The Igbinosa family1 found themselves at crossroads when their deceased father, Chief Osazuwa Igbinosa, left behind a sizable fortune amassed over time. As the family gathered in the village, tensions lingered in the air like an impending storm. The customary practice of wealth succession, once a source of unity, had now become a divisive force. Chief Osazuwa had left no clear indication of how his properties will be divided, and whispers of discontent rippled through the gathering.

Obasuyi, the second child and the first son, stood in quiet expectation, while Iyobosa, the first child and daughter, challenged the traditional norms, asserting her right to lead and inherit their father's wealth. The family, torn between adherence to age-old customs and the winds of change, found themselves embroiled in a conflict that threatened to fracture the very fabric of their lineage.

This hypothetical tale is an example of the intricate dance between tradition and modernity, and the challenges faced by Nigerian families in navigating the complexities of wealth succession in a changing world. In a nation where family ties are deeply rooted and revered, the concept of wealth succession planning holds profound significance. Families now acknowledge that without proper planning, accumulated wealth may dwindle, leading to financial instability for future generations. This realization is prompts a shift in mindset, with an increasing number of Nigerian families opting for an all-inclusive succession plan.

This article examines the role of traditional and cultural beliefs in wealth succession planning, the challenges often encountered and the opportunities ahead.

Understanding Traditional and Cultural Beliefs Across Ethnicities in Nigeria

There are over 300 ethnic groups in Nigeria, and each ethnicity has its own cultural practice on wealth succession. The common cultural practice across some ethnicities in each of the regions in Nigeria, are discussed below:

a) Northern Region: Succession is largely based on the dictates of Islam as the Northern Region is dominated by Islamic religion. Under Islam, the Holy Quran makes provision for succession practices upon the demise of an individual. Islam accords succession rights to the wives and female offspring as well and not only the male offspring, as seen in some other cultural practices.

Under Islam, for a deceased man with wives and children, the wives and daughters will be entitled to a portion of the estate. The Holy Quran also provides specific guide for other peculiar circumstances.

b) South-East Region: Traditionally, the deceased person's estate are primarily inherited by the first male offspring (often called "Okpara"), who then distributes to the other male offsprings as he deems fit. Often, the first male offspring gets the largest share of the inheritance. In the case of a titled man, the title is also passed down to the first male offspring. The wives and female offsprings do not inherit any landed property of the deceased, but will be catered for by the male offsprings pending when they are married off from the family or until death.

c) South-West Region: In this region, distribution of the estate of a deceased man with wives, can be in any of two modes; distribution per stripe (known as Idi Igi) or distribution per head (known as Ori O Jori). Under the Idi Igi, the estate is shared equally among the wives, and the wives subsequently distribute among their respective offsprings. For the Ori O Jori, the estate is distributed equally among all the offsprings.

d) South-South Region: Historically, the Igiogbe (the deceased person's house, occupied until the time of death) is allocated to the first male offspring, along with the other assets of the deceased. This was done with the belief that the first male offspring will subsequently distribute the properties to other male offsprings and take care of the younger offsprings and wives. However, this primogeniture culture brought a lot of rancor to families, as the first-born males often neglected their duties and amassed the properties for themselves. This gave rise to the Uhro-System, which is very similar to the South West Region's Idi Igi, where the deceased person's properties are shared based on the number of wives.

Impact of Traditional Beliefs on Wealth Succession

According to some sources, about 95% of Nigerian family-owned businesses rarely survive up to the third generation. This is largely because traditional succession plans alone cannot cater to the complexities of the modern world.

From the overview of the cultural practices among the varying ethnicities, it can be seen that each cultural practice has its shortfalls. Certain cultures give priority to a specific gender over the other, thus fostering an environment of inequality and rancor.

The propagation of primogeniture (succession system that favours inheritance of a deceased person's estate by the firstborn male offspring) by some cultures has left a lot of families in discord, as they often neglect their duty to look after the rest of the family. The emphasis on the eldest male inheriting the majority of assets can inadvertently sideline other family members, contributing to strained relationships and conflicts. Additionally, such traditional succession culture does not consider the individual strengths before allocating the properties of the deceased. This has often led to the mismanagement of the deceased's estate/business.

In general, traditional beliefs have profound impact on wealth management, influencing how individuals and families approach financial decisions, investments and succession planning.

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