Adetoun Ilumoka


Much has been written on women's limited legal rights to land in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa, which is often attributed to custom and customary law. Persisting biases against women in legal regimes governing land ownership, allocation and use, result in a situation in which women, in all age groups, are vulnerable to dispossession and to abuse by male relatives in increasingly patriarchal family and community governance structures.

This paper raises questions about the genesis of ideas about women's rights to land in Nigeria today. It is an analysis of two court cases from South Western Nigeria in the early twentieth century and some of the commentary that they generated. Examining how globalization, which included legal and not just economic processes of integration through colonization, changed the power and gender dynamics of colonial society, the paper criticizes the gender-biased processes of development of "customary law." It calls for critical historical and feminist analyses of law to re-establish women's social and economic rights in the twenty-first century adopting rights based strategies that are grounded in local history and struggles. Although it focuses on the impact of colonial legal change on the displacement of women's land rights, it is a broader commentary on how processes of legal change are embedded in and should be understood in relation to political and economic changes in society.