CUSTOMARY LAND TENURE SYSTEM IN SOUTH-WESTERN NIGERIA
Land tenure system in the South Western Nigeria show a marked variation and have also been subject to considerable change in the course of present century under the influence of increasing population densities and the spread of cocoa. The cocoa industry first develop in the Western areas: Ilaro, Agege, Abeokuta, Ibadan and Ijebu. As the trees in these areas have aged, the centre of production has gradually moved east to Ondo, Akure and Owo and in some western areas kola has replaced cocoa entirely.
According to Eades (1980), Land tenure is a question of great complexity and only a very schematic account can be given here. Three important points should be made at the outset.
· First a distinction has to be made between the right to use land and rights of full ownership, particularly the right to alienate it. In many cases throughout Yorubaland, the two do not coincide.
· Second, as land becomes more valuable, either because of its increasing scarcity or its potential for cash crops, conflict over access to, and control of, land will increase, and an increasing quantum of rights will be asserted over it. As Lloyd (1962) remarks of Ondo land tenure, “while land has little scarcity or commercial value it will be described as communal: but as soon as it becomes valuable the descent groups currently using it will begin to claim amount to full ownership”. In different areas of Yorubaland, ownership of land is variously thought of as being vested in the ruler on behalf of the community, as being vested in descent groups, or as being vested in individuals. In Ondo, the position, according to Lloyd (1962), is that the ruler claims that all land belongs to him on behalf of the community. An Ondo man may farm anywhere in the kingdom provided that if he farms within one hour’s walk (3 - 4 miles) 0f subordinate town, he must get the permission of “Oloja” (ruler) of the town ; he may not be disturbed in his possession of land, but should he abandon it the land reverts to the community. The Ondo rules may reflect Benin influence: in the Benin Kingdom, land is vested in the community rather than in descent groups. However, it appears that Ondo descent groups have asserted rights of ownership over particular tracts of land, particularly on the perimeter of the capital and in areas suitable for cocoa-planting, where they are demanding annual payments (isakole) for the use of the land.
· Thirdly, a sharp distinction as to be drawn between the rights that a member of a kingdom can have in its land the rights which can be acquired by an outsider. In many cases, outsiders can become tenants, but cannot claim rights of ownership over land, and as the scarcity of land increases, the more rigidly this rule may be applied.
According to Eades (1980), rights in land may be vested in a variety of social groups which may be defined in political, residential or kinship terms, or a combination of these. Residentially defined groups include communities, quarters and villages, while groups based on kinship include lineages of various depths and sizes, extended families and households. In the Ondo area, for example, substantial rights remain vested in the community while in Abeokuta, most land is held by individuals (Rowling, 1952; Lloyd, 1962). In most areas the important unit of land ownership is the lineage, or idile. Criteria for lineage membership are by no means uniform, and in particular recognition of the validity of matrilateral links (i.e. the mother's side), is variable. In general, while there is a fairly strong patrilineal ideology, in practice kinship links of other kinds, as well as co-residence, may form the basis for participation in lineage affairs and access to land. Lloyd (1962) records of some areas that lineage land was reallocated annually to members, and that in Ado Ekiti lineage members required the permission of the lineage to plant permanent crops. In general, whether land is obtained through membership of a community or lineage or through inheritance, the wider group exercises little control over its use, and the individual is free to plant either food or tree crops.
Descent group control over land is more usual. This is the pattern in Ibadan, Ijebu and Ekiti. Within the descent group, land is allocated according to need. A farmer can use land allocated to him and can pass it on to his children, but usually he cannot alienate it without the permission of the descent group as a whole. In the case of large descent groups a process of partition has often taken place. The land is divided between segments which can dispose of it without reference to the other segments and this process of fragmentation has reached its fullest extent in Egba, where it is common to have land rights vested in individual farmers (Lloyd, 1962).
In Ibadan descent-group control of land has remained strong, despite the early introduction of cocoa. In the 19th century the leading warriors and their followers claimed large tracts of land, and they maintained control over them into the colonial period, establishing a tradition of corporate ownership. On the introduction of cocoa, hunters who acted as guides to Ibadan farmers looking for land in the forest suitable for cocoa began to claim rights of ownership over it themselves. Their ownership was marked by the initial gifts they received from the farmers, and by annual payments of isakole thereafter. At first these were nominal payments recognising ownership, rather than an economic rental. The tenants could remain permanently, and pass their usufructuary rights on to their children who continued to pay isakole but they had no right to alienate the land itself (Eades, 1980).
According to Eades (1980), Land rights took a different form in Egba, where a free market in land had developed before 1880, before the arrival of cocoa. European concepts of ownership had been introduced by the Saro repatriates to Abeokuta. After 1880 re-colonisation of land abandoned during the 1820s was stimulated by the introduction of the new crop, and the elders of the abandoned towns, now living in Abeokuta, began to reallocate land to individual farmers in return for gifts. These transactions came to be regarded as sales. Land sales became so common that steps had to be taken to restrict them to members of the kingdom. With the division of Abeokuta into townships and the complex political institutions cross-cutting lines of descent, powerful descent groups on the Ibadan model did not emerge. Partitioning of land in each generation has meant that some land has been inherited through women as men without sons have passed on their holdings to their daughters. Taken together, these factors have led to a situation in which farmers have widely scattered plots separated in some cases by 30 km or more. Plots which a farmer is unable to use may be let to tenants, for food-crop cultivation rather than cocoa-planting.
Individual ownership may result from other processes. In a recent study of the lfe-Ondo border area, Clarke (1979) found that individual tenure had developed through individual colonization and appropriation of forest land from the 1930s onwards, without a stage of descent group.
Non-members of landowning groups may also obtain the use of land. Within the traditional system, the granting of land to immigrants was merely an aspect of their integration into the community. Where tribute was paid, this was a question of political, rather than economic, significance. As scarcity has given land a value, relations between the grantors and grantees of land have become more narrowly economic, although the process has been an uneven one.
'Strangers' (alejo) may obtain access to land in a number of different ways. Most critical is the fact that grants of land do not necessarily include the right to plant trees (Galletti 1955; Francis 1984). Thus Lloyd (1962) records of the Ijebu Ode area is that while some strangers were granted land in perpetuity, these grants were for food crops only and the land could not be transferred by the grantee. More common arrangement was for strangers to be given land for a single crop cycle in exchange for a cash payment to the head of the granting group. No rights over existing trees were transferred, and the tenant was not allowed to plant permanent crops. With the harvest of the last crop, the tenant must pay a fresh fee for another plot of fallow land. In other parts of Ijebu the system differed: in Ijebu Igbo, land was granted to strangers by village heads in exchange for annual payments, while in Iwoye payments were due to the chief. In Abeokuta grants of fallow land included only the right to plant food crops, and tenancies could be ended at the end of any cropping cycle. An annual rent was payable in cash. In Ado Ekiti and Ijesha too, grants of land for growing food crops only are distinguished from those which include the right to plant trees (Lloyd, 1962; Francis, 1984).
These restrictions notwithstanding, outsiders have been able to obtain land for the cultivation of economic trees from landowning groups. The terms of such arrangements varied from place to place. In general, an initial payment was made when the land was granted and this was followed by annual payments to the landowner in cash or kind. These payments came to be known as isakole and to be enforceable in customary courts. In the Ibadan area, lineages with claims over extensive tracts of land, which often originated in hunters' rights, made grants to others of Ibadan origin in exchange for initial presents followed by annual payments of cash. In other areas, an influx of migrant tenants from areas to the north accompanied the spread of cocoa cultivation and perhaps facilitated the commercialisation of land tenure. At Ife, the typical rates of isakole on land for cocoa cultivation were two quarters or a hundredweight of cocoa per year, and these terms applied to natives and strangers alike. Similar arrangements evolved in the Ijesha area, though here only immigrants were liable for isakole (Berry, 1975; Francis, 1984). Lloyd (1962) recorded that in Ondo a newcomer had the same rights as a native.
However, by the 1970's this system had broken down with the arrival of migrants and substantial sums of isakole were being demanded from tenants. In general, the social obligations and implications of tenancy have tended to diminish with time, while the cost of obtaining rights in land has risen.