Child Custody in Nigeria FAQ: Who Owns The Child? II

‘Ownership’ of children is a feature of many customary laws in Nigeria.

Customary laws vary from one tribal group to the other. In some Igbo-Nigerian communities payment of the bride price determines ‘ownership’ of children. In ‘An Anatomy of Female Power’ Chinweizu has previously argued that the payment of bride price in Nigeria does not entitle the payer to the woman but rather to the fruit of her womb and I agree with him.

Among some Igbo-Nigerian groups and in Umuaka where I come from and grew up in particular under tribal laws where a marriage is not formalised and a bride price is not paid any child a woman bears ‘belongs’ to her father’s house and enjoys full inheritance rights. Likewise, if a woman left or divorced her husband she had to repay him the bride price her paid or any children she had thereafter ‘belonged’ to him, no matter who was the biological father. However, these tribal laws have been held to be repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience and are not usually enforceable by the customary courts anymore. Likewise, tribal laws that deny mothers access or custody without a consideration of natural justice, equity and good conscience are repugnant. However, it takes a good knowledgable lawyer to make that argument before the court.

In Yoruba-Nigeria the practice was that a child could claim a right to inheritance so long as the father had acknowledged him during while the father was alive. Sharia law, which is classed as a customary law in the Federal republic of Nigeria, apparently privileges mothers in custody issues whether they were married or not.  Customary courts just like statutory courts have a lot of discretion and it all depends on the arguments they are presented to them.

Lagos State is the only state in Nigeria that has created a family court procedure to deal with disputes relating to guardianship, custody and adoption that is not related to matrimonial causes in its Child Rights Law 2007. So if you are in Lagos and are unmarried and have a custody matter that is the law to refer to.

Nevertheless there is still a lot of confusion regarding children that are born to parents that were never married under statutory or customary law. There is also an increase of children born to parents that are not married under statutory and customary law. There seems to be a presumption that once a father is named on a birth certificate as such it secures his ‘rights’ to the child. I figure the courts will be busy untangling those complications for a few decades to come.

I’ve heard from a lot of people that the Social Welfare Office’s, which are increasingly called upon to decide questions of custody and maintenance in cases where the parents were never married have been ruling that once a child is 7 years old the father can take custody. This is wrong and dangerous and needs to stop. The law remains clear that the best interest of the child is paramount in deciding custody and neither parent  is entitled to automatic custodial rights. Both must show that they can meet the best interest of the child and not only that the other parent cannot.

In a decided case the father when asked what arrangements he had made for the children whose custody he was seeking said they would stay with his ageing mother in the village as opposed to staying with heir mother on the university campus where she lived and worked. The judge despite his conservative leanings ruled the children live with their mother even though he could not bring himself to grant her custody.

Perhaps the confusion lies in the meaning given to the word ‘custody.’ Custody is not ownership. We’ll consider ‘custody’ in my next post. I’m already over my 500 word limit. Or guideline.





If You’re A Woman Considering A Divorce in Nigeria Read This & Then Just Do It

Just do it.

You’re already considered a bad evil woman. Staying in a loveless abusive marriage isn’t going to score you any brownie points. They’re not going to think any better of you.

They being your in-laws ,your family possibly including your mother, definitely your super competitive uncles, their jealous wives, your aunts, your numerous cousins and the great grand fathers family down the street .

They already think your a failure as a wife and mother you know. Or why else would your husband be abusing you in the first place they say. You must be doing something wrong.

You’re stubborn. Too opinionated. You talk too loudly in the company of men. You don’t know how to respect your husband. You’re always out hustling for money to feed the family. That means you’re a prostitute.

We all know ain’t no heterosexual Nigerian male going to do any favours for you without demanding his settlement from you. In kind if you’re not a powerful woman already. And the powerful ones didn’t become powerful by being stingy with the pussy.

Hey. We know these things. Its the bread and butter we’re fed from childhood. All part of the social conditioning. Protest all you like. Behind your back they all think you’re a bloody slut. You’re a woman ain’t you? You don’t live with the husband? You’re a slut.

So don’t think by hanging in there you’re making some sort of statement to fulfil the righteous requirements on marital status. You’re wrong. Only the hypocrites buy it. Right before asking you to meet them in their hotel suite.

So just do it!

The judicial system is fucked up but a good lawyer can get you a statutory divorce within a year. And you can get custody of the children if you’re married under the Matrimonial Causes Act.

Its only under some customary laws that women are denied custody and those laws can and should be challenged. If you want to get out of a bad marriage do a bit of research. Find out what applies in your case. Speak to a lawyer.

Just do it.

And mean it. Get out of that relationship. Take custody of the children if in their best interest or secure your visitation and access rights if that’s appropriate. Get some maintenance money. Or a settlement. Go start a new life.

Its not going to get better. He’s not going to change. And if he does I guess he’ll come looking for you and the kids anyway. Right? If he’s collecting your pay check and still putting the family into debt. Step.

Just do it okay?

If he’s running you like his own personal beast of burden. Step. If he’s more interested in using the family income to buy an iphone than pay for school, healthcare and rent. Step. Especially if most of that income is coming from you.

You have one leg up on the sisters that are indigent or unemployed. You have earning capacity. If you’re paying the family bills while living with your husband you can likewise pay them without him.

He’s a bum and he’s living off you while you make noises about being a submissive wife. A lot of the time his family, his mother and his brother live off of you too. With your acquiescence and full cooperation. They’re not even kind.

Just do it!

Get out and file for that divorce. There is life after divorce. You may actually find the person for you. The person whose weirdness is compatible with your weirdness. If that’s too much for your religious comfort zone to handle you can be happy with only Jesus and the kids.

If you’re separated already you might as well go to court and make it nice and legal. That means settle who gets custody, who gets control, who pays school fees, maintenance and how much. Courts do decide custody and maintenance in separation petitions too. You’ll still be technically married.

Its not cool calling your lawyer only when you and your spouse disagree about custody or visitation or school fees or something and then abandon the matter till the next crisis. Take it to a court. Let a judge and the law decide it. Or take it to marital mediators.

Just do something.

While prayer and your personal religious faith values are important in your quest to turn your marital situation around you must do your part. You must make an informed decision and identify your objective.

Is it a lifetime of wrangling over custody, schools, travel arrangements? A court approved arrangement is no guarantee to a non acrimonious divorce or separation but the absence of one is a guarantee to disaster. Children of divorce have enough to deal with.

Just do it. Nike it.

Posted by MzAgams with WordPress for BlackBerry.