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An examination of the tenancy laws and practices in six communities in Nigeria’s Lower Benue River Valley

An examination of the tenancy laws and practices in six communities in Nigeria’s Lower Benue River Valley



This research aims to examine the customary land laws and tenure practices of the Lower Benue River valley communities in Nigeria. These groups are the Idomas and Tivs of Benue State, as well as the Alagos, Eggon, Mada, and Gwandara of Nasarawa State. The chosen technique was a survey approach that included primary data gathered through questionnaires and interviews. All of the land in the region under study was initially gained via settlement on virgin ground, according to the research. Except for the Alago, all surveyed cultures recognize inheritance as a way of gaining land. All land in the Alago community is owned communally, not by individual households. In Alagoland, a member of the community may be deprived of his allotment of land for inappropriate behavior. In all investigated groups, the primary means through which family members gain land is via distribution to adult men. In the Tiv community, distribution is based on stirps (mothers’ portions). There is no evidence of partition in the communities examined. All investigated communities acknowledge promise, with the exception of the Madas and the Gwandaras, who only recognize pledge of economic trees. In Idomaland and Tivland, when a pledgee or traditional renter leaves the land, he may return to the land to harvest economic trees he planted on the land. In the Tiv and Idoma societies, the notion of quic quid plantatur solo solo cedit does not apply. In the remaining localities, the topic will be subject to talks or prior agreement. Customary tenancy is acknowledged in all investigated communities with the exception of Alago. Alienation requires the consultation and agreement of family members and the family or community leader. None of the investigated cultures consider extended use or hostile possession as conferring title on an outsider. All examined societies acknowledge the function of the family head, who must be a male family member. Every property transaction requires his agreement, but his rejection does not invalidate the deal. In all investigated societies, women cannot lead a family and are not eligible for land ownership. The result of this paper is that the land law and tenure practices of the six groups analyzed vary little from one another, but dramatically from those identified within the Yoruba tradition, which has been studied the most among all Nigerian communities. The majority of Yoruba customary land law notions do not apply to the investigated groups. To prevent prejudice forbidden by the Constitution of 1999, it is suggested that women should be the heads of their households and have access to property. The community holding tradition of the Alago should be abolished to enable land development. In Benue and Tiv villages, the idea of quic quid plantatur should be used so that former tenants and pledgees do not burden the land they have abandoned.


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Customary land tenure practices are the recognized rules of practices in certain communities in terms of conventions, customary laws, and norms that govern the use of land so as to minimize conflict amongst the people. This research focuses on agricultural villages in the central belt of Nigeria, where land is predominantly utilized for agriculture. These are the Idomas and Tivs of Benue State, as well as the Alagos, Eggons, Madas, and Gwandaras of Nasarawa State. These settlements form a contiguous geographical mass that is only separated by the River Benue.

Despite the presence of the common law, customary land law warrants investigation.

Nigeria has a Land Use Act1 in place. Due to the fact that the Act itself acknowledges

customary land administration law

A second reason to study customary land law in Nigeria at this time is because the provisions of the Act are unknown in rural regions, and even in urban and sub-urban areas where they are understood, they are not valued. This is especially apparent in the Area courts of

1 Title L1 of the Laws of the Federation for 2004

2 Land Use Act Cap L1 Section 21 and Section 50’s definition of “occupier”


In Northern Nigeria, the vast majority of land disputes are initiated and settled according to customary law.

This research aims to investigate the customary land laws and tenures of six communities in the Lower Benue River Valley of Nigeria. The purpose of the study was to determine if the communities’ customary laws are the same as those of the better-studied groups in Nigeria. The second objective is to study if customary rules and practices around land vary amongst groups. There are more ethnic groups in Benue and Nasarawa, including the Igedes in Benue State and the Ebirra Koto, Yeskwa, Afor, and Gwari in Nasarawa. However, the settlements chosen for this research are the most notable ones occupying a continuous block of territory, which is only interrupted by the River Benue.



The law, especially customary law, reflects historical and social

character of the populace. According to Dias3, Savigny underlined that the confusing and obsolete character of a legal system is often the result of an inability to appreciate its history and development. He recommended that the

3 R. W. M. Dias, Jurisprudence, Fifth Edition, Butterworths, 1985, page 377.


An important need for the reform of German law was a comprehensive

knowledge of its past. Savigny4, who was a Prussian Minister in his own right

of Statutes, stated:

The existing matter will be harmful to us as long as we ignorantly submit to it; however, it will be beneficial if we oppose it with a vibrant creative energy – obtain the mastery over it through a thorough grounding in history and thus appropriate the entire intellectual wealth of previous generations.

He then elaborated on the Volksgeist (legal nationalism) viewpoint.

national ethos or the people’s higher ideals) by arguing that

that the fundamental principles of the system are included in the

spirit of the people, which manifests itself in customary laws. It is

Against this backdrop, the following historical and political overview is presented.

The social backgrounds of this study’s participants are provided below.

4 Savigny, Introduction to the Modern Roman Legal System, cited in Dias R.W.M., Jurisprudence, 5th Edition, Butterworths, London, 1985.


1.1.1 History and Sociology of The Tivs

The Idomas occupy the remaining two-fifths of the land mass in Benue State, Nigeria, from the north-east to the west. The Tivs, numbering around 2 million, occupy three-fifths of the land mass from the north-east to the west.


Makar7 asserts that the Tivs are descended from Awange, who had Tiv and other offspring at an unspecified place. According to Makar, Tiv had warrior tendencies from a young age and separated from his siblings to dwell at Swem, a hilly territory in northwestern Cameroon, about 1,000 meters above sea level.

Today, the area is known as Nyievmbashaya.

Ipusu and Ichongo were Tiv’s children. Both sons reproduced and gave birth to the kingdom of Tiv.

According to Ayih9, the Tiv people are organized into several clans and subclans, with three major clans: Kpave, Masev, and Iharev. Ayi further believes that the major bloodline in Iharev is Iharev.

Tivland. Iharev is split into Ipusu and Ichongo. Ayih10

5 1991 Census statistics, Nigerian Population Commission, Zone 7, Wuse, Abuja.

Ministry of Information, Benue State, General Post Office, Makurdi, February 1988.

1994, Fourth Dimension Publishing Company Ltd., Enugu, Makar T., The History of Political Change Among the Tiv in the 19th and 20th Centuries.

8 Ibid.

9Ayih, S. O. (Abaga Toni), Nasarwa State: Past and Present, Umbrella Books, Abuja, 2003.



Also asserts that Makar11’s explanation of the beginnings of the Tiv is an alternate account of those origins. He then lists the six offspring of Ichongo, the larger of the two branch clans, as follows: Iharev, Turan, Ikyurau, Masev, Ugondo, and Nongov.

The Tiv people fled Swem for unclear reasons and battled their way through difficult territory to reach the rich plains.

Katsina-Ala River in contemporary Benue State12.

The Tivs’ primary employment is farming, although they also engage in blacksmithing, ceramics, weaving, and beer brewing.

to be consumed.


Ayih asserts that the Tivs have no formal theological concepts, just nebulous notions regarding God’s existence and his relationship to humanity. Aondo’s (God’s) function in people’s life is a vital one.

11Op. Cit.

12 Ayih supra.

13 See also K. Dewar, Handing Over Notes on Southern Area of Tiv Division, 1936, ref.

552 NAK and Paul Bohannan’s The Tiv of Central Nigeria, London, 1952, pages 12-14.


passive one. They are familiar with and believe in witchcraft. 14 During an interview for this study, an elder indicated that fear of witchcraft is one of the two reasons a young Tiv-man may leave his family’s property to purchase his own farm in a remote region.

next generation all alone

15. The second reason is because a family’s land is split among the women for tendering, and a male adult whose wife has given child is expected to leave the share allotted to him from the mother’s portion in order to gain land by his own efforts and establish his own generation. Upon the death of their parents, the majority of the younger children in a family acquire their mothers’ parts.

Thus, the Tiv man persistently seeks more land and often engages in conflict with neighboring villages in his never-ending pursuit of additional land. It does not matter to him that there is little available land for settlement in the current day. This pattern of conduct indelibly labels him as a violent guy. This viewpoint


An examination of the tenancy laws and practices in six communities in Nigeria’s Lower Benue River Valley



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