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Ukeje v Ukeje | Inheritance Right

The case of Ukeje v Ukeje (2014) 11 NWLR (PT.1418) 384 is one of the celebrated Nigerian cases that must be cited when discussing the position of the law regarding discrimination of women from partaking in the sharing of their fathers estate. Ukeje v Ukeje is actually one of the recent Supreme Court cases on the inheritance right of women. The facts, issues and decision of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in the above cases will be comprehensively discussed in this page.

Ukeje v Ukeje
Ukeje v Ukeje

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MRS. LOIS CHITURU UKEJE
ENYINNAYA LAZARUS UKEJE
(Appellant)
V
MISS GLADYS ADA UKEJE
(Respondent)

Supreme Court of Nigeria (SC. 224/2004)

Justices:
Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen J.S.C (Presided)
Bode Rhodes-Vivour, J.S.C
Clara Bata Ogunbiyi, J.S.C
Kumai Bayang Aka’ahs, J.S.C
John Inyang Okoro, J.S.C

Friday, 11th April, 2014

Facts of Ukeje v Ukeje

Mr Lazarus Ogbonnaya is a native of Umuahia in IMO state, Nigeria. He had real property in Lagos State and lived all his life in Lagos. Following the death of Mr Lazarus Ogbonnaya on the 27th day of December, 1981, his wife and son obtained letters of administration for and over the deceased’s estate, since he died intestate. The letter of administration excluded his daughter (Respondent) from partaking in the sharing of her father estate.

Conversely, the respondent filed an action in the Lagos State High Court with five relief, wherein she claimed to be a daughter of the deceased an by virtue of that fact, had a right to partake in the sharing of her late father’s estate.

To corroborate her argument in court, she called her mother as second with in the case. She also submitted her birth certificate and pictures of her family to show that she was the daughter of the deceased.

After hearing the argument of the lawyers of both parties, the trial court in its judgment found that the plaintiff respondent is a daughter of L. O. Ukeje (Deceased) and proceeded to grant relief 2, 3 and 4 with the respondent/plaintiff soughted. The court further ordered the appellants to hand over the administration of the estate to the Administration General pending when the deceased children would choose 3 or 4 of them to apply for fresh letters of administration.

Aggressived with the decision of Lagos State High Court, the appellants took the matter to the court of appeal which dismissed the case. Again, they were not satisfied with the decision of the Court of Appeal and brought the matter to the Supreme Court.

Issues raised:

  • Whether the respondent proved that she was a biological daughter of L. O. Ukeje (Deceased).
  • Was the evidence of DW8 Discredited in the High Court?
  • Did the trial Court Arrive at its decision after following the proper guidelines for decision making laid down by the Supreme Court?

Decision of the Supreme Court in Ukeje v Ukeje (2014) 11 NWLR (PT.1418) 384

After hearing the matter, the Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the appeal on the grounds that no matter the circumstances of the birth of a female child, she is entitled to an inheritance from her late father’s estate. Consequently, the Igbo customary law which disentitles a female child from participating in her deceased father’s estate is in breach of section 42(1) and (2) of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, a fundamental right provision guaranteed to every Nigerian. The said discriminatory customary law is void as it conficts with section 42(1) and (2) of the Constitution.

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The court went further to say that, the Supreme Court would be quick to reverse concurrent findings of fact if there was miscarriage of justice or a violation of some principles of law or procedure or the finding is found to be perverse. In the instant case, the finding of fact that the respondent supported her claim with flawless documentary evidence, especially her birth certificate.

There was no way such a finding could be said to be perverse, or to have violated some principle of law. The concurrent finding of fact that the respondent was a daughter of L. O. Ukeje (deceased) was arrived at by the trial court after the respondent supported her claim with flawless documentary evidence, especially her birth certificate. There was no way such a finding could be said to be perverse, or to have violated some principle of law. The concurrent finding of fact that the respondent was a daughter of L. O. Ukeje (Deceased) was correct.

In his Dissenting, Ogunbiyi said, “I read in draft the lead judgment of my learned brother, Rhodes-Vivour, JSC and i agree that the appeal is devoid of any merit and should be dismissed. The appeal before us is against the concurrent decision of the two courts where judgment was confirmed in favor of the plaintiff/respondent whose action was Instituted before the trial court.

The reliefs are clearly spelt out in the lead judgment of my learned brother. With the High Court having given judgment in favor of the plaintiff/respondent, an appeal by the defendant/appellant before the lowest court was accordingly dismissed, hence the appeal now before us. The four issues distilled by the appellant and three by the respondent from the appellants’ fourteen grounds of appeal have been reproduced in the lead judgment.

On the continual reading and the totality of the submission by the learned counsel for the appellant, the attack is centered on the entire evidence by the respondent; that is both oral and documentary evidence particularly exhibit H, L, P, J and 3, which were based on the alleged conclusion arrived at by ‘DW8’ that exhibit M and M1 were forged documents. With reference made to section 138 (2) of the Evidence Act, the burden of providing crime is subject to the provision of section 141 of the said Act and the proof is on the person who asserts as to whether the commission of such act is or is not directly in issue.

The law is well settled that proof is on the person who asserts as to whether the commission of such act is or is not directly in issue. The law is well settled that proof of criminal allegation must be beyond reasonable doubt.

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It is also trite law that the appraisal of oral evidence and ascription of probative value of such evidence are the primary responsibility of trial court. In other words, it is for the trial court to evaluate the evidence of witnesses after having seen their demeanor and heard them. This privilege is not the appellate court.

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