Nigerian Women as Mirrored by the Law (Part 2)

Under Nigerian law, assault is an offence so also is battery. However, there comes a strange twist to the tale in the sense that the same law which prohibits assault recognises it within marriage. Section 55(1)(d) of the Penal Code provides that “Nothing is an offence, which does not amount to the infliction of grievous harm upon any person and which is done by a husband for the purpose of correcting his wife. Such husband and wife being subject to any natural law or custom in which such correction is recognized as lawful.” It is arguable that this provision of the Penal Code condones domestic violence and may be used to justify the assault and physical abuse of women in marriage.

Women Having Equal Opportunities as the Men

Section 55 of the Labour Act prohibits women from working at night. The section provides that “no woman shall be employed on night work in a public or private industrial undertaking or in any branch thereof, or any agricultural undertaking or any branch thereof.” The only exception is for nurses. Although we can assume the draftsman intended to ensure the safety of the female gender, however, with the rapid and revolutionary change in global development, the world has seen more women taking up the roles of breadwinners in their families and as such, is capable of working at night. Hence the provisions of Section 55 of the Labour Act can be said to hinder women from having equal opportunities with their men counterparts, especially where they can carry out such work.

 Citizenship Right to Foreign Men Married to Female Nigerians

Many countries in the world respect the sanctity of marriage as an institution and as such, enact laws to give adequate protection to the institution. Many countries confer citizenship status on the foreign spouses of their citizens upon application.  Section 26 (2) (a) of the 1999 Constitution confers the right of citizenship to any woman who is married to a Nigerian citizen but laughably denies such right to foreign men married to Nigerian citizens. The rationale behind this stance of the law is unclear; however, it is a clear reflection of the discriminatory nature of the provision of the law respecting the grant of citizenship status by marriage.

Right to Inheritance and Local Customs

Upon the death of an individual, the law of succession provides that the properties owned by such individual during his or her lifetime be inherited by his or her beneficiaries. However, many local customs in Nigeria exclude women from this right already granted to them by the law of succession, especially where the deceased died intestate. The laws of intestacy largely favour the male offspring over the female offspring as the laws on intestacy generally follow the rules of primogeniture whereby the property of the deceased are inherited by the eldest male living offspring. This system of culture-backed gender discrimination has existed for centuries, depriving the female offspring of their rightful inheritance. However, it is interesting to note that the Courts are beginning to take a stance on these principles, thereby restoring gender balance regarding the laws of inheritance. In Ukeje v Ukeje, the Supreme Court found that the Igbo inheritance rules that exclude women from inheritance violate the country’s 1999 Constitution, confirming both the decisions of both the High Courts and Court of Appeal. The court, per Rhodes-Vivour JSC. held among other things as follows:

“No matter the circumstances of the birth of a female child, such a child is entitled to an inheritance from her later father’s estate. Consequently, the Igbo Customary Law, which disentitles a female child from partaking in the sharing of her deceased father’s estate is in breach of Section 42(1) and (2) of the Constitution, a fundamental rights provision guaranteed to every Nigerian.

Again, would reviewing Nigerian laws, help the cause of the Nigerian woman?