One of my most difficult tasks has been to decide what kind of book I should write about Yoruba customary land law. Precedents before me from other African peoples range from legal codes and collections of decided cases to the anthropological work in which land is but one aspect of the web of social relationships. Foremost in my mind, however, have been the problems which have given rise to the demand for research in customary law; for this research was not occasioned by some altruistic desire to preserve the vanishing culture of the Yoruba but by a realization that ignorance of the law had been seriously handicapping the commercial development of Western Nigeria.
The Yoruba man tends to put all his initial savings into building a house; later he may buy a car, send his sons to England -- and build more houses. The house brings prestige to its builder, it marks him out as one of his town's worthier citizens, and if he is a trader it will encourage men to bring their business to him. The house is a business asset in that it advertises its owner. But the modern businessman needs more than prestige -- he usually needs credit; and his one security for a loan is his house and its land, or perhaps in some cases his farms. When the creditor asks for proof of the businessman's title to his house and land the latter can usually produce either a letter-writer's document of sale, a conveyance drawn up by a solicitor, or a mere note of attestation by an oba or chief that he is the owner of the property in question. The first and last of these documents are not usually held to be sufficient proof of title. The conveyance is probably recent and it will usually be registered in Deeds Registry at Ibadan; such registration, however, confers no proof that the grantor named in the deed had the power to convey the interests stated therein. (In English practice solicitors demand that deeds be produced which evince the unchallenged transfer of a freehold estate at least thirty years ago.) In short, the Yoruba businessman can rarely produce evidence that the house and land are his own; and, of course, in many cases they are not his own but are 'family property'; or, alternatively, if the house is his own, the land is 'family land', in which he does not hold an alienable interest. Debtors who use their houses as security sometimes default, instigating their family members to claim the houses and land as corporate property, inalienable by a single member. The creditor being offered no satisfactory proof of title and fearing that he might be defrauded, naturally refuses
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Book title: Yoruba Land Law. Contributors: P. C. Lloyd - Author. Publisher: Oxford University Press. Place of publication: London. Publication year: 1962. Page number: 3.