All you should know about inheritance and customary law in Nigeria.


2/16/20232 min read


Inheritance is simply the practice of passing on your belongings, assets and properties to your beneficiaries after your demise. In Nigeria, when a person dies intestate, the assets of the deceased may be distributed using the customary laws or the immediate family members can apply for a letter of administration from a state high court or the ministry of justice. Most times, the former applies. Nigeria has over 250 ethnic tribes and this means that the pattern of inheritance under customary law will vary according to each ethnic group. Inheritance is commonly patrilineal and sharing of assets tends to be in favor of the male child.

In Yoruba land, there are to methods of distribution of a deceased estate - per stripe (idiigi) and OriOjori. When one dies without valid Will, the mode of distribution is per stripe aka (idiigi). The properties will first be divided equally by the number of wives, and then the share due to each wife will be sub-divided equally among her own children. Polygamous families where an only child of a wife will get the same share as with the many children of another wife might bring up some dispute. In such cases, input from the family head might be necessary. The ‘OriOjori’ mode of distribution occurs where each child of the deceased enjoys an equal share of their father’s property. It has been argued that this mode will result in a fair distribution and prevent dispute within families. Daughters have equal rights to inherit from their father’s property. Whereas, it is said that in Yoruba native law and customs, wives have no right of inheritance in their deceased husband’s estate.

The rules of inheritance in Igbo land is not uniform but there are certain similarities. The oldest son of a deceased has exclusive rights to the entire estate left behind. He is entitled to a special property by virtue of being the eldest son. He has the right to manage and administer other properties of his deceased father for the benefit of himself and his brothers and sisters. Under Igbo Customary Law, the female child was excluded from inheriting the property of their father or their husbands. This however stirred some discussion and in a Supreme Court decision in April 2014, the Court found that the Igbo inheritance rules that exclude women from inheritance violates the country’s 1999 Constitution (specifically Section 42 (1) and (2) )which guarantees freedom from discrimination.

The same rules of succession that apply to the Benin also apply to most parts of Igbo land. In Benin Kingdom, the entire estate of the deceased belongs exclusively to the eldest son who acts like a Trustee for the other children. There is also the custom, of returning properties of a deceased woman, which she acquired before her marriage, back to her family on her demise.

Commonly, in the ‘Calabar’ area, the eldest surviving male member of the deceased person succeeds as the head of the family and inherits the deceased estate.



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