War Over Law Of Inheritance
Rivers State House of Assembly is at crossroads on what to do with a bill presently on the floor of the assembly. The bill is seeking a legal backing on the right of women to partake in the sharing of the family inheritance being the traditional preserve of only men in the family. The bill sponsored by the House committee on women affairs is aimed at using the instrument of law to empower female members of the family to partake in the sharing of family inheritance.
But the bill last week suffered a major setback as the House deferred the bill till the next legislative session. The House came close to having a rowdy session last week when the bill was introduced on the floor. The members of the House had a heated argument over the bill with majority of members rejecting the bill.
The speaker of the House, Otelemagba Dan Amachree sensing danger concerning the bill, ordered that the bill be withdrawn and directed the chairman of the House committee on rules and business to repackage the bill and represent it in the next legislative session. The speaker while winding up the first legislative session stated that the bill is a very sensitive one and argued that such bill should not be toyed with.
The bill had earlier suffered a stiff opposition on the floor of the assembly with majority of the members calling for its withdrawal. The leader of the assembly, Hon Chidi Lylod, had called on his colleagues to reject the bill arguing that the bill if passed into law would become an affront on the traditional norms of the state which he said accord men in the family legitimate right over family inheritance. He warned that the bill if allowed to become law would generate bad blood among families in the state.
The bill was later referred to the rules and business committee just as the House winded up for the first legislative year.
Women in the state, especially the elite seem to be solidly behind the bill. The state chapter of the association of female lawyers on Monday last week led a solidarity match to the state House of Assembly where they appealed to the members to quicken the process of passing the bill into law. The female lawyers said the old tradition which barred women from partaking from family estate is against the Beijing principle for gender equality. The group in an address presented to the speaker of the assembly stated that it was not only men that bear the brunt of family responsibility stressing that women are most often the bread winners of so many families. The group wondered why only men can partake in acquiring the family wealth while women contribute towards the up keep of the entire family.
The speaker of the state assembly who spoke through his deputy Hon Lyie Kwane noted that the house is aware of the role of women in nurturing and keeping the family together. He commended the supportive role played by women in various families and assured them that the House will do everything humanly possible to ensure that the rights of women are protected in the state.
Although the bill is still struggling to make its way back to the House, mixed reactions have continued to trail the controversial bill. While some people are in support of the bill others see it as an abomination for women to rub shoulders with men on the issue of inheritance.
Chief Okaka Amadi, a traditional ruler form Ikwerre land sees such a bill as an affront to traditional norms and the old ancestral order of family wealth acquisition. He stated that the culture and tradition of Rivers State is very clear on who inherits the family’s estate arguing that nobody can change such law. “Inasmuch as I respect women considering the fact that they are our mothers and sisters I cannot concede to the fact there should be a constitutional provision to empower women to inherit the estate in their place of birth,’’ he stated.
Another respondent who does not want his name in print told our correspondent that the assembly should concern itself in making an enabling law that will better the lots of Rivers people not to dissipate energy in making laws that will bring a curse to the generation yet unborn. “Where in this part of our world has such law been passed? Women in fairness are very important in families but that does not mean that they should struggle with men over family wealth. The moment a lady is married she has gone to another part of the world,’’ he argued.
But Mater Ukpabi a female activist in the state sees this argument in a different light. She argued that women shoulder more responsibilities in their families, pointing out that so many families have women as their bread winners.
She stated that a woman at the early stage of her marriage help in training her siblings and wondered why such persons should not partake in sharing the family inheritance.
While the assembly has gone on a break, event watchers are waiting to see the direction the bill will take when they reconvene for the next legislative session.