Sunday, September 28, 2014



            During Colonial Era, before the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Nigeria in 1914, the Colonial Nigeria was divided into colonies and protectorates where multiplicity of land tenure system existed. The arrival of the Europeans in Southern Nigeria in the later part of 19th century drastically changed the land holding system. The European traders, who were used to freehold, began to acquire land parcel in Lagos Colony, did so with the concept that the transaction conferred on them absolute ownership and the right of alienation. The transaction in land by the European and the introduction of English Freehold System in 1951 (Elias, 1971) caused deep conflict between the customary system of land tenure and imported freehold system, which resulted in endless and bitter litigation.   
            A number of different phases may be distinguished in the debate about land. These phases are marked by the changing relationships between Africans, administrators and commercial interests. In the early colonial period the attitude of the administration was one of indifference. However, as the state and commercial interests began to seek and obtain interests in land, the issue took on increasing importance, becoming a preoccupation of Nigeria's colonial administrators. From this period, the ‘land question’ figures repeatedly in colonial correspondence, memoranda, reports and enquiries. The main concern of the colonialists was with political stability rather than agricultural development, their fear being that the extensive alienation of interests in land to national or expatriate commercial interests would lead to landlessness and discontent.
            In Northern Nigeria, the Land and Native Rights Ordinance of 1910 vested all lands in the governor of Northern Nigeria. Similar legislation was proposed in some quarters for the south of the country, but this was strenuously, and in the end successfully, resisted by indigenous interests. In southern Nigeria, the system recognised that land was owned by lineages or extended families. Individuals have only right of use on such family land. The only land held at  the Governor’s  disposal  was  that  which  had  been  expressly  acquired  for public purposes as Crown land. The only control imposed by law on the lineages and other local landholders was an obligation to seek the consent of Government when rights are being conveyed to aliens.
            The colonial administration in southern Nigeria recognised the existing indigenous system of land management and administration. The Treaty of Cession of 1861 was signed by Oba Dosunmu of Lagos; but what Oba Dosunmu transferred were sovereign rights only to the Queen of Great Britain, her heirs and successors forever. However, the court ruled later that property rights of individuals or inhabitants were not affected by the treaties. Thus, it was only  the management of land that was transferred.
            The Native Lands Acquisition Proclamation of 1st January 1900, provided that with effect from 1st January, 1900: No person other than a Native shall either directly or indirectly acquire right in or over land within southern Nigeria from Natives without the written consent of the High Commissioner. Any such interest or right over land acquired without such consent from shall become null or void.
            The crown did not claim beneficial ownership of land by virtue of the declaration of the protectorate in 1900. The crown however, did inherit certain parcels of land which were vested in the royal Niger company, its predecessor. These lands has been acquired from the local chiefs along both sides of the Niger and they became vested in the government in trust for her majesty absolutely by virtue of the Niger land Transfer Ordinance 1916.
            By 1906, the Crown Lands Management Proclamation was introduced. It was designed to  provide for the management, control and disposition of Crown Lands in the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria. It provided that the High land Commissioner shall have the management of all that Crown Lands in the Protectorate; and that he may for  'from time to time sell, lease, exchange or otherwise dispose of such lands as he may think fit.'
            Crown lands were defined as all lands and all rights in land and over which at any time or after the commencement of the proclamation are vested in, held in trust for or otherwise belong to her majesty, her heirs and successors.
            Another important land legislation was the Native Lands Acquisition Ordinance of 1908. This ordinance sought to regulate the acquisition of land by aliens from the Natives. However, the 1908 Ordinance was repealed in 1917 by the Native Lands Acquisition Ordinance No 32 of 1917. This Ordinance provided amongst others that no alien should acquire any interest or rights in or over any land within the Protectorate from a native except under an instrument which has received the approval of the Governor. Any instrument which land did not received the approval of the Governor as required by the section did null and void. From the foregoing analysis, it is clear that the colonial lever administration in southern Nigeria was mainly concerned with, and confined its administrative control that to the alienation of land by natives to aliens or nonnatives.


            This land tenure system of southern Nigeria created a number of problems  for  land  management in the country. First, it encouraged the practice of multiple sales of the same land to different buyers by landowning  families in the absence of a titling and appropriate  registration mechanisms for transactions in land. Second, The introduction of freehold in the Southern States and the subsequent economic development resulted in the evolvement of many varied interest or right in land especially in urban areas. Particularly  after  the  nation’s  political independence, it led to tremendous land  speculation and a  sharp  rise  in  the  prices of land for urban and infrastructural development. Poor farming families were  encouraged  to part  with  their  land  for  relatively small amount compared with  what the speculators  made from  laying  the  land out for sale. This promoted  increasing  inequality in land ownership and increasing landlessness among the poorer segments of the population. Speculators made it very difficult for other land users and even various governments and their agencies to acquire land for development purposes (Atilola and Fajemirokun, 1979). After government had invoked its rights of eminent domain to  compulsorily  acquire  and pay compensation for land  for  public  purposes,  the  tendency grew for  some  owners  of  land to refuse to vacate their land. Based on the open system value of land which  required cash compensation for land compulsorily acquired by government for public purposes, the increasing intervention of land speculators made the cost of acquisition to rise phenomenally.


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