth (1/6) with a child and one-third (1/3) without a child.
Husband, one-fourth (1/4) with a child and one-half (1/2) without a child.
Wife or wives, one-eighth (1/8) with a child and one-fourth (1/4) without a child.
Daughter, half (1/2) when alone, and two-third (2/3) if more than one son.



Son’s daughter, howsoever like above.
Uterine brother or sister, one-sixth (1/6) if one, one-third (1/3) if more.
Full sister, one-sixth (1/6) when alone, and two-third (2/3) if more.
Consanguine sister, half (1/2) if one and two third (2/3) if more.
Updated October 13, 2015
by Ven. Dr. I. U. Ibeme
Copyright © PriscAquila Publishing, Maiduguri, Nigeria.
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