n Acta Juridica - Legal pluralism and access to land in Nigeria

Volume 2011, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0065-1346
  • E-ISSN: 1996-2088



One of the challenges of legal pluralism in any country including Nigeria is the question of choice of law. When two normative systems of law exist in a state it is often difficult to determine which law applies to an individual or a transaction because of the potential that two normative systems may be applicable. Choice of law rules, enacted by the legislature or developed by the judiciary, therefore seek to define the criteria by which a decision is reached as to which of the contending systems of law is applicable in a way that appears reasonable. Generally choice of law rules have used the personal law of the parties to a transaction depending on their race, the law of the area where the subject matter such as land is located, the law of the area where the court is located, and the intention of the parties to a transaction to determine the applicable law.

With respect to land in Nigeria the general rule is that it is the law of the place where the land is situated that applies to transactions involving customary land. However, in some cases it would appear that the legal system would countenance a change to this general rule and recognise the intention of the parties as governing the transaction. Thus, Nigerian citizens seek to change the general rule of the operation of the by deploying the procedural and substantive content of another normative field in order to achieve a result in that normative field and thereby render the general rule inapplicable. In many cases these acts and omissions arise from the perceived advantages of one normative field over the other especially with regard to title and tenure which ultimately affect access to land. In this form of normative shopping, it should be noted that individuals are in search of what they consider to be just and reasonable. This paper critically examines how the Nigerian judiciary has evaluated four instances of the recourse by Nigerians to one normative field in order to ensure that transactions concerning land are governed by that field and not by the general rule.

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