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ISSUES AND CHANLLENGES IN ALIENATION OF FAMILY LAND HOLDING IN NIGERIA

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Abstract

This research investigates the issues and challenges encountered or suffered in alienation of family land by purchasers in Nigeria, particularly in Yoruba and Ibo customs since 1960 to date. The Land Use Act, 1978 was promulgated to abolish all forms of ownership and convert the ultimate title to a mere Right of Occupancy which is the highest interest capable of existing in land holding in Nigeria. Right of Occupancy is intended by the Act to be recognized in an individual member of the family as an occupier or holder rather than the family as a unit. The Land Use Act is aimed at altering the absolute title of all forms and vest it in the Governor of each state in the Federation to hold in trust and administer same for the use and benefits of all Nigerians. The research is inspired by the uncertainty and precarious state of alienation of family land which is often based on the principle of consent by the head and principal members of the family. It has become a general practice in Nigeria that absolute title to family land can only be transferred by the head of the family with the consent of the principal members of such family. It is also observed that the alienation of family land invests excessive powers on the head of the family compared to that of the principal members of same family. The alienation of family land by the head of the family without the consent of the principal members is voidable and not necessarily void in law. While the alienation of same by the principal members of the family without the consent of the family head is void and can in fact be nullified at the suit of any member of the family. This is common with respect to polygamous families in Nigeria. In spite of the abolition of communal and family land holding conveyancers still convey family land to purchasers without considering the implication as provided under the Act. This research adopted the expository and analytical designs. Recourse was made to primary source materials, namely, statutes and case law. Also reliance was placed on secondary source materials, that is, textbooks, journals, articles, workshop and seminar papers, newspapers, magazines and internet materials. Comparative method was also used in achieving its objectives. This research reveals that alienation of family land, especially with respect to polygamous families, presents difficulties in Nigeria. The challenges encountered by purchasers with respect to the issue of consent by the head and all principal members of the family to confer a valid title on a purchaser was identified. The abolition of family land holding under the Land Use Act has not helped the position of purchasers as shown in Ibo and Yoruba areas of Nigeria, as over 30% of purchasers of family land end up purchasing a long drawn litigation and suffers damage, injury or loss as a result of defective customary title. The issue of consent by the head and principal members of the family for alienation purposes has not resolved or reduce increasing rate of litigation encountered by purchasers. Finally, this research proposes recommendations that a power of attorney executed in favour of a member of the family, authorizing him to undertake conveyances on behalf of the family rather than the family as a whole was a reasonable panacea for withholding of consent and will make family land dealings easier. The research therefore concludes that the Land Use Act should be reviewed and simplified to increase accessibility to land by purchasers without stress.