THE INSTITUTIONALIZATION OF CONFLICT BETWEEN BROTHERS IN ESANLAND THROUGH THE LOPSIDED SHARING OF FAMILY INHERITANCE AS A SACROSANCT TRADITION
_Gabriel Akhabue Iruobe_
March 1st, 2022.
The holy books didn’t need to waste people’s time to admonish brothers and sisters to love themselves. They don’t also compel us to love our parents. It is very natural so to do. Where the law on love begins is where we need to extend such love to OUR NEIGHBOURS. These are persons we may not have any consanguine relationship with; just a superficial and platonic one. However, for anyone to start sermonizing on the need to love our brothers, then it is certain that ‘things have fallen apart’.
Brotherhood (and by implication, sisterhood) is the natural place of affection, care, kindness, hospitality, empathy, consideration and responsibility. You spend on it without expecting any payback. What you give to your brother is what you consider as gift to your very self because your brother is you in another skin. He is your double in spirit and in body. You shared the same womb (same-mother-brothers) or share the same ancestral blood (same-father-brothers). No other closer relationship than that. This is the reason artificial groupings like Class Mates Group; Business Associates Group; Religious Sects; Denominations, etc want to be regarded as “a family”. We know that in reality, they are not, but just trying to use that label of ‘one-family’ to build stronger relationship and group cohesion. They are not the true family but only trying to borrow the language to ‘white-wash’ the organization to make it look harmless and caring. This is the legacy of family relationship that is being imported to ‘repackage’ phenomena not manifestly familial in nature, since they do not have the basic ingredient that make them implicitly and explicitly consistent with the idea of what family truly means. For instance, when any misfortune comes to any member of the ‘artificial family’ personalities, they can only ‘sympathize’ and not ‘empathize’ with the individual. To empathize is to ‘suffer with’ the persons. To sympathize is mere lib service or ‘pity party’ approach. The sympathizer feels no pain other than is dramatized for people to see and applaud. Thus, there is often a political undertone or ‘artificial morality’ involved. Therefore, other groupings that come in the name of ‘one family’ are not the true family but only trying to borrow the language to clean-up such organizations to make them appear saintly. The true family is where people are related by a divine apportionment and appointment in life. See what the Bible says about brotherhood. “A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity”(KJV Prov. 17:17). The NIV says; “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity”. Note: BORN FOR THE TIME OF ADVERSITY. Being a brother therefore, from the point of view of the scriptures, is not a tea party. It is a lifelong time situation of impinging responsibility. We need brothers as God’s direct help to us in life through them primarily and secondarily through others. Those who have not lived up to this responsibility therefore have failed The Maker woefully.
Even though the ideal is to have a family where love and care is to be received freely, the sharing formula of inheritances (with Land Inheritance as No. 1), after the head of the home is gone, is what has introduced untold conflict, turmoil, quietness, agony and unrest between family members; especially amongst the Esan people where land inheritance is the most potent inheritance type whatsoever, for its largely yet to be urbanized communities.
But in other climes where land inheritance is one of the many sides to inheritances, the battle or ‘longer-throat’ to grab land inheritance is reduced drastically. It is further reduced or eliminated completely where the progenitor had a written Will in place before his demise. But some of the elite class of Esanland do not reckon with land as so important to alter the calculations on who gets what. Some have buildings in choice places and companies or plants whose value is often more than the land inheritance they once had from their progenitors. So, these elites often share their wealth before they die by writing a Will lodged with the judiciary. As such, the conflict of inheritance transfer and appropriation that would have emerged in a family is dead on arrival.
Although we have heard of situations in Esanland where Wills are tampered with or set aside by ordinary citizens ignorant of the powers inherent in the Will. Some interested parties in the family often threaten to go spiritual on such inheritance if they suspect that the man who owned and wrote the Will was either vindictive or had been senile or sick of Alzheimer’s disease. To avoid trouble, some do let go. Others, especially those who have no other serious means of survival stick to their guns and fight to the end.
However, where land resources is the primary issue about inheritance, how it is shared matters much too. It can be shared in a manner that pacifies all the children of the deceased or in a manner that aggravated the rifts and existing conflicts of interest, hatred and acrimony. This is where I come to the issue of Esan traditional formula for the sharing of land inheritance between brothers that is bedevilled by corruption and lop-sidedness.
Since the world is gradually moving away from ‘grab-grab mentality’, the Esan people must go to a customary round-table to correct the hitherto very defective cultural prescription of “the first son takes it all”.
The idea of attacks against the perceived lopsided sharing has been on for ages. But only a few elders think of a paradigm shift from the greed mentality setting up families as a theatre of conflict and disagreements, an alien nature.
Land and building inheritance have sometimes created divisions between erstwhile loving brothers who have been having the good and the bad times together in oneness or togetherness since birth. But the incident of a dad’s demise and the attendant thought that the first-son takes it all, sets conflict in motion. The death of the estate owner often begins the animosity and distrust. Some start their fight at the burial ground. You won’t even see some joining in the group photographs. Some spend their last kobo for the burial while other aim to collect ‘sympathy returns’ from their associations, the same people they plan for, more than they plan for the burial itself. They usually have a target of how much they want to ‘make’ from it; often leaving the first son to ‘do the burial on their behalf’ while they ‘do the socials on behalf of the first sons’. Is the acrimony unfounded? No. They know the burial is an open announcements that the first-son has become the near sole-heir to the land and building inheritance based on the Esan tradition of intestate inheritance transfer. Even the thought of the demise of the breadwinner already set the other children against first sons. Sometime, we find it difficult to harmonize the interest of the other male children with those of the first-borns, like I have discussed under burial arrangement.
The coincidence of a father’s exit and the thought that the first son takes over all the father’s property with land as a principal assert of contention, hatred brews and faceoff begins and cooperation declines. While ‘cold war’ is manageable in a monogamous home, it is a crisis situation in a polygamous setting. It could lead to abuses, bickering, confrontation and fighting. It can also lead to the teaming up of siblings of the same mother in support or in disagreement with the primal son (first son).
It has become necessary to sue for the abolition of a subliminally programmed family conflict and abrogate the ailing customary prescription giving vent to inheritance discrimination, and to embrace the norm we see in other climes, that even support daughter’s sharing rights from family wealth, including that which concerns all aspects of Real Estate .
However, what must stand very quickly to restore family cohesion, affection and care giving for one another is that there should be a sharing formula in place for land inheritance that pacifies all as against leaving the sharing to the discretion of the incumbent head of the family. Some people think the custom cannot be changed. Who says? Everything is in constant change. Only change cannot change.
Sensible elders as parents (old enough to be grandparents) share their land assets between their sons before they join the ancestors. It has become a trend but not yet a norm in Esanland. Those elders that foot-drag on land inheritance sharing are those who think they are too young to die. Naively, they even laugh at those who write Wills as those plotting their own deaths. They don’t even want to contemplate their own deaths and what will happen to their children and the love between them. They fall into the temptation of inheritance sharing procrastination and run their lives on the mere wishes of a long life they do not have control over. The result becomes that those who line the cemeteries are also those who had several uncompleted projects; as if we have the promise that all our projects would be completed before leaving this earth. We deceive ourselves with the disbelief of man’s limitations and frailty. A truly sensible fatherhood is one that is not averse to planning for early inheritance disputes resolutions. A truly loving fatherhood is one that would rejoice over successor’s successes. But if children of a successful father quarrel and fight themselves after the inheritance owner joins the ancestors; he is a failure. Procrastination has put several fathers under this unfortunate label. A truly responsible fatherhood would be the one that does the sharing (himself) and not leave land inheritance for (his) first son to grapple with or ‘use his mind’ to distribute to other siblings. Morality is at bay sometimes, when confronted with opportunities to exploit others, especially when the probability of being caught is slim or nearly absent. Like they say; “power corrupts, and absolute powers corrupt absolutely”. However, if a father dies intestate (without a will), his primal heir takes on the responsibility of inheritance distribution. This has been the case in Esanland. And, it is only a ‘godly head’ that can be altruistic in the sharing of inheritances. We have seen cases that, whereas the first son is supposed to be entitled to only a double portion as a maximum claim, he often allocates to himself a superordinate and superiority share over the rest. With the near total inheritance in his hands, he often does what he likes with it. He sell some; dashes out some and wastes some to land grabbers; while the other children with whom he holds the inheritance in trust, look from a distance the ‘madness’ , with an aggravated anger and fury hardly to subside. It is good if it ends in complains; but worse-off if they keep mute about their bitterness, whose ripple effects can only be imagined. The reason for the new brotherhood status (if you like; enmity status) is nothing but a somewhat lopsided inheritance sharing in which they perceived themselves as having been cheated and thoroughly marginalized.
Inheritance owner who never thought that they would one day leave this earth are contemplative and postponing of the sharing date until they are gone. Those who do not want family war after they are gone often share inheritances.
Even when inheritances are done by inheritance owners themselves, the formula is often still very questionable. There is some sense of seniority infused into it. It is often assumed that the younger ones cannot have as much as the seniors (as if they will not grow). Gerontocracy still plays a significant role in determining who gets what in Esanland. It is a system that marginalized people for being younger. This same spirit opeates in the Egbe assembly where an Odion takes a superordinate share over the Igeles. One person can take home half crate of drink while another adult takes home only a bottle. You dare not question this. Equal distribution? Tradition does not allow this.
On the question of what formula of distribution to adopt in contrast to the current model of distribution accepted by the Esans and several other ethnic configurations, I would suggest we borrow a leaf from the Biblical sharing formula practiced by the Israelites. In the Israeli custom, if a man has 4 males (they didn’t reckon with the females as such), the land inheritance was divided into 5 portions; every male received one portion each and the remainder one portion was added to the first born son’s. That is, the first son (primal son) receives a ‘double portion’. This was considered fair enough since the extra portion given to the first son is for the supervisory role he had over the family inheritance. That way, family tension was avoided and brothers learnt to tolerated one another and lived happily together without any feeling of being cheated. This should be copied by the Esan people to defuse all the inheritance time-bomb setups.
A “double portion” entitlement in inheritance sharing is not necessarily a “double” in the real sense of it. What it means is the ‘extra-one-portion’ that marks the individual out as first son. (See: Deut 21:15-17). The number of male children of the inheritance owner is what determines what ‘a double-portion-size’ would be. The “double-portion” is not in absolute terms but in relative terms. It is relative to the number of sons the inheritance owner had. And it doesn’t matter if the son was out of a wedlock or not. In the Esan custom, there is nothing like an illegitimate child. The Israelites also practiced this in the Biblical reference above.
Intra-family conflict in Esanland can be reduced to the barest minimum if things that engender trust and fairness is in place. One of it is this custom on inheritance (also practiced by most African societies) that is heavily tinted in favour of first-sons or primal sons. The battle is fiercer in a polygamous situation where the deceased (original inheritance owner) has multiple partners. The home often turns a theatre of conflict, sometimes resulting in violence, and police arrests. If there is statutory way of land or building allocation that is fair enough, there would be no need for brothers to fight each other over Real Estate entitlements.
The Esan customs and tradition arrogates and appropriates to the first-son all the land and building assets, and also give the power to “cut-and-give” a portion to each of the brothers. Mind you, the custom does not mandate the eldest son of the deceased to “share-out” the inheritance on an equal or near equal basis. This therefore gives the eldest son of the deceased a humongous power regime to decide what is fair or not. Thus, the inscrutable discretionary powers of the eldest son then becomes so overwhelmingly overbearing that he turn a tin god in a supposedly equilibrated common patrimony. In pidgin language, “the first pikin go use im church-mind cut give im brothers”. It is not only absurd but nauseating.
We are not oblivious of the devious nature of man born and nurtured in greed and greedy environment. The battle in homes therefore is brought about by mal-inheritance redistributions and often aggravated by the pressure from the immediate clan or the extensive community that such inheritance rights of the eldest son can be withdrawn should he fail to ‘bury his father properly’. It sometimes drive first-son crazy and suspicious of the ‘next-in-command’ to him (second son) who also thinks of frustrating the burial rites arrangement since failure would benefit him ultimately; should the eldest brother suddenly dies.
First-sons are therefore setup for some inheritance stimulated attacks from the other-borns. Intra-family battles precipitated by inheritance mal and mis-appropriation infuses into all other-borns, not only an immoral vigilance against the moves of key members of the family but overwhelmingly against first-borns who have become the neo-adversary while still contending with the original enemies – witches and wizards. To this end, intra-family unity, due to the weakness brought about by ‘custom conditioned helplessness’ and accusation mentalities, lag behind inter-family unity and makes the extended family setup more desirable sometimes. This is a deception that nuclear family in Esan is falling into daily. People love their cousins but hate their brothers and sisters. It is not only immoral but also abnormal.
The battle for supremacy in homes is manifestly observable in burial ceremonies. The brown envelops received by first sons are often used to settle burial debts while those of other sons and sons-inlaws are pocketed for personal enjoyments or investments. The first-son grows lean from the expenses and stress of burial while the other children may be looking more robust and well nourished.
The role of the ‘Chief mourner’ he takes on had already set him up and predetermined the loses to incure and the comfort of the other-borns. The chief mourner therefore has no time to expend his emotions on the direct object of the burial- the loss of a progenitor or close relative; but to expend his concern for the troubles that come along with burial ceremonies. He gazes to the empty sky and weeps and everyone thinks he had just remembered the dead relative (a father, in this case). He feels the weight of the burial ceremonies as the ceremony lingers and only hopes for a successful end.
However, however, however, the first born is not only a victim of a crushing cultural demands but also a beneficiary of the same order. Even if he died before the sharing of the inheritance to his brothers, the ‘second-in-command’ or ‘next-in-line’ also inherits the same antagonism and animosity as the first, the reason being the superordinate access to a common patrimony.
The mindset of members of a nuclear family where the bread winner gloriously joins the ancestors is a determining factor of the nature of conflict that would ensue after the burial rites oblation or obligation. Where members of the family are in pursuit of wealth gains from the affinal relationship, inheritance transfer obligation is a natural condition prepared for intra-family warfare. But when the mindset of members is about what to give to the family in terms of ‘name’ or ‘status’, they are all likely going to put in their best to make the occasion of a burial right observance an opportunity to showcase the family virtues. Most would donate their hard earned money to make the ceremony succeed. They even go as far as making souvenirs as give-away gifts to participants. In this case, their desire is beyond what they would gain materially. It is about social gains that can also translate to political gains in the future. Whilst the illiterate first-borns struggle to grab for wealth purpose, the literate first-born seeks to influence the public for family veneration and eulogies.
Therefore, illiteracy is likely to be playing an obnoxious role in inheritance transfer designs for societies. First, that the individual cannot think far enough, and secondly, that the individual has no personal wealth to rely upon for survival due to failure to appropriate or acquire the foundational education that could bring this about. Thus, problematic inheritance transfer is more with an illiterate society than with a literate one, with or without Will institution. Land inheritance is a do-or-die for them. They need to sell portions of it for survival and would guard the land jealously. Anything the other-borns do is often taken with the suspicion that they too are eying the land itself. Hence, there is often no smoothness between brothers in this setting of overbearing land inheritance consciousness. The negative reactions of first-borns to the innocent moves of other-borns meets with retaliatory negative reactions from these other-borns which can lead to suspicious of witchcraft. Thus, witchcraft labelling is often a function of unresolved land inheritance crisis. The down-play of land inheritance rights therefore may be the panacea for new love regimes in nuclear families that would play brotherhood in an undiluted format. It is also very promising for societies with large amount of literates participating in rural clan proceedings to overcome the myriads of problems associated with faulty inheritance transfers. It should also help to overcome the problem of land grabbing, in Ologhe and other places in and around Ebelle, wherein there is a successful wooing of impoverished first-borns by land grabbers, as a prototype of the Esan inheritance transfer conflicts.