The case of Anekwe v Nweke (2014) 9 NWLR (PT 1412) 393 is one of the celebrated Nigerian cases that opposed the customary law of Awka people which prohibits a married woman without a male child from partaking in the sharing of her husband’s inheritance. In this case, the Supreme Court of Nigeria, per Ogunbiyi J.S.C referred to the native law and custom of Awka people as Barbaric and repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience and ought to be abolished.
Mrs. Maria Nweke
SUPREME COURT OF NIGERIA
Suit No: 129/2013
Names of justices:
- Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, J.S.C (Presided)
- Muhammad Saifullahi Muntaka-Coomassie, J.S.C
- Nwali Sylvester Ngwuta, J.S.C
- Olukayode Ariwoola, J.S.C
- Clara Bata Ogunbiyi, J.S.C (Redd the leading judgment)
Friday, 11th April 2014
The facts of the case of Anekwe v Nweke are given below:In the case, both the appellants and respondent were seeking for a declaration of a statutory right of occupancy to a piece or parcel of land which is situated at amikwo Village Awka. The respondent initiated an action against the appellants at the Mbailinofu District of Anambra State Customary Court, but the matter was later transferred to the High Court of Anambra State in February, 1991.The plaintiff/respondent claimed against the defendants jointly and severally,(a) A declaration that the plaintiff is the person entitled to statutory right of occupancy of pieces or parcel of land which is situate at Amikwo village Awka and Verged red in her plan No. TLD/ANO 1/92 and filled with this statement of claim.(b) An injunction restraining the defendants, their servants and agents from further trespass on the said piece or parcel of land.(c) An order of court compelling the 2nd defendant to remove part of his building constructed into the plaintiff’s land (d) An order of court compelling the defendants to share the Nwogbo Okonkwo Eli family lands averred in paragraph 16 of this statement of claim.In the alternative, an account of the proceeds of the sale of the family lands and payment over to the plaintiff what is due to her. Both the 1st and 2nd appellants denied the claims of the respondent and counter claimed for a declaration of statutory right of occupancy over the same land in accordance with the native law and custom of Awka people.Both parties agree that the respondent’s husband, Nweke Nwogbo, was the youngest and half brother of the Appellants’ father, Anekwe Nwogbo. Nweke Nwogogbo (That is, the respondent’s late husband) and Anekwe Nwogbo (the appellant’s late father) were sons of Nwogbo Okonkwo Eli.Obiora Okonkwo was the elder brother of Nwogbo Okonkwo Eli, who did not have a compound of his own at Awka when he died. After the death of Nwogbo Okonkwo Eli, his two widows had a son each. They went with their sons to live with Obiora Okonkwo Eli in the compound now known as No. 19, Ogbuagu Lane, Amikwo Village, Awka, part of which is now in dispute.The basics for the respondent’s argument was that, Obiora Okonkwo Eli built two bungalows on the land and shared them between the sons of Nwogbo Okonkwo Eli (i.e the appellant’s father and respondent’s husband) and that she, the respondent, inherited the portion given to her husband upon his death. It was also the respondent’s contention that after her husband died and was buried in their own house immediately before the Civil War, she continued to live in the portion of land as was shared between her husband and the appellans’ father. The appellants’ father asked her to vacate her house on the ground that she had no male child in the house.She also relied on the arbitration made by the Ozo Awka Society on the matter, which she claimed was not opposed by the appellants.The appellants contended the the land in dispute was never partition or shared by Obiora Okonkwo Eli for the sons of Nwogbo Okonkwo Eli. Rather that at the time Obiora Okonkwo Eli moved them into the land, he only built a mud house and that it was their father (Having inherited the compound as the first and only surviving son of Nwogbo Okonkwo Eli) eventually erected two buildings on the land out of which he gave two rooms to the respondent to occupy as a tenant at will.The also argued that the the land in dispute was the homestead of Okonkwo Eli and that by the native law and custom of Awka people, the land was inherited by the appellant’s grandfather Nwogbo Okonkwo Eli and the then by the Appellant’s father, Anekwe Nwogbo, as the first and only surviving son of Nwogbo Okonkwo Eli, and upon the death of Anieke Nwogbo, same had been inherited by the 1st appellant as the eldest son of the late Aniekwe Nwogbo.On the 13th March 2008, the trail court in its Judgement found in favour of the respondent and granted her claims. The counter claim of the appellant was dismissed.
Aggrieved with the decision of the trial court, the appellant appealled to the court of appeal. Here, the court affirmed the judgement of the trial court and dismissed the appeal.The appellant further appealled to the Supreme Court.
Issues determined by the Supreme Court:Whether the Court of Appeal was right in upholding the decision of the trial court which decided the suit on the issue of disinheritance of the respondent when the issue was never canvassed before the trial court.Whether the Court of Appeal was right in refusing to interfere with the findings of the trial court.Decision of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in Anekwe v NwekeUnanimously dismissing the appeal, the Supreme Court of Nigeria stated that the Supreme Court will not ordinarily disturb the concurrent findings of fact of two lower courts except it is shown to have occasioned a miscarriage of justice or to have been perversely reached. In the instant case, the appellant didn’t justify any reason warranting the cause or reason for interference.The court went further to state that the custom of Awka people of Anambra State to the effect that a marriage woman without a male issue cannot inherit landed property of her late husband, pleaded and relied on by the appellant in the instant case, is Barbaric and Repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience and ought to be abolished.
Giving him last comment on the case, Ogunbiyi, J.S.C said “I hasten to add at this point that the custom and practice of Awka people upon which the appellants have relied for their counter claim is hereby outrightly condemned in very strong terms. In other words, a custom of this nature in the 21st century societal setting will only tend to depict the absence of the realities of human civilization. It is punitive, uncivilized and only intended to protect the selfish prepetration of male dominance which is aimed at suppressing the right of the womenfolk in the given society.”