n African Human Rights Law Journal - Reform of the customary law of inheritance in Nigeria : lessons from South Africa : focus : twenty years of the South African Constitution

Volume 14, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 1609-073X
  • E-ISSN: 1996-2096



Apart from preserving bloodlines, the male primogeniture rule of inheritance is aimed at providing material support to deceased persons' dependants. This 'inheritance-with-responsibilities' principle is being eroded by socio-economic changes, such as urbanisation, labour migration and the diffusion of extended families, thereby causing hardship to widows, girls and younger male children. So, to what extent has Nigeria reformed customary law inheritance rules in order to reconcile them with changing social conditions? Whereas South Africa has adopted judicial and legislative measures to reform customary laws of inheritance, the same cannot be said for Nigeria, despite recent Supreme Court decisions. Using the best interests of dependants' principle as a lens, the article offers to Nigeria lessons in customary law reform from South Africa. It argues that reform efforts and public debate in Nigeria do not adequately engage the changing social conditions that influence the customary law of inheritance, and suggests two options to remedy this situation.

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