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Opinion: Heirs Hunted by Curse of Inheritance; By Edokpolor Aikharue


Master Shedrack Edoghodion, if he is still alive, may count himself lucky to be one of the few survivors of the crisis brought out by the failures to adhere to the ‘inheritance deeds’, like numerous of his Nigerian countrymen found in the non-application of the traditional customs of inheritance.

Shedrack, the admirable and promising young man and first son to Pa Charles Edoghodion, had the just-a-position of being the heir apparent to his father’s house and several landed property, which by his native tradition and the laid-down customary law of his Bini tribe was the first inheritor, who dispenses some to the other male children, that are brothers from the same father.

Shedrack’s father, according to the narrative by the locals and elders of the nativity of Ahor community of Edo State, Nigeria meant to follow the same customary procedures of having to pass to his biological male children, the same wealth, which he too was transferred with.

Unfortunately, Osagie Edoghodion, Pa Edoghodion’s half-brother from another mother of the polygamous matrimony, according to foundational sources within the same local community, had severally tried to curb Osagie Edoghodion’s attempts at confiscate the property of his half-brother to himself. This, he was said to have done, knowing fully well that his half-brother had invested his life earning and hard labour into the bequeathed property. Through several settlements before the community elders of his village, Osagie Edoghodion had been scolded to lay off his brother’s property.

Still not assuaged by the settlement, Osagie Edoghodion was alleged to have committed the arson in the broad daylight, with irreparable property loss, before he disappeared from the law.

Few days after the arson, Pa Edoghodion and his only wife, Mrs. Florence Ukhueduan Edoghodion, were simultaneously found murdered (apparently by strangling), in the respective communities they took refuge, following the razing of their house and the loss of all their personal effects. Perhaps because of the fears of getting the same death-treatment given to his both parents or that he too may have been killed by his parents’ murderers, Master Shedrack had disappeared from the scene and has not been heard from, for a couple of years.

There are numerous other Nigerians and Africans, who daily face the dire situation of Shedrack Edoghodion and his family faced years ago. But, permanent solutions must be sought, for the sake of justice and the wellbeing of the family fronts and the local communities, particularly.

Oghe Usigbe was also a first and an only son, who was to be bequeathed with many landed properties in the highbrow of Ughelli, a growing town of Delta State, Nigeria. While the burial ceremony of his late father was going on, after which the traditional ceremony of passing on the inheritances to him, murder attempts were made at his life, which, upon investigation by the local police, opened a can of worm.

Behold, an uncle of his was the mastermind of the dastardly but fruitless attempts, by his sending some gunmen to take the life of the unsuspecting son of his late brother. The revealing story was that he badly wanted the property of his late eldest brother passed over to his own son, because the custom of the Urhobo tribe of the state has it that the first son of a younger brother inherits a man’s property, when the very man has no male child to survive death.

But, from the pre-colonial Nigeria unto modern-day realities, even though the British colonial masters had for fifty years foisted its dominion and supposedly superior ethics and laws on the once diverse nationalities of a country that was ignobly joined together, inheritance had remained a great source of worry and societal acrimony.

For the sake of clarity on the issue, inheritance is the passing on of property, titles, debts and obligations upon the death of an individual. In most African traditional society as in Edo State and Nigeria, as backed by most customary laws; an heir is a person entitled to receive a share of the deceased property, subject to the rules of inheritance, in the jurisdiction to which the deceased was a citizen or where the deceased owns property.

The rules of inheritance differ amidst societies and have changed over time. In Edo State, as with most Nigerian and African cultures, which are often backed by the different customary and modern laws, inheritance and heir refers primarily to succession to property, by descent from a dying deceased to an heir. Herein, inheritance is mostly patrilineal, where only male children can inherit property. Matrilineal inheritance is hardly in practice, which entails female children passing inheritances to their own male children.

Remarkably, in the custom of most African societies, patrilineal is the thing, where Christianity professes to it in the Bible’s chapter of Proverb 19:14, saying that “House and wealth are inheritance from fathers…” as well as Islamism who ordains patrilineal inheritance in the Qur’an, Hadith and Fiqh.

But, for a Bini society, where Shadrack Edoghodion comes from, just like most other Nigeria’s numerous ethnic groups, the traditional belief system about inheritance, thought to be very unique, has gradually been defaced by a debilitating law from a westernized foreign climes, which has caused upsets and destabilizes the social scheme of things. And unless the traditional customs on inheritance is strengthened as a strong legal set of tools to resolving the discrepancies and loopholes brought about by the ravaging western culture and jurisprudence, such problem as that of Shedrack Edoghodion would always prevail.

For instance, in Bini, there exists an ageless cultural heritage called Igiogbe, a house in which a man lived and died and absolutely passed on to his first son; by which the name and lineage of the particularly family continues. But, since the beginning of 20th century there had been incessant litigations, which militate against its practice. Unfortunately, there are lots of the Binis who are unaware of the gradual erosion of this great practice and still rigidly hold on to the viewpoint that the system is still very much in practice.

Instead of destroying the very fulcrum of societal growth, which some indigenous African provide, it would be more rewarding that law and policy makers look into some traditional belief systems, which are unique to our peculiar situation will the views of retaining or introducing them into the judicial system, as a way forward.

Pointedly stated, were the traditional laws on inheritance, like Igiogbe, still very effectively observed, the question of Osagie Edoghodion flouting the judgment of the elders, to abstain from the covetous acts wouldn’t have arisen. The question of the burning of the house and alleged murder of his half-brother and wife would not have come about. Perhaps also, the young Shadrack Edoghodion would not have got missing and being sought for!

Edokpolor Aikharue is public commentator, based in Asaba, Delta State

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