• Mon. Jul 22nd, 2024

CUSTOMARY RULES OF SUCCESSION AND INHERITANCE IN IKA WORLD Pt II

Jul 5, 2024
onyekpezeCHIEF DR ONYEKPEZE

CUSTOMARY RULES OF SUCCESSION AND INHERITANCE IN IKA WORLD (Contd…)

CUSTOMS AND RIGHT OF SUCCESSION

(g)The dying man’s wishes:

It is pertinent to record a summarized narrative of some centenarians, nonagenarians and octogenarians’ respondents on the role of friends and kinsmen, during a man’s last years on earth, the making of his ‘will’, his death, and the succession and inheritance of his status and property by his heirs, especially in the olden days.

According to them, some of the Ika forefathers relied more on friends during their last years on earth than they did on their kinsmen. In illness, a man turns to his friends for help. An old man is in constant fear of witchcraft attacks, sorcery and other mystical dangers from kinfolk and neighbours. When critically ill, these fears require him to be put away privily, where he will be attended to by a servant or a favourable daughter, and one or two of his closest friends. Intruders are warned off. His friends seek the advice of the idibie, and perhaps diviners, secretly, and all hints of the serious nature of the illness are kept away from him.

Then, the man’s wishes, which amount to his ‘will’ were made orally during his last illness, and are confided to a small group of friends. A man’s ‘will’ may be heard by a favourite daughter, a sister’s son, a retainer (a servant of a high rank), and perhaps a trusted son-in-law. Bequests may at times be very complicated or buoyant and vast his widows, marriage wards, farm lands, clothing, machetes, house chairs, boxes, plantations, livestock and ‘cash’, are divided among his sons and close kin. The bulk of the property is inherited by the man’s primary heirs, while miscellaneous properties are bequeathed to distant kin. Very close kin are banned from hearing the ‘will’ and the man’s sons will, on no account be informed of its contents.

A man fears the rapacity of his brothers and disappointed sons. For this reason, his friends, the executor of his ‘will’ keep all details of the ‘will’ secret until arrangements have been made for the disposal of his properties, the payment of debts, and death dues. If the preparations are not ready, the man’s death is kept secret for a time, to prevent the inevitable commotion that occurs after a wealthy man’s death, such as widows fighting for their sons’ interests, close kin snatching property, sons attempting to seduce their father’s widows, etc.

A man depends on his friends, as executor of his ‘will’ to see that his dying wishes are carried out. Bequests are distributed, often in face of the hostility of disappointed kin and influential relations, all of who try to further their own interests, at the expense of the successors. A friend is not a beneficiary; also, his own interest is not concerned.

A dying man, whatever his status, is primarily intent on perpetuating his name after death. Succession is from father to son, and it is believed that a man’s status as an ancestor and leader or founder of a patria-line is guaranteed only if a son succeeds him. If an ambitious-kin succeeds, the dead man’s property is merged with that of the successor and his status is lost forever.

As a result of the strict father-son succession rules in Ika, many may continue to look for male heirs, and may die while their heirs are still young. Before death, the children will be placed in the care of his friend if this becomes the case. This man, the heir-guardian, manages the estate, provides sexual partners for his widows who remain in the compound, if they are nwunyen by marriage, and watches over the ‘education’ (training) of the child until he reaches maturity. Both the estate and the heir are considered to be in a dangerous position during these years, since kinfolk will attempt to claim widows and property. As the heir lives with his guardian, the jealousy of his mother’s co-wives would be considered too bitter for his safety. When the youth formally succeed to his father’s status, a wrangle frequently occurs, since the temporary compound head has become firmly ensconced in his role. Physical force may have to be brought to bear to dislodge him.

Some may die with no male heirs. This position is even trickier. His friends may arrange for the man’s widow or widows to remain in the compound, take a lover, and bear children for the dead man, one of who will succeed him. In other cases, in order to continue the dead man’s name, a daughter’s son or even a slave (in the olden days) is named successor, “To take a slave for a child is not a thought of one day”, igi igbon roro nwa elę iroro ohwenken. These situations are not common. Patrilineal collaterals of the dead man will struggle even harder to merge the man’s property with their own, and the role of loyal friends in supporting the man’s successor is of great significance.

The heir’s guardian’s last public act in conjunction with the successor and the man’s kin is to arrange for the burial rites of his late friend. These rites jurally establish the position of the heir in maintenance of the family’s identity and perpetuate the name to the lineage, ogbę ekenlę, meaning that the family would not terminate. A sacrifice is made, attended by all relations who declare their allegiance to the new head.

A man’s successor does not enter into the fullness of his power until the supernatural talents of his late father have been added to more mundane ones associated with running a compound and estate.

SEE ALSO: IKA LANGUAGE IS NEITHER BINI NOR IGBO BY ONYEKPEZE

Group Property:

For example, under Native Law and Custom, the head and principal members of the family can only validly alienate family land. Family property is brought to an end through valid and absolute transfer, or by voluntary or judicial partitioning among the members of the family. Where there is transfer; the transferee becomes the absolute owner. Where there is partition, each member becomes absolute owner of his or her share. No individual member of the family has a separate claim to the ownership of the whole or a part of it. Transfer by a member is void.

However, there can be strife in the inheritance practice owing to the economic exploitation of land. Plantation farming has changed the pattern of land tenure because a piece of land may remain in the possession of a family for as long as it is being used, and may even be treated as a right under the Law of Tort, which permits transmission of the land with the crops to successors in the family. The religious aspect of land has given way to the economic value of land. It is no more the home of the ancestral spirits, but capital for the living.

A man’s “arts” or trade potentials are inherited by his successor along with patria- group property. This power is taught to a man’s heir in many devious ways while the child is growing up. It is part of the ‘education’ of the people. The talent he learns is involved with the arts, and shape changing, at which the Ikas are great adepts. If a man dies before his heir is old enough to have learnt the tricks of the trade, a retainer (in the case of a Chief) or his best friend (in the case of a commoner) is asked to hold these powers in trust for the young man.

SUCCESSION IN IKA CULTURE

Succession is the devolution of property or title of a person on his death upon those entitled either by the directives of the deceased in writing, or failure of writing, by the recognized rules of customary law regulating the devolution of property on death, in which case, the succession is intestate.

A large number of Ika populations are illiterates or semi- illiterates. As a result, the far greater number of persons die intestate (that is the state or condition of dying without having disposed by ‘will’ of a part of his property). It necessarily follows that customary law will apply to the devolving of the property of such persons on death.

Even the so-called educated persons in Ika, seldom make ‘wills’ in anticipation of death. And hence they are traditionally loath to it. Another reason is that upon death, by Ika custom, property seldom devolves in a single individual owing to the extended family system, belief in ancestors, deities and their mythology (fictional stories). For example, the customary rule of primogeniture, by which the eldest male child where there is intestacy exclusively succeeds to the property of the deceased father after performing all burial rites, is not in vogue in Ika culture. Like in some societies in Nigeria, two types of succession are identified in Ika Nation Testate and Intestate successions. Upon these are based the customary rules of succession to a family property by the surviving children and relations of the deceased intestate.

  1. TESTATE SUCCESSION

This takes the form of:

  • Nuncupative ‘will’:

This is a “declaration made voluntarily and orally by a person in sound mind, on expectation of death, in the presence of responsible and disinterested persons.” They are recognized as ‘customary law wills. This is usually informed by the services rendered to the deceased by a particular son or relation (including nwa nùa agu-u in Akumazi and other Ika Kingdoms) that, in the normal process of customary distribution of the testator’s estate on his death, might not be adequately compensated. It might also be to protect sufficiently, a child of a tender age who the testator fears might be neglected after his death. This type of death-bed declaration or ‘will’ is known as ‘nuncupative will’. To be valid, it must be made voluntarily by the testator in a state of mental health, and in the presence of witnesses who: would, if it becomes necessary, establish the death-bed declaration of the deceased.

Although death-bed declarations are often complied with out of respect for the deceased, sometimes, they can be disregarded or modified by the elders of the deceased family. An example is where the deceased made a death-bed declaration devising an undivided interest in the family land to someone. Such devise or bequest was not honoured by the family as the deceased, not having a disposable interest in the land until partitioned, cannot give out what is not absolutely his own. An Ika maxim has it that if the dead did not share his property well, the living will amend it. Emeni onye nwuhunę ekeni ukuę ohuma, ndẹ rẹ ndu ekedẹ n.

  • Written ‘will’:

A ‘will’ or ‘testament,’ is the legal transaction by which an owner of property disposes of his assets on the event of his death. The terms are also applied to the written instrument, in which the testator’s dispositions are expressed especially in recent times. While in Moslem usage, the terms ‘will’ and ‘testament’ are interchangeable, in some traditions; ‘will’ refers to the disposition of real property and ‘testament’, to that of personal property. Also, the Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English defines ‘will’ as “a statement in writing saying how a person wishes his property to be distributed after his death.”

  1. INTESTATE SUCCESSION

This mode of succession arises where a person dies without making a ‘will’ and consequently, customary law of succession binding on the deceased, who is his personal laws, regulates the devolution of his property on his death,

SUCCESSION TO IKA THRONES  

Ika is a patrilineal society. With the exception of Idumuesah Kingdom, which operates Okparanship system of succession, it is the tradition that the heir apparent of an Obi succeeds exclusively to all the property, real and personal, of his deceased father. The heir steps into the shoes of his father and immediately stands in loco parentis to all his younger brothers and sisters upon the performance of his father’s funeral rites. The Obi’s property is not devised. This custom has been recognized to be in keeping with natural justice, equity and good conscience in Ika World.

Succession in Idumuesah Kingdom is a unique political system not found elsewhere in Ika culture. It is a stateless system under the framework of gerontocracy (government by an elder). The Okparan-Uku is the symbol of Idumuesah sovereignty. He is the leader and head of the Kingdom. Aliobumę village alone reserves the prerogative of presenting the Okparan-Uku of the Kingdom because they are the descendants of the founder of the town, Ibile. Okparan-Uku is always the oldest man in Aliobumę village. The next oldest Okparan succeeds when the incumbent Okparan-Uku dies.

(To be continued….)