Land Law: Individual Rights in Community Land

Land Law: Individual Rights in Community Land

Clearly speaking, once a communal land has been allotted to a member of the community, then he exercises all occupational rights thereon, to the exclusion of any other member of the community. The chief can no longer allot the same portion to another member of the community, in effect; the individual member acquires permanent rights in the land. The rights being permanent are actually ownership rights and are inheritable by his heirs.

This position became obvious in the case of Oragbade v Onitiju (1962). The court while performing its functions held that “where land has been allocated to some individuals within the community land, that such land are no longer the property of the community. That is, in such areas the allocation of community land to a member confers ownership on the member.

The effect of the foregoing is that ” the chief cannot make inconsistent grant of the communal land to members of the community, where this is done the latter allotment is void”.  Logically put, it means “the chief cannot revolve the grant already made to a member of the community and re-allocate to another member or strangers”. Illustratively,  in the case of Adewoyin v Adeyeye  and also Asiyanbi v Adeniji (1966) NMLR 106 the Supreme Court held that ” the Ooni of Ife could not grant land already enjoyed by a family to another person, whether a member of the family or not, without consulting the family, and that any rule of customary law will be rejected as being contrary to natural justice, equity and good conscience”.

                             RIGHT TO SHARE IN COMMUNAL INCOME

Apart from actual user, whatever income or profit is derived from communal land is the property of the entire community. Income or profit may accrue to the community in form of rents from customary tenants, sale of communal lands; compensation from government paid for acquisition of community lands, etc. in effect the income is paid to the chief, who must give account of the moneys to the community.

Note that, the chief is entitled to deduct all charges and outgoings, after which the money must be shared among all members of the community. Every member of the community has a right to share in the income accruing to the community from proceeds from the community land. If the chief appropriates the money for his own personal use, the members are entitled to ask for account of the entire income.  In the case of Osuro v Anjorin (1946) 18 N.L.R 45, the court entered judgment in favour of a member of a family for account and payment of whatever is due to the member of the family.

                           MANAGEMENT OF COMMUNITY LAND

From findings, it is clear that the chief is obliged to inform the individual family heads and important elders of the community before taking any impendent step affecting the community property. Meaning, the family heads must also inform members of his family who participate in decision making in the community. The consent of the entire principal members of the community is required before the chief may take important decisions affecting the community land. It is also important that all principal members must agree to a sale or disposition of community land, where this is not done, the sale is not void, but the members may challenge the sale and ask for an account.

                                  POSITION OF STRANGERS

The communal land is exclusively for the benefit of the members of the community and not strangers. A stranger interested in community land may apply for a grant of the land from the chief or traditional authorities. The stranger cannot acquire ownership of communal land, when granted, he will remain a tenant of the community and the stranger may only use the land for the purpose for which the land was granted to him, which may only be for farming purposes; and where the stranger builds houses on the land, he remains customary tenant of the community.

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