British Colonial Rule and Land Tenure in Esan

Joseph Inegbenebho Osagie


This article examines the impact of British colonial rule on land tenure in Esan (Anglicized Ishan), the second major ethnic group in Edo State of Nigeria. Land was very important to the social, political and economic wellbeing of Esan, just like other societies the world over. It was regarded as collective property which everyone could utilize for agriculture and building of houses. Although land was regarded as collective property, individuals owned the plots which they either inherited or acquired. The laid down methods of acquisition and utilization eliminated land disputes throughout the pre-colonial period of Esan history.
By the first decade of the twentieth century, Esan and elsewhere in what is today Nigeria, found themselves under British colonial domination. The British colonial authorities introduced the production rubber and other cash crops into Esan agricultural system in line with their policies of encouraging the production of raw materials for the industries in Europe. The introduction of rubber production especially in plantations thus necessitated the utilization of more land beyond what was hitherto required for the production of food crops. The introduction of plantation system thus altered the land tenure system in Esan as individuals began to lay permanent claims to their rubber plantations to the extent that they began to alienate such land in the guise of selling their rubber trees.
This article therefore examines the role played by British Colonial authorities in the gradual transformation of land from communal to individual ownership in Esan.


Land; Land tenure; Colonial rule and exploitation; Rubber plantation

Full Text:



Agbosu, L. K. (1988). The land use act and the state of Nigerian land law. Journal of African Law, 32(1) (spring).

Azuka, A. D. (1988). Land tenure in igboland. Anthropos, Bd. 78, H5/6: 853-871

Bradbury, R. E. (1957). Benin Kingdom and the edo speaking peoples of south western Nigeria. London: International African Institute.

Colson, E. (1977). The impact of the colonial period on the definition of land rights. In V. Tuner (Ed.), Colonialism in Africa 1870-1960, Vol. 3: Profile of change: African Society and Colonial Rule. London: Cambridge University Press.

Diduk, S. (1992). The paradoxes of changing land tenure in Kedjom Chiefdoms, Northwest Province, Cameroon. Paideuma, Bd, 38: 195-217.

Ekundare, R. O. (1973). An economic history of Nigeria, 1860-1960. London: Mathuen.

Elias, T. O. (1971). Nigerian land law. London: Sweet & Maxell.

Falola, T., et al. (1991). History of Nigeria: Nigeria in the twentieth century. Lagos: Longman.

Fenske, J. (2010). Tree, tenure and conflict: Rubber in Colonial Benin. Munich Personal RcPEc Archive (MPRA). Paper No. 27450. Munich.

Haldane, V. (1921). Amadu Tijani v Secretary, Southern Nigeria (Delivering the judgment of the Privy Council in 1921)

Igbafe, P. A. (1979). Benin under British administration: The impact of colonial rule on an African Kingdom, 1897-1978.London: Longman.

Igbokwe, J. N. (2002). Land tenure and agriculture in 19th century Isuamawu area of Abia State. In O. N. Njoku (Ed.), Pre-colonial economic history of Nigeria. Benin City: Ethiope Publishing Corporation.

National Archives, Ibadan (N.A.I.). Benin Province 1940. Annual Reports on the Benin Province for 1940. CSO 26/2 14617 Vol. XIV.

National Archives, Ibadan (N.A.I.). Benin Province 1941. Annual Reports on Benin Province for 1941.

National Archives, Ibadan (N.A.I.). Benin Province 1944. Annual Reports on the Benin Province for 1944. CSO 26/2 14617 Vol. XIV.

National Archives, Ibadan (N.A.I.). Benin Province 1946. Annual Reports, Benin Province.

National Archives, Ibadan (N.A.I.). Ishan Division 1943. Minutes dated 23/6/43: List of African Plantations. I.D. 744.

National Archives, Ibadan (N.A.I.). Ishan Division 1943. Rubber Production: Paper Concerning, 1943 Reports. I. D. 744.

National Archives, Ibadan (N.A.I.). (1982). Intelligence Reports On Ishan Division of Benin Province.

Nwabueze, B. O. (1982). Nigerian land law. Enugu: Nwamife Publishers.

Okojie, C. G. (1994). Esan native laws and customs with ethnographic studies of esan people. Benin City: Ilupeju Press.

Osagie, J. I. (2004). Economic development in esan in the Colonial Period (Ph.D. Dissertation). University of Benin, Benin City.

Scallon, A. V. Intelligence reports on North East Ishan Federation of Benin Province. Benin City: Ministry of Local Government.

The Economist, July, 1944.

Uku, U. I. (1967). The development of trade and marketing in Iboland. Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria, 34, 650-661.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c)


  • How to do online submission to another Journal?
  • If you have already registered in Journal A, then how can you submit another article to Journal B? It takes two steps to make it happen:

1. Register yourself in Journal B as an Author

  • Find the journal you want to submit to in CATEGORIES, click on “VIEW JOURNAL”, “Online Submissions”, “GO TO LOGIN” and “Edit My Profile”. Check “Author” on the “Edit Profile” page, then “Save”.

2. Submission

Online Submission

  • Go to “User Home”, and click on “Author” under the name of Journal B. You may start a New Submission by clicking on “CLICK HERE”.
  • We only use four mailboxes as follows to deal with issues about paper acceptance, payment and submission of electronic versions of our journals to databases:;;;

 Articles published in Canadian Social Science are licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 (CC-BY).


Canadian Social Science Editorial Office

Address: 1020 Bouvier Street, Suite 400, Quebec City, Quebec, G2K 0K9, Canada.
Telephone: 1-514-558 6138 
Website: Http://; Http://;

Copyright © Canadian Academy of Oriental and Occidental Culture