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SUCCESSION, INHERITANCE AND IGIOGBE UNDER THE BENIN NATIVE LAW AND CUSTOM
Inheritance and succession are two words of the same meanings, which can be used interchangeably. It is the inheriting of the property (whether real or personal) of a deceased person by a living person.
Customary Law of succession under Customary Law is basically two systems, namely patrilineal and matrilineal. However, the system of patrilineal is mostly practiced in Nigeria, especially by the Benin people, with the principle of primogenitor rule in which the eldest son ascends to the throne of his father deceased father, and also inherits his property exclusively (especially his Igiogbe i.e. the main house) so long as he had carried out the customary funeral rites of his deceased father.
The primogeniture rule was modeled to that of the monarchy who from the reign of the Oba Ewuakpe laid down customary rule that it is the Oba's surviving eldest male child that will succeed him to the throne and also inherits his estate exclusively provided he had performed alone the customary funeral rites of his father. It therefore became the custom of the Benins till date.
Under this custom, the heir apparent to Benin throne is the Edaiken N'Uselu being the next-of-kin of the Oba. The property (which can also mean his Igiogbe) of the demised Oba is never shared; they vest in the Edaiken, the heir apparent to the throne. A reigning Oba can devise any gift or property to any of his children in his lifetime.
Igiogbe is a Benin word, which literally means the house in which the deceased lived and died and usually, though not always and that may as well contain the ancestral shrine including the staff (called Aho Era in Benin) of the family unit. It is a place where some customary activities are observed by the family. For example, the worshipping of the deity, christening of a new baby and traditional marriage ceremony. Etc. It must be note that the principal dwelling house of a Benin man only becomes his ''Igiogbe'' after his demise.
Even though this practice is causing much contention and friction between family members, no Benin man that has full knowledge and understanding of the custom as it relates to devolution of estate deviates from it, except he does otherwise with a mind set. Infect, the custom gives absolutely the main house (igiogbe) to the family. He has corresponding responsibility to cater for his sibling until they are able to fend for themselves. The Benin custom, from time immemorial does not permit the sale of Igiogbe, but the revise is the case, probably because of the commercial benefits deprived thereof. For the reason that custom is dynamic, Omo N'Oba, Oba Erediauwa, CFR and his chiefs ruled recently that, Igiogbe should not, and ought not to dispose of by any means, as it represents the ancestral home of every Benin man. However, the property can't automatically become his own until after the completion of the ''Ukpomwan'', that is the secondary burial rite with members of the family.
It is only the surviving eldest son of a Benin man that has the right of inheritance to his late father's Igiogbe, except the Benin man had no biological child of his. In this case, his next full blooded brother is vested with the customary rights of inheritance.
Benin customs as it relates to Igiogbe is exclusively the dwelling house of a Benin man after he had died, not that of a Benin woman, because her house can not constitute a family house where the deity ancestors are held. Infect, Igiogbe can't be centered on a woman. Meanwhile if a Benin woman was able to build houses, such buildings will be shared amongst her children in order of seniority; but if she had one property, which she did not by a Will devolved to any of her children it can be shared among the children, unlike that of a Benin man who had only one property that can't be partitioned. The eldest son is expected not to regard his mother's property as an Igiogbe that he must inherit absolutely; as such claim is contrary to the Benin custom.
It is to be noted that Benin customary law of inheritance is like that of the Duke of earl, which keeps family tradition and maintains orderly continuity. It is therefore not repugnant to equity; good conscience and natural justice. To this extent, it is right for a Benin man to make Will to devise, bequeath or dispose of his real and personal estate to his children or anybody he wishes, but must recognize the native law and custom of the locality as it relates to the controversial Igiogbe; which under the custom he can't devise to any other person other than his eldest son. See Lawal Osula v Lawal Osula (1995) 9NWLR part 419, SC 59; Ogiamien v Ogiamien (1967) NWLR 245 at pages 276. Ogbahon vs. Reg Trustee C.C (2002) INWLR, part 749 at 675 ratios 7.
No Benin man under the custom is allowed to give out his dwelling house (igiogbe) to someone else during his lifetime, except to his eldest male child; devolution of Igiogbe can't be by gift inter vivo rather by inheritance. A piece of land is not an Igiogbe if the definition and meaning of Igiogbe is considered, as being the dwelling main house of a Benin man where he lived and died and that may contain the family ancestral shrine and staff.
Ikhimwen ne Igiogbe