Gender and Land Rights Database


Inheritance/succession de facto practices

  • Almost all ethnic groups practise patrilineal inheritance. Upon a man’s death, land may be divided among his male heirs or passed down solely to the eldest son, depending on the community practice. If a man has multiple wives, his land is divided equally among the wives and passed down to their sons. Women rarely inherit land, usually only if there are no male heirs. Inheritance is by far the most common mode of land acquisition among rural people (12).
  • A case study in the Enugu area reported that the most common channel through which women household heads acquired property was through inheritance from their spouses. When there was no will, women’s inheritance rights were governed by the type of marriage, customary or statutory, that was contracted between spouses. Very often it happened that the properties of the deceased were distributed among his dependants in accordance with the customary law applicable to him before he died. In most cases, these customs were unfavourable to women (18).
  • In customary law marriages, the wife is often regarded as the man’s property and she is generally not expected to entertain any measure of equality in whatever form. Upon her husband’s death she is more likely to be dispossessed. This is not the case with a man who at the death of his wife inherits all of her properties (11).
  • The provisions on inheritance in Islamic law give some protection to woman’s inheritance rights. Under the Sharia legal system, widows are allowed an in-house compulsory mourning period of four months and 10 days to determine whether they are pregnant for the deceased husband. After that period, if they are found not to be pregnant, they are free to remarry. Widows under the Sharia law inherit their husbands’ properties together with their children (11). However, women only have the right to inherit a small share (13).

Sources: numbers in brackets (*) refer to sources displayed in the Bibliography