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WHAT IS CUSTOMARY TENANCY?

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A customary tenancy involves the transfer of an interest in land from the customary landlord or overlord to the customary tenant and which interest entitles the customary tenant to exclusive possession of the land and which interest, subject to good behaviour, he holds in perpetuity. Unless it is otherwise excluded, the main feature of a customary tenancy is the payment of tributes by the customary tenant to the overlord. And the status of his exclusive possession is such that it is enforceable against the world at large including even the customary landlord or those claiming through him.

— F. Tabai, JSC. Dashi v Satlong (2009) – SC.303/2002

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CUSTOMARY TENANT AND LAND USE ACT

It was the appellants’ contention that the claims of the parties were based on the Land Use Act. 1975. That was not disputed as the suit was filed in the trial High Court in 1981. On that date the Land Use Act had become applicable to all land in Imo State of Nigeria and by virtue of section 1 of the Act, same has been vested in the Governor of that State on that date. This provision takes away the freehold title vested in individuals or communities but not the customary right of use and control of the land. Section 36(1) does not enlarge the right of a customary tenant to any piece of land in non-urban area which was, at the commencement of the Act in his possession and occupation. A customary tenant remains so and is subject to the conditions attached to the customary tenancy.

— Wali JSC. Onwuka & Ors. V. Ediala & Anor. (SC.18/1987, 20 January 1989)

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NATURE OF TENANCY AT SUFFERANCE

Now, a tenancy at sufferance is one in which the original grant by the landlord to the tenant has expired, usually by effluxion of time, but the tenant holds over the premises. In such a case the tenant’s right to occupation of the premises to which he had come in upon a lawful title by grant is at an end but, although he has no more title as such, he continues in possession of the land or premises without any further grant or agreement by the landlord on whom the right to the reversion resides. One necessary pre-condition of such a tenancy is that the tenant must have come upon the land or premises lawfully. Though he no longer, strictly, has an estate, the law will deem his right to possession to have continued on the same terms and conditions as the original grant till possession has been duly and properly wrested from him by the landlord or reversioner. It is a form of tenancy which, as it were, depends upon the law and not the agreement of the parties and can only be determined either by the landlord’s lawful act of forcible entry, where it is still possible, or by a proper action for ejectment after due notices as prescribed by law.

– Nnaemeka-Agu, JSC. Petroleum v. Owodunni (1991)

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CONDUCT OF PARTIES MAY DECIDE IF A TENANCY HAS BEEN CREATED

Isaac v. Hotel de Paris Limited (1960) 1 ALL E.R. 348, it was held that the intention of the parties and the conduct of the parties must be the deciding factor whether a tenancy has been created or the relationship was merely that of a licensor and licensee even though there was exclusive possession by the appellant and the acceptance of the amount of the rent by the respondent company.

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WHEN TENANCY AT WILL ARISES

Pan Asian African Co. Ltd. v. National Insurance Corporation (Nig.) Ltd. (1982) All NLR 229, this court said at page 243: “A tenancy at will arises whenever a tenant with the consent of owner occupies land as tenant (and not merely as servant or agent) on terms that either party may determine the tenancy at any time. This kind of tenancy may be created expressly [e.g. Mansfield and Sons Ltd. v. Botchin (1970) 2 QB 612] or by implication, common examples are where a tenant whose lease has expired holds over with landlord’s permission without having yet paid rent on a period basis (see e.g. Meye v. Electric Transmission Ltd. (1942) Ch 290).”

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TERMINATION OF STATUTORY TENANCY

In point of law and of fact, once there is an incident of statutory tenancy, the tenant becomes a weekly, monthly or yearly tenant, depending upon the term of the original grant. As it is so, his tenancy can only be lawfully terminated in accordance with the manner and length of term of the original grant between the landlord and the tenant.

– Nnaemeka-Agu, JSC. Petroleum v. Owodunni (1991)

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LAND CANNOT BE GIVEN OUT WITHOUT CUSTOMARY TENANTS CONSENT

A very important factor is that the grantor of the land, once it has been given to the grantees as customary tenants, cannot thereafter grant it or any part of it to a third party without the consent or approval of the customary tenants. The grantor is not allowed to derogate from his grant.

– T.O. Elias, CJN. Aghenghen v. Waghoreghor (1974)

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