Pre-Colonial Land Management Practices

Posted by on 2/27/2004 1:49:45 PM
Post Comment Pre-Colonial Land Management Practices Nigeria

One of the cardinal principles of land management in Nigeria is that land belongs to all the people which may be held by individuals and or jointly (in southern Nigeria) by families or gandu (in northern Nigeria). The family head, normally the oldest man, was regarded as the administrator of land since it was he who allocated plots of family land. Such allocations were considered to belong to the individuals so granted for a life time since allotees had complete control over land. This was the situation in southern Nigeria.

In northern Nigeria, such land might revert to the gandu for redistribution to others. It must be noted, however, that during the pre-colonial period, it was most likely that there were no alienation of plots either by sale or mortgage. Of course, it should be noted that customary tenure did not forbid alienation of land. It did so by not providing for it since it was not needed as there was plenty of land and low population density. However, even if land was not directly saleable, it could be passed to others through a variety of ways, often with a profit. This is one of the often overlooked aspects of corporate holdings during this period.

While this system of land management still obtained in southern Nigeria, that of northern Nigeria was radically changed by the introduction of Islam on the existing system of land management, by the establishment of the Sokoto Caliphate. The enthronement of Islamic values following the establishment of the Sokoto Caliphate had implications for the system of land administration as we know it today. The general principle underlying Moslem land law is that land is a gift of God (Allah) and that each person has usufructuary right in it. The term usufructuary did not mean the same with the Roman law 'usufructuary.' In the Caliphate, it means any occupier of land has the right of 'access to land, a right to use and enjoy the products of the land and the right to prevent others from using it.

One way in which the customary system of land management was affected was through the emergence of new land ownership systems. Basically, five land types were introduced - mamluka or land held in absolute ownership by individuals/groups; amiriyya or state land; matruka or common land; mawatoi dead (infertile) land or dajin Allah or God's bush; waqf or dedicated lands. These land cate- gories notwithstanding, under the Islamic [and tenure law in Nigeria, land can be divided into three legal categories occupied, unoccupied and common land. Occupied land is that land which is under use.

However acquired by the original acquisitor, the basic tenet of occupied land is that the occupier is free to deal with the land as he likes, subject to not causing any injury to members of the public and subject to acquisition for public purposes. Thus, he can sell, pledge or loan and enter into tenancy agreements without consent of the Emir or ruler or any authority. Unoccupied land, on the other hand, can be subdivided into two: land close to the emirate capital and/or other towns; and those far away from the capital or town. The Emir is the main land manager. Thus, one cannot occupy any land in towns or in their vicinity without first obtaining the consent of the Emir.

But once allocated, the person to whom it is allocated became the 'absolute owner'. According to Yakubu (1985), this means that the occupier has a title against all persons and he is free to use it the way he likes but cannot alienate it to a total stranger without the consent of the Emir. However, land which is far away from the town is free for all persons or a 'no man's land' where any person can acquire land by clearing, cultivating, building or planting of economic trees etc. without the consent of any authority. A third variant of land category, whether occu pied or unoccupied land, is the waqf or common land, which an Emir can declare such land as common or public land. In the past, land gained from war, cession and treaty were excluded.

In present day Nigeria, such land include small parcels of land used for markets, praying grounds or grazing land. In situations where such land were occupied, the occupier was given another piece of land somewhere and compensation, where required, was paid. One other way in which the Islamic land tenure law is different from the existing law is that Islamic law does not recognise holding of land for a fixed tenure, at the expiration of which rights in the land lapse. For the efficient management of the extensive Sokoto Caliphate in general and land in particular, different kinds of taxes were introduced: zakkat or obligatory tax, Jizyah or tribute paid by subjugated people, al - kharaj or tax on farm produce or kudin - al - barkar kasa. Two misconceptions on this sys- tem of land management have been cited in the literature.

One, according to Yakubu (1985), a tax or al-kharaj was paid for land which an individual occupied. But to Yakubu, the Hausa word for al- kharaj is Kudin -al - barkar kasa or money for land produce. Often, the middle word - al-barkarte omitted in both oral and written literature to leave kudin kasa or literally land money. Thus, tax was never paid on land per se but on produce of land. Secondly, there was also the misconception that Emirs had proprietary rights to land and were there- fore regarded as owners of land. Indeed, they had rights over inhabitants as distinct from rights over land. These misconceptions can be attributed either to linguistic problems or the lack of an understanding of the territorial system of land management under the Fulani administration. These misconceptions mostly arose during the colonial period.

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