Tuesday 5 October 2021

Itsekiri Inheritance Law

The Itsekiri in the past, did not dispose of his properties by a written Will, but as the last words of a dying person were regarded as equally legal, the disposal of properties by 'mortis causa' donation was a recognised custom in the early days. There were instances in which a dying chief called his children, disclosed the names of his debtors and of those to whom he was indebted, giving the amount in each case, and then gave direction as to where to find his valuable treasures. Such last words were generally taken into consideration when the time came to share out the goods, moneys, etc., of the deceased.

Generally, however, on the death of a an Itsekiri his properties were kept in the custody of the chief-mourner (olori-ebi) until the time of distribution, which was normally after the final funeral rites.

At a fixed time the chief-mourner and the other elders of the family called a meeting of the deceased's children and relatives, whereat the properties were divided. Both the children born in wedlock and in concubinage in theory had equal rights, but the former, in fact, were wont to insist on a better consideration. The eldest son, who was generally the next-of-kin by custom,

had the largest claim. The house and most of the furniture and wives passed to him: he could freely use the family lands held in trust by him, providing he gave a portion of the fruits derived therefrom to his brothers and sisters, and did not alienate any piece or parcel thereof. Hence the proverbial saying, to wit, "Ê nè biri ọmọkpanran te tse t ĕ gba gba oron-okun" (i.e. Be what it may the heir-at-law must receive the coral-bead necklace). Such necklace was a sign of authority or delegation of the powers of the deceasèd to the next-of-kin.

In those days Cloths, moneys, and other movable properties were shared out proportionately to all the children and close relations, wives being only shared to the sons. of their own in-mates and near male relatives of the generation junior to the deceased, as levirate marriage of the senior type was strictly forbidden.

Where most of the children were under age, the distribution was postponed until such time as they grew up; but when this was not done, their share of the inheritance was kept in trust either by their own brothers, or the half-brother who inherited their mother, or by the Olori-ẹbi or Ọmọkpanran as the case might be.

The heirs were liable for all just debts even if  the liabilities were greater than the assets. They also had the right to collect such proved debts as were owing to the deceased in his life-time.

Wives were not permitted by custom to inherit their late husband's properties. So also men are not permitted to inherit their late wife’s property. 

A childless woman who efused the new husband to whom she was shared, must refund pre-marriage expenses, which acted as an automatic divorce. But if she chose to marry another membr of the family— generally one who looked after her during the mourning period— other than the one she was given in the first instance, a compromise was, reached accordingly.

The law was relaxed in respect of wives who had children with the deceased husband, especially when such women were getting old: they might remain in the family with their children. A woman who became a widow for the second time in the same family was not subject to inheritance or payment of any fee. She could either go to her home or remain to look after her children, or cling to any relative of the deceased she liked. and who wished to take her as wife.

From; Itsekiri Law And Custom By C. O. Omonukarin.

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