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This study is aimed at studying the customary land laws and tenurial practices of the
communities of the Nigerian Lower Benue River valley. These communities are the
Idomas and the Tivs of Benue state, and the Alagos, Eggon, Mada, and Gwandara
peoples of Nasarawa State. The methodology adopted was a survey approach which
incorporated primary data captured through questionnaire and interviews. The work
has shown that in the area of study, all the land were acquired originally by settlement
on virgin land. All the communities studied, except Alago, recognise inheritance as a
means of acquiring land. All land in Alago community is held purely communally and not
by families. In Alagoland a member of the community can be dispossessed of his portion
of land for misbehaviour. In all the communities studied, the main mode of obtaining
land by family members, is through allocation to adult males. In Tiv community, the
allocation is on the basis of stirps (mothers’ portions). Partition is unknown among the
communities studied. Pledge is recognized in all the communities studied, except among
the Madas and the Gwandaras, who only recognize pledge of economic trees. When a
pledgee or a customary tenant leaves the land in Idomaland and in Tivland, he can come
back to the land to reap economic trees he planted on the land. Thus, the principle of
quic quid plantatur solo solo cedit does not apply in Tiv and Idoma communities. In the
other communities, the matter is not as clear cut; it will be subject to negotiations or
prior agreement. Customary tenancy is recognized in all the communities studied
except Alago. Alienation is by consultation and consent of family members and the head
of the family or community. All the communities studied do not recognize long usage or
adverse possession as bestowing title on a stranger. All the communities studied
recognize the role of the family head, who must be a male member of the family. He
must be consulted in every land transaction, but his refusal to consent does not nullify
the transaction. In all the communities studied, women cannot head a family and are
not entitled to portions of land. The conclusion from this work is that the land law and
tenure practices of the six communities studied differ slightly from one another, but
differ significantly from those recognized among the Yoruba custom, which is the most
researched of all communities in Nigeria. Most of the concepts of customary land law
among the Yorubas do not apply to the communities studied. It is recommended that
women should head families and should be entitled to portions of land to avoid
discrimination outlawed by the 1999 Constitution. The Alago communal holding custom
should be dismantled to allow for development. The principle of quic quid plantatur
should apply in Benue and Tiv communities so that former tenants and pledgees do not
encumber the land they have left.

Customary land tenure practices are the accepted rules of practices in
particular communities in terms of the customs, customary laws and
norms which guide how land is used that avoid friction among the
people. The communities in this study are agrarian area in the middle
belt of Nigeria where land is primarily used for farming. These
communities are the Idomas and the Tivs of Benue State, and the
Alagos, Eggons, Madas and Gwandaras of Nasarawa State. These
communities are a continuous land mass cut only by River Benue.
Customary land law is worth investigating despite the existence of the
Land Use Act1 in Nigeria. This is because the Act itself recognizes
customary law in land administration2. Another reason for studying
customary land law in Nigeria at the present time is because the
provisions of the Act are not known in the rural areas and even in the
urban and sub-urban areas where the provisions of the Act are known,
tjhey are not appreciated. This is most evident in the Area courts of Northern Nigeria where majority of land cases are instituted and decided
on the basis of customary laws.
This study is aimed at studying the customary land laws and tenures of
six communities in the Nigerian Lower Benue River Valley. The study
was designed to investigate whether the customary laws in the
communities are the same with those of the more researched
communities in Nigeria. The second aim is to investigate whether the
customary laws and practices with regard to land differ among the
communities inter se. There are other ethnic tribes in the two States
(Benue and Nasarawa), such as the Igedes in Benue State and the
Ebirra Koto, Yeskwa, Afor and Gwari in Nasarawa State. However, the
communities selected for this study are the more prominent ones
occupying a continuous block of land, broken only by River Benue.
Law, particularly customary laws , reflect the history and sociological
nature of the people. Dias3 reports that Savigny emphasized that the
muddled and outmoded nature of a legal system was usually due to a
failure to comprehend its history and evolution. He advised that the essential prerequisite to the reform of German law, was a deep
knowledge of its history. Savigny4, who was himself a Prussian Minister
of Legislation, said:
The existing matter will be injurious to us so long as we
ignorantly submit to it; but beneficial if we oppose to it a
vivid creative energy – obtain the mastery over it by a
thorough grounding in history and thus appropriate to
ourselves the whole intellectual wealth of preceding
He then went to elaborate the theory of the Volksgeist (legal nationalism
based on national ethos or the peoples’ higher values) by contending
that it is the broad principles of the system that are to be found in the
spirit of the people and which becomes manifest in customary rules. It is
against this background that the following summary of the history and
sociological backgrounds of the peoples of this study are given below.


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