• Mon. Jul 22nd, 2024


Jun 23, 2024



He that overcometh shall inherit all things. (Rev. 21:7.)



Custom is defined as “a rule, which in particular district, has for long usage, obtained the force of law”. The Standard College Dictionary defines custom as “an unbendable ways of life that give people identity.” Custom may not be a substitute for life but it is very strong key to it. These are the only aspects that the modern laws or constitution cannot set aside, because they take care of over a large part of the control of the citizens’ ethical and moral behaviour.

Customs, therefore, mirror the culture of the people. In other words, a totality of customs of a people makes up their culture. Culture includes not only social institutions and their derivative forms of learned behaviours, but also those manifestations of man’s creativity whereby the artist produces something new and distinctively individual within the range of forms and patterns, which are a part of his tradition; the philosopher or priest reconciles apparent contradictions in religious beliefs, the narrator gives a new turn to the plot of a familiar tale, or the inventor introduces changes in technology derived from previous knowledge.

The study of culture involves not only the institutions that frame man’s reactions to the fellow members of his society, but also the extra institutional aspects of human behaviour, between personality and culture, and the system of values that gives meaning to the accepted modes of behaviour of the people. In that sense, culture, unarguably, is the totality of a people’s way of life. The people’s, knowledge, belief, ideas, arts, occupations, entertainment, customs and traditions are embedded in their culture.

In Ika, customs for instance, have great right over the child in the burial of his father. Custom can empower a child to bury his father, and in the same vein can alienate a child from his father or family. For example, custom can make the eldest surviving legitimate son lose his right to succession for any, or all the following reasons:

(a) Health: When the oldest surviving legitimate son is certified not healthy enough to step into his father’s shoes, for example, being mentally unstable or paraplegic (idiot).

(b)   Religion: When the eldest surviving legitimate son refuses to bury his father, for example, if the son is a Christian where his father was of the Ika traditional religion, and the son insists that he would bury his father according to Christian beliefs. This eldest son will not have the customary backing when his younger brother contests his right to ascension. “One who disregards the deities or gods of his land will have nothing to back him when he is looking for his lost goods.”

(c)    Economic: If the eldest surviving legitimate son refuses to bury his father on the ground that he has no money, and thereby transfers his responsibilities to his younger brothers, he immediately loses his right to his share from his father’s estate because you do not give any share of a dead father’s estate to a child who refuses to partake in the burial of his late father.

(d) Absence: If at the time of the death of his father, the eldest surviving legitimate son’s where-about is unknown, he is given a grace of three lunar years, after which he stands to lose his right and position if he does not appear to bury his father, and the younger brothers bear his responsibilities.

The role of the Customary Law in the determination of a deceased’s estate cannot be over-emphasized. But what is Customary Law of the Ika people?



Before the advent of the Whiteman in Ikaland, the people had a relatively developed system of organizing their society. For example, quarrels, disputes and disagreements between two or among more human beings were natural phenomena. When a man was faced with any of these problems, he went to a superior person for redress. In this way, disputes and quarrels between, or among the disagreeing people were settled. Ika society was divided into different traditional and social groups to help the divine kingship to settle matters, and carryout the administrative functions in each kingdom.

All, but one of the eleven Kingdoms in Ika Nation had, and operated monarchical government while Idumuesah Kingdom / operated Okparan system. The monarchy government or the Okparan system of the kingdoms was established on the tenets of Customary Laws. The governmental structure was developed and divided into organs similar to modern government system. The Obi or the Okparan-Uku were the heads of the traditional government of the various kingdoms. Each Obi or Okparan-Uku was the law himself, and his words were laws. But to exercise an efficient internship, an Obi or Okparan-Uku had Chiefs, advisers, traditional courts village heads, llotu and made use of the age grades, etc. These different categories of people were employed to effect administration in each kingdom in Ika nation before the modern government was introduced.

In the villages, cases of quarrels and disagreements were reported to the village heads who settled them if the first court (family court) and the ebon court could not do so. Where the parties were not satisfied with the judgment, the case was taken to the Obi or Okparan-Uku’s palace before his majesty as the supreme court of the kingdom. The judgment of the Obi or Okparan-Uku was final and uncontestable. With the application of these rules and guides, each kingdom, vis-à-vis, Ika World, has been well and peacefully organized from time.

In the same vein, the Ika people managed and organized their inheritance, marriage, religious, political, other social and economic customs very orderly before the arrival of the Whiteman to Ikaland. It therefore follows in Ika World, there has been a system of traditional organization, which regulates the various kinds of relationship between, or among the members of each kingdom. These are customs, which are “unbendable ways of life that give people identity”. “They are established and habitual practices that are typical of a particular group of people.” They form a body of organic or living laws, which regulate the lives and traditions of the indigenes of the community. It is organic in that it is not static. It is regulatory because it controls the lives and transactions of the community subject to it. This prerequisite for an orderly traditional society is what is called Customary or Native Law for the people. It is “not a Common Law enacted by any competent legislature in Nigeria, but enforceable and binding within Nigeria, or a customary area of its jurisdiction.”

Native Customary Law may therefore be defined as “a rule of body regulating rights and imposing correlative duties, being established by native usage, and which is appropriate and applicable to any particular cause, action, suit, matter, dispute, issue or question…” Customary or Native Laws vary from tribe to tribe in Nigeria. Even though not entrenched, they count superior in the determination of customary matters of any tribe. As they were customary crises, so there must be customary laws. There must be no crime or punishment except in accordance with fixed pre- determined law.

The Customary Law of the Ika people gives them some socio-cultural traits, which are peculiar to the Ika nation, and which gives them their identity. It is established on, and embedded in Ika cultural norms and values.

In Ika, the process by which a man acquires membership of a kin group is descent. The process by which he acquires rank and privileges is succession, and the way in which property is transmitted to another is inheritance. In discussing the Rules of Inheritance and Succession in Ika, the following terms no explanations.


  • Bad child: A bad child has no claim to his dead father property. A child who is bad to his father can be disowned in anger as a result of wickedness or damage so repeated. The father may slaughter a goat to his ancestral shrine, and pronounce that henceforth, the son or daughter is no longer his child. Ika people say nwa elelia nędie, arina mma, meaning that a child who disregards his father cannot prosper. If the father did that, and the quarrel was not settled before his death the next son would take precedence. Such a bad child had no claim to the dead man’s property except the son begged the elders to intervene. Invariably, they would come “to pour oil on the troubled waters”, and slaughter a goat to renounce all the child had said or done. In addition, a heavy fine was then inflicted on the stubborn child.
  • Descent and Lineage: “Descent is a word used to trace the relationship between one person and ancestor who may have been dead for many years. Lineage is group of people all related in one particular line of descent.” Descent and lineage are often trace through a man’s father, his father’s father and father’s, father’s fathers. This is called patriline descent, and it is the traditional method of trace descent among the Ika people. This is different from matrilineal descent group tradition tracing descendant through the mother’s line. The lineage is important in Ika traditional society because it acts together as social unit. The lineal descent system in Ika culture often controls the way, in which property is passed from people who die to those who live on.
  • Inheritance: In its broad sense, inheritance or heritage means the transfer of something from earlier to late ages or generations. Thus, one may speak of an individual’s inherited traits of body or character, and of the cultural heritage of one civilization from another. In this discourse, ‘inheritance signifies the devolution of property upon the death of its owner’. Generally, inheritance of property cannot occur unless goods are regarded as belonging to individuals rather than to groups, and unless the goods are of such permanence that they continue to exist, and to be useful beyond the death of the owner. In another vein, certain properties are not devolved. For example, property of a victim of an oath, ozun iyi, are not inherited in Ika, but the properties are abandoned for the priest of the very juju, (iyi). This is to protect the survivors from being molested or haunted by the spirit of the juju. Also, the belongings of individuals who died of leprosy are not inherited. The huts, weapons or bowels of the deceased are burnt or buried. This is to prevent the survivors from contacting the leprous disease through the use of the belongings.

Devolution of some properties in absence of rules of inheritance could easily lead to quarrels and violence. Hence from the pre-literate days in Ika World, devolution of property has been regulated in minute detail by custom. Times were when, for instance, weapons for farming and bowls were the only belongings of an individual. After death, the elders, acting in good faith and without any fraud, got the interested parties together, and the properties were judiciously devolved according to the inheritance custom of the Ika Nation

  • Paternity (Origin on the father’s side): Paternity problems have been recognized in Ika culture since time. Children born during marriage are strongly presumed to be the children of the husband of the mother. Although, situations have been when some husbands may have suspected that children born during marriage are not their children. But a centenarian respondent said that disavowing children born during marriage has been almost impossible in Ika culture. He said however, that there are perhaps a few cases, at most, in which husbands successfully were able to disavow children born of their wives. Proving or disproving paternity has been considered important in Ika because of inheritance and support. A parent does not have to support a child unless the child is “legally” the parent’s child. The more serious situations involve children born outside of marriage. Before the blood- grouping tests of the present times, paternity in Ika culture was established in favour of the woman’s first mate after a menstrual period in cases of dispute as to who sired the child.
  • Legitimacy of children: In Ika culture, there is no child that is fatherless. No child therefore is illegitimate. A child born by an unmarried woman for instance, is raised at birth, to the status of a legitimate child. The father is called upon to perform igba mkpuodu, naming ceremony after ohun esa, seven days, after its birth. Parents would insist to know from their daughter whose child she was carrying. The performance of the igba mkpuodu ceremony is an act of legitimating. which is an acknowledgement of biological parenthood. Such a child has full inheritance rights.
  • Shared Children: In Ika tradition of the then days, children born through certain types of marriages like mgba were shared between the husband’s and the wife’s families, while they were not shared in some marriages like nwunyen. In the latter case, the children are bonafide property of the husband and his heirs. Where the children are shared, it is done on sex basis, and either the husband’s family or the wife’s family has the right of first choice. A centenarian respondent said that the absence of payment of bride price was the main factor bound up with the right exercised by the wife’s lineage head over the first choice among the shared children in some Ika societies. All children shared to the wife’s family in some kingdoms in Ika would lose the inheritance rights of their biological father’s landed property.


(To be continued….)