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Gender and Land Rights Database

Nigeria

Women's property and use rights in personal laws

  • The system of marriage laws, which includes customary, Islamic and statutory marriage, has resulted in a plurality of legal provisions and precedents regarding property rights and inheritance (11).
  • Married Women’s Property Act of 1882:
    - Under statutory marriage, the Act gives women the right to acquire, hold or dispose of property acquired before or after marriage. Upon divorce, women’s rights may be enforced through the court processes (11).
  • Marriage Act of 1990, Chapter 218 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria:
    - The married woman under the Act enjoys equal rights to the family assets acquired during the marriage and to be involved in their disposal during or after the marriage or upon the death of her husband (11).
  • Matrimonial Causes Act of 1970, Chapter 220 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria:
    - Courts can rule anywhere in the country that women have a share of family property in the event of divorce on equity grounds (11).
    - The Act is applicable to custody suits arising out of dissolution of civil, customary and Islamic marriages; in all custody matters, the Act directs that the interests of the child shall be paramount (16).
  • The civil law, as enshrined in the Matrimonial Causes Act and Marriage Act, permit monogamous marriages and women married under these Acts shall enjoy the following legal rights:
    - In the event of the death of her husband intestate, a certain percentage − at least one-third of the deceased’s estate − is left to the woman;
    - The Acts recognize the equal right of each party to the custody of children;
    - The wife and husband of a monogamous marriage cannot be found guilty of conspiracy except if a third party becomes a co-conspirator;
    - A wife cannot be compelled to testify in a law court against her husband under the sections of the Evidence Act dealing with competence and compellability and vice versa;
    - The immunity of non-disclosure of facts remains binding on the spouses even after divorce;
    - The wife can sue the husband for her personal property, either before or after marriage (11).
  • The Sharia legal system, in place in certain states, gives women the right to own and dispose of property, including land, and allows equal access to the courts of law for justice and legal remedies. Koranic precepts protect women’s rights to equality before the law, as in the case of Khaulat bin Thaalaba, where a woman complainant was granted full hearing and remedy by the Koran (17).
  • Sharia law also says that women can inherit property, but that women only have the right to inherit a small share (13).
  • In most of the country, marriages under Muslim religious laws or other customary laws are not recognized or protected by the statutory law, even though these are the most common marriages (13).

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