Upgrading Customary Land Title Documents in Nigeria

Authors Osose Eidenoje

ISSN: 2521-2613
Affiliations: Assistant Secretary of the Benin Branch of the Nigerian Bar Association
Source: Africa Nazarene University Law Journal, 2017, Issue 2, p. 85 – 118


This article contains analysis of the concept of land ownership in Nigeria and espouses the recognition of indigenous or customary land title vis-à-vis ways of proving title, as outlined by the Supreme Court of Nigeria in the celebrated case of Idundun and Others v Okumagba and Others. The status of ‘Oba’s approval’ and kindred documents, under Benin and sister tribes’ customary law, as evidence of customary land title is examined and the extent to which it complies with statutory provisions for conventional title to land is evaluated. The Oba is the paramount ruler or king of a local tribe in Nigeria who is the trustee of all land within his domain, the Oba of Benin being one of the most prominent. The Oba is empowered to effect transactions relating to land on behalf of and for the benefit of all his subjects under customary law, including the transfer or bestowment of beneficial interest in property under his authority. The impact of the Land Use Act of 1978 on customary tenure is also discussed. The author opines that customary title documents ought to be registerable instruments because they are uniquely indigenous creations and registration would afford indigenous people the opportunity of recording their interests in modern formats. Reference is made to the prevailing situation in jurisdictions of other countries, like Ghana, Kenya and Australia, where indigenous titles have been made registerable. The article concludes that there is a need to upgrade customary title documents in line with contemporary trends by providing for their registration in a dual register at the Federal and State Lands Registries, to ensure that the advantages of formalisation of property rights are enjoyed by all Nigerian citizens.