Writing A Will In Nigeria


Writing a will in Nigeria follows almost the same pattern as described in this post but with some modifications. You may like to know why? Please note that I’m not a lawyer. The opinion expressed in this post is mine and as I experienced by my father. He died at the age of ninety-three. There are reputed law farms both in/outside Nigeria that can advise in will-writing matters. My intention in this post,??? I will explain what caused the dissimilarities between writing a will in Nigeria, a former British colony, and more advanced countries like Britain, America.

What Is And Why A Will?

I have already provided answers to these two questions in the previous post. The main requirements for a legal will are: there should be no duress or undue influence by another person. The testator or his agent must sign the document in the presence of two witnesses. Alternatively and depending on your location, Public Notary Services, could be used.

Influence Of Customary Law

In Nigeria, there are three prominent sets of laws besides church laws: the law of the land (a mixture of religious laws and the British common laws – laws for everybody living in Nigeria), state-specific laws, and customary laws (ethnicity-specific). On many occasions and situations, the state laws and the customary laws form a hi-breed. The laws of Nigeria can be narrowed down to two sets – the laws of the land and the customary ( traditional) laws. Bear in mind there are three dominant religions in Nigeria –  traditional, Christian, and Moslem. In my opinion, traditional and religious laws play a more dominant role in the lives of Nigerians. It is the imposed English common laws and the customary laws that can account for the similarity/dissimilarity of will writing in Nigeria and former British colonies. You can see why the law of the land is unstable.

British Common Law

This is a system of law that started in Britain in the middle ages. It started as unwritten law that, for example, defined what accepted behavior was, traditions of Britain, etc. Later, it became the basis for all laws in the British (former) colonies. Nigeria was a British colony but the common laws still exist.

It is a federal law to drive on the right of the road. But according to the ethnic Igbo customary law, a man cannot will a house he lived in his village to another man. Such properties will go to the first son (not a female).

The Customary Law

The customary and church laws are the same in many cases. For example, it is the customary law that confirms marriage. The church law does the same thing. None supersedes the other. Among the four sets of laws, the customary law plays a role in a will.

Please note that land or land properties will feature in the following discussion about wills because the land was a major source of wealth then.

Value Of Money

As described in this post, money was not used or known as it is today. It was rather in the hands of few people like business people (merchants) or the few who earned money from the government work.

Wealth was measured by the amount of land a person owned. You could raise a family and send your children to school from the produce of your farm. My father sent one of our brothers to college using the same means.

The value of Land

You will also read that pieces of land would pass from a father to his male children, not the daughters. My father explained to me that the reason behind that was that daughters would eventually get married into a different family and taken care of by that family.

While still alive, a man will assign some pieces of his land to the wife(s). These pieces of land will eventually go to the male children of the women when they come of age or when she dies.

Also, a man can give a piece of land to a male child to develop when the son is ready or to build a house to raise his own family or even to his friends. These pieces of land so distributed will remain the property of the recipient.

Many wealthy people, men, and women may own properties and assets in any place. There are no restrictions while they are alive as to who gets what. But after death, all will go to the loved ones, per the will.

The Will

If a man died living young children, the brother raises the children as ‘his own’ in case the mother was unable

But in the absence of a will, they will go to the first son; and if an unmarried woman, the assets go to the parents. Note that if a woman had children out of wedlock, the children are cared for by the parents or able relatives.

Because of this archaic law, many men find it necessary to share their assets while still alive and not allow such assets to pass to the 1st son because of the greedy attitude of many 1st sons. In the absence of their father, the first son may decide to keep all the assets for himself.

When I was growing up in Nigeria, I did not know about the existence of notary services. But wealthy people then had their lawyers who served as witnesses. I am sure the case may be different now.

What happened with giving or receiving a piece of land and witnessing the transaction, I learned from my father. In such cases, he invited some adults, teens, and preteens to witness the verbal transfer.

The reason for inviting teens and preteens was the concern for the longevity of the witnesses. Older people may not live very long, but teens and preteens were likely to live much longer – living witnesses to the transaction. It is the same reason that made using more than one person necessary.


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