What’s New on MzAgams’ Blog?

Its been a crazy few months that started this year. The story is coming up. Stay tuned. But just a few tit bits about what I’ll be bringing your way for the rest of the year.

I’d like to thank all of you that have read and commented on the ‘How To Get A Divorce in Nigeria’ Series that I wrote in 2012. It’s been great fun reading and answering your questions. And its really satisfying to see blogs inspired by that series popping up all over the place in the past couple of years. I need to update and I’ll be doing so over the next few weeks bringing you the latest decisions in family law, child custody, and related family law matters. And maybe even a something from a guest blogger.

I’m also starting a new series on Customary Marriage including Islamic Marriage. It will tell you everything you need to know about women’s rights under various customary from around the country and Islamic law and how they are evolving. I have a couple of guest writers  eager to share what they know with you.  Antony C. Diala who is writing his PhD on living customary law will be contributing.   So will Barrister Amina Abubakar who is with the Human Rights Commission.

I’m expanding and trying something new – I’ll be bringing you vlogs and podcasts of your favourite topics. Keep sending in your questions and comments. I’m here to ensure you know what your rights are as a woman within your family – the family you were born into and the family you married into.  Knowledge is power. There are a lot of lies and half truths circulating in popular media about women’s rights within marriage that are deliberately created to exploit, oppress and even cheat women. Don’t be one of those women.

Shine your eye. Know your rights. Women’s rights are human rights.

And read my blog post about protecting your assets after marriage here.

That’s not all.

Working with the theme “Women Activists; Women’s Activism” this year I’m going to interview some of the women that work hard to advance and expand women’s rights in Nigeria and anywhere else we find them. My first interview is going to be with Josephine Effah Chukwuma of Project Alert on Violence Against Women. Got any questions you want to ask her?  We’re at the cutting edge of change in Nigeria. What does it take to build and sustain an organisation like hers in an environment like ours? Find out.

I’ll probably be interviewing a lot of Ashoka fellows. I worked with them over the years and I think they’re great. They’re the best that the social enterprise sector has to offer any where in the world. You don’t want to miss anything they have to say.

Do you have any suggestions about some woman or women that are doing great work in advancing women’s rights that I should talk to? Let me know. Drop a comment. Tell me what they do and where I can find them and I will. I’m always looking for shero’s to promote. So much of women’s work is hidden and unsung its no wonder people end up  thinking we aren’t doing anything much.

Elections are around the corner. More women are expressing an interest in contest for public office. Some people say we should vote for them just because they’re women and get more women in the political space. Some people say we should hold them to the same standards we hold male contestants. Its a hard choice believe me. I’ve been on both sides of the fence. Maybe we should just listen to the women contesting and hear what they say. I’ll score some interviews with female contestants and ask them some questions too.

Its going to be fun filled and informative. I promise.

 

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Harry Weds Meghan 2018

 

I have been a student of royal history ever since I read ‘The Kings Grey Mare’ as a teenager. And I used to be so obsessed with Russian royalty I once claimed to be the descendant of Alexis, the murdered Czarevitch that rumour kept alive for decades. Its within the realm of possibility.

My grandmother and grandfather werewar orphans. They have no idea who their parents were or even what part Russia they were from. They grew up in orphanages in the Volga region. That’s all we know. It’s always been a mystery to solve for me. I’m going to do a genetic history as soon as possible. I only hesitate because I don’t want confirmation that they may have been landless serfs. Or something.

My fathers Nigerian lineage is more colourful and inspiring but no mystery. We’re Igbo.  We have to know our fathers fathers fathers fathers and mothers mothers mothers mothers children and descendants so we don’t go and marry our cousin 8 times removed by mistake. We take consanguinity seriously.

My fathers lineage were spiritual custodians of Ala. Lords of the Land, Ndi Nze Na Ozo from my great grand father 6 times removed in a continuous line of succession to the present. Noble stuff. They take this shit seriously. Up until a decades  ago other people in the village were so in awe of the family reputation they were willing to let our men impregnate their wives just so some of our blood would grace their bloodline. It was all kinda weird for an American girl. The African woman is less judgmental.

Harry and Meghan’s wedding this weekend will go down in history as the biggest show of all time. Bigger than Wrigley Brothers. And just as much of a circus. So I must write about it.

I’m kinda of conflicted about it. On the one hand I am completely outraged that the British Monarchy dares to flaunt its privilege and the proceeds of centuries of  global conquest, loot and brigandry. And I am outraged that the masses are so thoroughly hypnotised by the spectacle and refuse to see their bondage. On the other hand I am equally enthralled by this spectacle and performance – of POWER.

(But I don’t feel driven to participate or make the masses change or ‘see’ the error of their ways. Besides, how do I know they are in error?)

Ever wondered why the British monarchy has endured and grown richer and more powerful while other monarchies struggle? Elizabeth has you all fooled that she a little old lady? The British monarchy endures because they are incorporated. What does that mean? They’re a business. And Elizabeth’s role has been to ensure the monarchy survives and her family stays in power. Well how would you react if mobs chopped off your cousins heads in TWO different revolutions in two or was it four different countries? Staying in power is the only objective. All the men in her family even have military training.

I sometimes wonder the kind of conversation Elizabeth and Phillip might have over breakfast. Are they allowed to have breakfast together? And why has the Royal Family been so quick to accept Meghan into their warm loving fold?

‘Great for the family. He’s finally settling down and this marriage will put to rest those ridiculous rumours that we killed Diana because we are racists.”

“You almost can’t tell that she’s a darkie anyway. I watched her in Suits. Pass me the crumpets girl.”

“Yes dear.”

You know how Harry fell in love with Meghan? On their first date Meghan gushed “Imagine how much good one can do in the world as a prince or princess.”  And Harry was hooked. She understands its a role, she’s an actress. Less strategic women might only see an opportunity to showcase their amazing taste, style and connections. But this girl Meghan was raised by a down to earth black woman! She was raised well! She already reminds me of Michel Obama.

The privilege of being royalty shouldn’t be just about a privileged lifestyle it should be a privilege to serve people, do good and uplift humanity. I totally feel her. Thats why she is marring Harry and Harry is marrying her. Thats why they are in love.

Kate on the other hand is so middle class it hurts. Her marriage elevated her family’s social class in a very real way. And now she is royalty she is behaving like a brood mare. Fulfilling her role which is to produce and nurture heirs and secure the line of succession. That she displays sensible middle class values and even shops in Waitrose once in a while is pure theatre.

Kate does not perform Princess to change or impact the world or provide extraordinary leadership. Her husband is the next king after all. Different strokes. Harry and Meghan are going to be a power couple. They’re going to impact the world and they’re going to make the British monarchy more popular than ever.

They will use the Family Firm just as much as the Family Firm uses them.

People keep saying Meghan will break and want to break out. These two have more than just chemistry or delusions of romantic love holding them together. They’ll last. Meghan is lucky not because she is marrying into royalty, she is lucky because she can perform and impact globally. And she’s in love with a really cute guy that loves her.

Whats not to to be happy about? Elizabeth is pleased and consolidates her power with the public once again. And manages to make some more money for herself and her subjects. Other royal houses especially Nigerian royal houses should learn from her. Not the House of Saud who are still chopping off heads so they might keep their own.

 

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Good Manners

Sometimes I am too brusque. I regularly forget the social courtesies knocked into me me by my Igbo brethren in the village. Thank Mother God I returned before I became a complete barbarian in the US.

Americans are such barbarians. Always looking at their watches and hurrying you along. They do not understand Time.

Mark: ‘Hi. How you doing?’ (Do not anwser! This is merely salutatory. They do not want do know how your doing.)

Before you can answer Mark continues;

‘Could you go over these figures and get back to me?’

“Is next week okay?”

“Can I have it later today?”

“Tomorrow.”

“Okay. You should come over for dinner soon.” And Mark walks away.

ALL POC know you need to approach the main subject AFTER some sort of personal exchange to establish trust, rapport and bonding. They’re paranoid. Cant blame them.

Black Man1: Hey brother. What you been up to?
Black man 2: Bro I spent the night down at Benni’s with a fine piece of ass.

JayZ and the black Amercian billionaire brigade would tell us this is why black people are still poor. Maybe that’s true in America and of teenage boys.

And it depends on how you measure wealth and value don’t it?

Igbo Man1: Odogwu! We do not see you again in the village square. (Meaning: You must be too broke to perform in social and civic life.)
Igbo Man2: Ogbu Agu. You know the big masquerades don’t need to come out often. (Meaning: I’m powerful enough not to need frequent displays of power. They are establishing status which is very important to Igbo men and women too.)

Then –

IgboMan1: You are looking very fine. Tell me how you do it?
IgboMan2: (His response will depend on the level of intimacy and trust between the speakers.) We are trying. Or ‘My brother you need to come to Abuja. That is where it is happening.’

Igbo Woman1: Wife of Okorie. (Or Mama Ngozi. Or Teacher. Or even Mummy.) You don wake? How are Ngozi, Emeka, Jide, Amara and Chidundu? (Each new inquiry comes after a report has been given of the preceding one by African woman 2. Unless of course they are the new breed of Igbo woman – the politicians.)

Igbo Woman2: (Ditto)

After 5 or 30 minutes depending they’ll come around to discuss the business. Because time belongs to us and relationships are more important than productivity.

Harvard and Wharton who charge big big money call it breaking the ice. We call it good manners. Just like taking a bottle of liquor and and gifts to a leader before asking a favor is good manners. And breaking the ice. Not much different from flowers or tickets to a Yankees game or Hamilton.

Let’s cut to the chase and not pretend to care. The Illuminati, (which I shall henceforth call the global elite of any nationality because its easier and more fun to do so) – that the super exclusive league of global masquerades – just smash the ice with cash, expensive toys and baubles anyway.

BTW: While new money struts around and shows off, old money consolidates power.

Our ways made us care because it made us have to look at each other and actually ‘see’ each other. Each relationship had specific obligations that maintained it.

I digress.

White people are such barbarians. Always in a hurry. Where are they hurrying to? The grave? They don’t care about anyone but their wife and children. So selfish.

Thank Mother God I returned before I became a complete barbarian!

 

 

 

Who Really Needs A Prenup in Nigeria?

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In my last blog post I asked whether prenups are valid in Nigeria and sought to show that yes they are. The question arose as to the value of a prenup agreement in Nigeria. Lady Hale in her dissenting judgement in Radmacher v Radmacher (2010) said the object of a prenup ‘is to deny the economically weaker spouse the provision to which she would otherwise be entitled.’ This may be so in the UK but you may ask what is the relevance of a prenup in a legal system that recognises separation of marital property and applies strict property principles like Nigeria? Thus entitling the economically weaker spouse (usually the woman) very little.

Prenups are designed to protect the economically stronger partner in a marriage. While the presumption is that this will be the male partner from experience in my practice in Nigeria, women initiating a divorce are often the economically stronger partner. At least this was so in at least 8 out of the last 10 cases I have taken to trial. This may not be unrelated to the fact that economically weaker women may not have the resources necessary to seek a statutory divorce which is known to be an expensive process. Or the fact that some economically independent and secure mature women under social pressure to marry, marry men that are economically weaker. Issues we will discuss some other time.

These women’s husbands treated their spouses property as if it was their own. Conflict over finances were frequently the cause of the marriage breaking down. Their husbands often claimed that they ‘own’ the woman and everything she owns as a result and they often based their ‘ownership’ on the fact that they paid a ‘bride price’ under customary law. There are two problems with this argument. And both of them stem from a colonial misinterpretation of customary law principles.

The concept of bride price is been grotesquely distorted. (Diala 2016) The bride price does not buy a bride. It merely secures an interest in the fruit of her womb and her labour, and not necessarily the fruit of her labour (though customary laws differ among the various tribal groups in Nigeria.) Historically under customary law a woman remained an autonomous person separate from her husband. (Acholonu C. 1995) Hence a woman was returned to her kinsmen for burial upon her death and her kinsmen could hold her husband accountable for her well being. (Much has been said about the widowhood rituals that have survived colonialism and women still have to undergo. A widower was likewise made to undergo trials by a deceased wife’s kinsmen to prove that he did not kill his wife, their sister. However, these rituals have survived colonialism and the colonial religion to a lesser degree.)

The products of a woman’s labour were her own. She could farm her own plot to which she has been given possesory interest by her husband (in addition to contributing labour to her husbands farming), trade her surplus produce, she could independently own economic trees and livestock (Acholonu C ibid). She could accumulate wealth and join female leadership cults in her conjugal and her marital communities independent of her husband. She could lend her husband money or support him economically when he took titles (Henderson & Henderson 1966). It was understood that any children she bore were also considered assets even if they were not biologically the children of her husband (Diala 2016).

Adultery in the common law or in the Biblical sense was unknown and was not an automatic grounds for divorce contrary to what may (mostly male) authors assert. Most often the husband was polygamous and could chose not to have further sexual relations with the woman but her children belonged to his homestead/household.

Under customary law (including Islamic law) there was complete separation of marital property. Then again there were also no individual property rights such as we have today. All landed property was communal property and owned in common by the lineage. When women acquired rights to landed property they often exercised their rights though their own kinsmen rather than their husband. I will write more about customary law of marriage in another post.

It was the expected order of things that women brought wealth into their natal family and not to their husband. (Ashiru 2007) The idea that men owned wives and therefore everything their wife or wives owned is most likely the introduction of the principles of unity of person and coveture into the Nigerian socio- legal space in the late 19th century with colonialism. (Diala 2016)

Under the principles of unity of person a man and his wife were considered one person. This principle was abolished by the Women’s Property Act of 1882 a statute of general application in Nigeria and by a number of decided cases. Unfortunately many women (and men) remain ignorant of the law and still think coveture and unity of person principles apply or think that it is a part of customary laws, which it is not. Men have used this dead letter common law principle to control women’s assets and women have used it to cede control of their assets often in the name of ‘submission’ – another grossly abuses and misinterpreted term that has more to do with the Abrahamic religions than customary law. We’ll also leave this for a subsequent post.

One way that women cede control and in fact transfer property to their husbands is by purchasing property and assets (anything from land, to cars, to refrigerators) and putting their husbands name on the purchase receipts or title deeds.

Under statutory Nigerian matrimonial law, the courts the courts have complete and total discretion in making decisions on sharing of marital assets in the event of divorce and are only enjoined to be ‘fair and just.’ This judicial discretion has been most consistently exercised to validate separate property with strict property law principles applied (Adekile 2017). Which means that title goes to the person whose name is on the receipt or title deed. Nevertheless there have been a few cases where compelling evidence of contribution by the female spouse have led the courts to make property divisions in her favour. Compelling evidence including evidence of active participation in her husbands business. See Kafi v Kafi (1986) and Egunjobi v Egunjobi (1976). The case of Akinbuwa v. Akinbuwa (1998) established that the court shall have regard to what is fair and equitable based on the evidence adduced by the parties at the trial.

Nigerian marital property laws are in fact gender neutral and this means that an economically weaker husband could make a similar claim for division of marital property against his wife in the event of a divorce and succeed. And what do you want to bet that he will probably have loads of evidence? The applicant in the Radmacher case was in fact the husband. Now in an ideal world men would behave like Paris Hilton’s beau who when asked if he was going to sign a prenup said “Of course, its the gentlemanly thing to do.” But as we all know the world is not an ideal place and financially secure independent women should be able to protect their assets from predatory men.

If you are that type of Nigerian woman please have your husband to be sign a marital agreement especially if he is going to join you in your business as is often the case (women love letting a man take over, don’t we?) – it could be a prenup or a postnup. Husbands have made application for sharing of assets in the Nigerian High Courts (there is a case I can’t remember right now decided in the High Court of Benin, will look for it) and while none of the applications has been granted yet and no case has gone to the supreme court its only a matter of time. Women are increasingly the breadwinners (if not head of household) in Nigeria. And if you can’t get him to sign one whatever you do DO NOT buy stuff and put your husbands name on the receipt. If he needs that kind of ‘sign of affection’ he may be more interested in your money than your love and happiness.

Of course each marriage and each case is different. You are not required to follow my advice. Maybe your marriage is genuine and your husband is your best friend. That however doesn’t mean that his family are your friends. Its also a feature of Nigerian customary law regime for kinsmen to come evict a widow and claim their ‘brother’s’ property as soon as he dies. While the Supreme Court has confirmed a widows right under customary law to live in her late husbands property in Nzekwe v Nzekwe (1989) and Anekwe v Nweke (2014) not everyone has the money or motivation to go to court to uphold those rights. Some husbands routinely put all marital assets in their wife’s name to avoid the drama. But if a woman does the same thing she may find her husbands kinsmen dispossess her if (God forbid) her beloved husband should die before her.

Shine your eye sister.

(And if you are a Nigerian or an African man living abroad and marrying in the west you most definitely should get a prenup. See what happened to Emmanuel Eboue.)

Till soon again.

 

Are Prenups Valid in Nigeria and Other FAQs

A UK client  who was about to marry a Nigerian got in touch with me to draft a mirror prenuptial agreement and later in a mirror post nuptial in Nigeria. A mirror prenup is  recommended for people with multiple international domiciles, citizenship or businesses.

 

In the context of international prenuptial agreements, a mirror agreement is  drafted in one jurisdiction to follow the terms of an agreement that applies in another jurisdiction. It maximises the chances of enforcement of the agreed terms in multiple jurisdictions.

 

International prenuptial agreements are becoming increasingly popular as the world gets smaller and despite THIS rather regressive point of view about prenups in Nigeria more Nigerians are being asked to sign prenups by foreign and domestic partners. 

 

I especially recommend prenups for women who have a high net worth prior to marriage. While high net worth men that initiate divorce often evict their spouse from the matrimonial home without any assets whatsoever, and often even without her personal effects, high net worth women often lose joint property to their spouse when divorcing. At least this has been my experience as a divorce lawyer for over twenty years in Nigeria.

 

I’m not going speculate as to why this is so here.

 

Here are some FAQ’s about prenups in Nigeria;

 

Question: Do pre-nuptial agreements or a similar document exists in Nigeria

 

Answer: Yes, pre-nuptial agreements do exist in Nigeria and are treated primarily as valid contracts. 

 

Question: Are the valid contracts referred to “binding” or “just influential”?
 

 

A prenup is influential and not binding. Section 72(2) of the Matrimonial Causes Act recognises the right of parties to execute pre- and post-nuptial agreements. The relevant provisions are permissive and not interpretative and the courts retain unfettered exercise of their discretionary powers in divorce settlements.


Nevertheless, a prenup agreement would be upheld to the extent it is just and equitable. The courts determine marital property based on evidence of contribution by the applicant. The Married Women’s Property Act 1882 is still a statute of general application in Nigeria.    

In practice, however, the courts often direct divorcing parties to submit terms of settlement to avoid lengthy, contentious and difficult settlement and division property disputes. 

 

The Court of Appeal indirectly pronounced on the validity of prenup agreements, when it ruled that a trial court was right to hold that the respondent had a joint interest in a property belonging to the parties, because it was not referred to in their pre-nuptial agreement (Oghoyone v Oghoyone (2010) 3 NWLR (Pt. 1182) 564).

 

It is helpful to understand the intention of the client when drafting a prenuptial agreement – is it to protect property acquired before marriage? or is it to ensure adequate  maintenance/child support/settlement in the event of divorce separation? or protection for joint property/marital assets? 

Question:  Are there any criteria which must be followed when entering into a valid prenuptial contract in Nigeria? For example, in England a Pre-Nuptial Agreement, to be influential, must be:-

 a)     Fair;

 b)    Signed more than 28 days before the wedding;

c)     Both the wife and husband must have received independent legal advice (this is evidenced by the legal advisors signing the Pre-Nuptial Agreement);

 d)    Both parties must have disclosed to each other their financial circumstances; their assets, liabilities and income.

 
Answer: There is little or no case law or court rules guiding prenuptial agreements in Nigeria and the only statutory criteria is that it is fair and equitable. However, an agreement that attempts to oust or control the jurisdiction of the court will be considered contrary to public policy and probably ignored.

 

Otherwise, English law retains a strong influence on  judicial decisions in Nigeria and it would be good practice to conform to the criteria established in England.

 

The same answers would apply to questions about post nuptial agreements.

 

For more on joint ownership of property in the context of marriage in Nigeria read THIS.
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The Oxfam Saga Continues

“The experience of those who reported abuse, including a former Oxfam country director who said she survived a rape attempt at headquarters in Oxford, did not encourage others. Lesley Agams, who had been highly rated at Oxfam, said she was handed a dismissal letter by the man who attacked her.

The UN whistleblowers in Haiti also suffered; although they were not forced out, they received anonymous threats while the investigation was going on, and their careers did not flourish after it finished.

“They had taken a very difficult step, because it is essentially saying goodbye to your career,” the former UN staffer said. “If you blow the whistle when you are out in the field, you may never be hired again – it makes you very vulnerable.”

The Guardian

Behind the sex parties and scandals in Haiti lies a culture of secrecy and lack of diversity

 

#WCC2017 – Welcome to 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women

Hey. Over here

Women's Crisis Centre Nigeria

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen.

Thank you so much for honouring our invitation.

Today is the International day for the Elimination of all Forms of Violence Against Women.

We are here to share and reinforce our commitment to ending VAW and ‘leaving no one behind.’

The Women’s Crisis Centre started out in Owerri, Imo State in 2002 as a community based organisation empowering the community to end VAW as part of a MacArthur Fund for Leadership Development Grant. Since then it has grown and has provided legal and counselling services and training to more than 5000 men and women around the world.

In 2002 we set up the first shelter for victims and trained community advocates to mediate domestic conflicts in Owerri, Imo State. In 2010 we ran a series of lectures and a free family law clinic in Abuja that reached hundreds. Since 2011 we have counselled and advised thousands…

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