When West African Female Judges Gathered in Abuja

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The first ever West African Sub-Regional Conference organized by the National Association of Women Judges in Nigeria (NAWJN) and the International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ) was a gathering  which highlighted issues on the way forward for African women and the society in general.

The conference which took place recently in Abuja at the National Judicial Institute harped on various challenges encountered by female judges such as inheritance, child marriage, gender equality and human trafficking, among others.

 With the theme: “Forging Ahead Against the Odds: The West African Woman”, the conference was attended by a number of dignitaries most of them judges of the Supreme and High Courts in Nigeria and other West African countries including Sierra Leone, Ghana, Niger, Cameroon, Benin and Togo.

Explaining the motive behind the conference, President of the National Association of Women Judges in Nigeria (NAWJN), Hon. Justice Uwani Abba Aji said: “The conference is expected to bring together female judges drawn from member countries of the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) and other judges with an interest in the region to share experiences and discuss current and emerging developments affecting women judges and their interests in the region”.

Justice Uwani thanked everyone for finding time to attend the conference, stating that it was indeed going to be a memorable event as topics affecting women’s leadership in politics and policy-making, human trafficking, child marriages and the roles of female judges in West Africa would be discussed.

In her keynote address titled ‘The Role of the Female Judge in West African Judiciary’, Justice Amina A. Augie of the Supreme Court made it clear that to be a female judge one must earn her respect, saying: “Gender discrimination requires that you work at it to earn your respect”.

Speaking on the role of female judges, she  averred  that it was the duty of the female judge to help balance the existing tilt in the law that remains male-centered and invisible to many challenges that women, children, minorities, people with disabilities and other groups face.

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“While we come to bench first as judges, then as women, we cannot deny the fact that the legal and judicial profession was built on a foundation of masculine standards”, she said.

Justice Augie also opined that women judges must challenge institutional norms, culture and practices that continue to limit self-actualization of women judges and also make deliberate and conscious attempts to address some challenges confronting judicial institutions. She advised that female judges must always present themselves as qualified and competent candidates; not as alternative or affirmative choices.

The first session of the conference began with a paper presentation by retired Grand Kadi Salihu O. Muhammad of the Kwara State Sharia Court of Appeal. The members of the panel were: Jutice Ngozika Okaisabor, -Justice Abubakar A. B Gumel, Genevieve Boko Nadjo and Mrs. Joy Sheila Bob-Manuel, the Director General of the Legal Aid Council and chaired by Hon. Justice Abdu Aboki.

 In his paper titled ‘The Practice of Law of Succession in Nigeria: The Islamic Perspective’, Grand Khadi Muhammad gave a comprehensive breakdown of inheritance in different Nigerian cultures and across the globe in comparison to the succession process in Islam. He disclosed that under Islamic law, one of the most difficult- if not the most difficult is the subject of inheritance.

 “It is energy sapping, very technical with all its arithmetic intrigues. According to the presenter, there is an existing foundation and divine direction of equal rights among Muslim males and females; a woman is entitled to share inheritance in deferent capacities. She can share as a daughter, wife, mother, sister and so on”, he explained.

According to him as much as a female is entitled to partake in sharing of inheritance; the male’s portion must be twice her portion. The explanation for this inequality, he said, is that: “Islam has placed the responsibility of earning livelihood for the family on the shoulders of male members, while the females have been exempted from this burden.”

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In his paper, Hon. Salihu highlighted the reforms introduced by Islam which are sustainable now and until eternity.

Prof. Mosunmola Imasogie, continued the discussion on inheritance and succession, stating that succession is the transmission of rights and obligations of a deceased person to his heirs and successors. Her paper titled, “Inheritance and succession law in Nigeria and some selected countries in west Africa”, focused on intestate succession among the Igbos, Yorubas and Benin as species of customary law in Nigeria.

Speaking on the Yoruba customary law of succession, he said: “Among the Yoruba of south western Nigeria, the children of the deceased are entitled to his real property to the exclusion of all other blood relations and under the customary Yoruba law of intestate succession, the surviving wife is not entitled to the property of her husband because they are chattels to be inherited.”

 “For the Bini customary law, the case is a little different on the death of the father; the eldest son takes all his disposable property to the exclusion of all other brothers and sisters. Although there are slight variations in the prevailing customary law of succession among the Igbos, the main principle is basically the same.”

 He said the Yoruba are open to inheritance of property by every offspring of the deceased, adding that the cardinal principle for the Igbos and Benin is primogeniture i.e. succession by the first born of the male line.

Another session of presentation and discussion was chaired by Hon. Justice Vivian Solomon and had discussants such as Mrs. Oti Ovrawah and the Ag. Executive Secretary, Human Rights Commission, Vitaliis C. Ekwem Esq. Deputy Director Performance and evaluation/legal Department, National Judicial Council, Hadiza Sa’eed ended the session with a paper titled ‘Child Marriage and the Need for Regional Domestication of the Convention of the Rights of the Child: The Nigerian Experience.’

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 The presenter spoke broadly on the socio-economic reasons behind and the tragic consequences of child marriage with specific focus on the impact this practice has on the survival, development, protection and participation rights of the girl-child.

“According to the UNICEF State of the World’s Children 2016 Report, Nigeria ranks 13 out of 20 countries with the highest rate of child marriage – 43% of girls are married by the age of 18 and 17% are married by the age of 15”, she said.

According to her the first underlying reason for child marriage is poverty while in some parts of Nigeria; child marriage is seen and used as a method for the preservation of the virtue of girls. “Although there may be reasons put forward in defense of child marriage, this is still a disastrous practice that must be stopped. Currently, laws exists that prohibit child marriages, but the practice is still prevalent”, she said.

The second and third days of the conference witnessed discussions on:  Female Trafficking, A Modern Day Slavery, Gender Equality, Development and Peace and also, Sexual and Domestic Violence: Post Judgment Issues and Challenges in the enforcement of Court orders took place. It was chaired by Justice Kudirat Kekere, Justice Mary Peter-Odili and  Justice Sontoye Denton West, JCA Emeritus.

Source: Daily Trust

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