Annually, the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS) selects a scholar of Nigerian descent based in a university in the Global North or South to deliver a lecture on a pressing national issue. The 2020 Diaspora Scholars’ Lecture was delivered by Dr Anthony Diala, of the Department of Private Law at the University of the Western Cape, South Africa. The lecture is titled Rethinking women’s property rights under customary law in the context of legal pluralism in Nigeria.
“The event, which was chaired by the Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Lagos, Prof Ayo Atsenuwa, had in attendance, the Director General of NIALS, Prof Muhammed Ladan, Director of Studies, NIALS, Prof Paul Idornigie, SAN, a representative of Hon Abike Dabiri-Eruwa, the CEO of Nigerians In Diaspora Commission, and other distinguished legal scholars.
Dr. Diala noted in his lecture that, Nigeria’s framework on property law, is insensitive to women and children. The lecture, Diala said. was aimed to inspire judicial and legislative reforms relating to the interaction of legal orders in Nigeria, especially the reform of the customary laws of matrimonial property. He however, noted that, ‘the problem with customary law and women’s matrimonial property rights in Nigeria, is the unsuitability of many customs to contemporary conditions, which reflects in legal pluralism’.
In the context of Nigeria’s legal pluralism, Diala views the Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution as disturbingly deficient, as it is silent on the relationship between Indigenous law and State law. He further expressed concern over clauses in the Constitution, relating to the establishment of Customary Courts, composition of the courts and their positions in the hierarchy of courts in Nigeria.
Diala argued that, Nigeria’s legislative framework gives women a weak legal platform, on which to assert changes in the indigenous laws of matrimonial property.
Commending the recent decision of the Supreme Court in UKEJE v UKEJE, which robustly recognised the rights of women to inherit properties in Igboland, Diala urged an urgent holistic judicial approach, on women’s property rights in other parts of Nigeria.
He further recommended amongst others, that the Constitution must specifically give women matrimonial property rights, like the Ghanaian Constitution which provides that ‘spouses must have equal access to property jointly acquired during marriage, which shall be distributed equitably between the spouses, upon dissolution of the marriage.