Effects of displacement on land tenure systems in Northeast Nigeria

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Juliette Syn

1. Introduction

The death and destruction that has resulted from the violence in Northeast Nigeria has been catastrophic. Of the six states in the region, Borno, Adamawa and Yobe have been the most affected by the violence, much of which is attributed to Boko Haram and the resulting military operations.1 In a survey carried out for the World Bank in the northeast, 49 percent of households reported experiencing at least one event of conflict between 2010 and 2017, the majority of which were caused by Boko Haram. Over 20 percent of the households had a member who was displaced, or had their dwelling robbed.2 This protracted crisis has displaced over two million people, particularly those in the rural areas.

At the same time, the Nigerian government is seeking to modernise and improve its systems of land administration. The country’s land policies are built on an overlaying mix of customary law, Islamic law, and colonial and modern statutory law, and while all play some role in managing land affairs in Northern Nigeria, it is not always clear what each role is. The region also has a long history of violent struggle to use and control land, from the Fulani conquest in the 15th century, to the long-standing contest between farmers and herders, to the recent destruction wrought by Boko Haram.

All of these factors have converged to create a situation where massive numbers of people have been displaced, all of whom need land to either live or work; and a shrinking amount of land to meet these needs. This has resulted in increasing levels of tenure insecurity for internally displaced persons (IDPs), host communities, and returnees alike, and the objective of this report is to better understand the barriers to accessing land for the conflict-affected population in Northern Nigeria.