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A Handshake Beyond The Elbow
Published Jan 17, 2021 IN Column, LAW & SOCIETY,
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 The elders say: ‘When a handshake goes beyond the wrist and extends to the el­bow, the receiver must take caution for it is then no longer a handshake but a wres­tling move.’ While friendship is cordial, par­ties are likely to act with sentiment towards each other and not advert their minds to the future consequences of some of their actions. For friendship’s sake, some persons have been known to give out precious presents - even their beloved daughter. There are no holds barred when it comes to what a friend can do for his friend; but then the wise would always advise that a handshake, especially in friendship, must never be allowed to extend beyond the acceptable level.


This discourse is targeted at the transfer of title to land as between friends. In rural settings, it is not uncommon to see people loosely apportioning land to trusted pals for farming or building purposes - just for friend­ship’s sake - and without bothering to set out in concrete details the conditions under which such allotments are made. Land is not to be so handled, because by its very nature it is a highly valuable form of property, as can be seen from the Customary Laws as well as Statutes which regulate the ownership of land in Nigeria.


Learned author of the book ‘NIGERIAN LAND LAW’, P. A. O. Oluyede, writing with re­spect to customary law on land, states: ‘When land is granted outright or purchased under customary law, the rights of the occupant are the same as those of the first occupier of the un-appropriated land.’ It is for that reason that someone who has received land under customary law, for instance, is entitled in turn to deal with the said land as he pleases: he can farm and plant economic crops on it, or he can sell or even make a gift of it to a third party. However, it must be quite clear that the initial transaction was an out and out grant of the land, and not merely a Tenancy, for the occupier to be able to step into the position of the original owner. In the case of a Tenancy (whether statutory or customary) the occupier is just like a bird in transit and will eventually yield possession of the land to the landlord in whom is vested the Rever­sionary Interest.


Once, in the town of Qua, Mr. BA, a non-native, pleaded with his bosom friend, Mr. ZT, to let him have a piece of land to build his hut. When Mr. BA first arrived Qua as a bachelor, practising his carpentry trade, the place was more or less a hamlet. He rented a two-room apartment in the house of Mr. ZT, and that was where he lived till he married a Qua woman and had all his eight children by her. Because the two rooms he had oc­cupied for years became grossly inadequate for his large family, Mr. BA approached his landlord and best friend, Mr. ZT, for a piece of the family land to erect a hut with room enough for his household. Mr. ZT granted his friend’s request without the least qualm, parcelling out to him a large portion of land near his own house.  


Mr. ZT’s first son, Junior, who was a teacher in the city came home on leave one weekend, after Mr. BA had finished erecting his hut and moved in with his family, and expressed displeasure with his father at the whole happening.


‘Father, you ought to have conferred with me first,’ Junior lamented. ‘Yes… Yes, I don’t doubt that Mr. BA is more of a brother to you than a friend, but granting him a portion of our family land to build on is taking friend­ship too far, don’t you think? Father, please, try and get my point. I’m educated; I know quite a bit of the law and, believe me, I’ve


 learnt that land is not something people give out the way you’ve given it to your friend, Mr. BA.’


‘I’ve not “given” it out to him, Junior my son,’ Mr. ZT explained to Junior. ‘It is not a gift and it is not permanent. Have you forgotten that Mr. BA is not from our vil­lage? In future, even though his wife is our daughter, he will certainly leave Qua with his family and return to his own village. But in the meantime, the man needs a roof over his head, and your father here needs good neighbours around him. Do you get it? So, please, don’t worry your head over this matter. I may not have gone to school, but I do know that I’ve not gone against either the law of God or the law of man by showing kindness to a friend.’


‘Kindness!’ Junior exclaimed. ‘Father, you can show kindness with your food, your clothes… but never with land. Believe me, Father, living in the city has taught me that a man must never toy with his title to land. Most cases that Judges hear in courts in the city these days are land cases. As a matter of fact, some years ago, there was a big riot in the city in which many young men lost their lives and a good number of others got permanently maimed. Ask me what the cause was. The founding father of Group A had made a gift of several hectares of land to the founding father of Group B some two hundred years before. Little did the men realize at that time that civiliza­tion would come and the land in question would become solid gold, worth millions, in the days of their great-grand-children. The group whose ancestor had made the ‘foolish gift’ woke up one day and sought to eject the children of the recipient ancestor from the land… And the result of their bravado was that unforgettable riot.’


‘You can’t frighten me, Junior my son,’ said Mr. ZT, laughing. ‘You’re just building a mountain out of a molehill.’


‘Okay-o!’ said Junior, giving up. ‘I’m only thinking about the future, because it is said that Tomorrow is pregnant, and that the sun never sets in the same manner as it’s rising…’


Junior could have been a prophet, be­cause contrary to his father’s assurances, Mr. BA did not return to his village but died in Qua (barely two years after the death of Mr. ZT himself). While Mr. BA’s body was in the mortuary, his first son, BJ - a successful engineer by now - knocked down their hut and started erecting a mansion in its place with great speed.


‘Look, Junior, you can’t possibly expect a man of my calibre to invite my influential friends and colleagues into a shack for the funeral of my dear father,’ BJ told Junior when that other came to order the build­ers to stop work on the new house. ‘I don’t understand all your trash about this land not being a permanent gift from your father to my father. All I know is that you don’t have any right to stop me from building a house of my choice in this place that my father lived for donkey’s years before he even married my mother and had all of us his children. I will never leave this land for you! Over my dead body!’


And that was the beginning of a legal tussle that lasted for very many years between the two families… Although the family of late Mr. ZT, having an avalanche of evidence in their favour, was able to win the land case eventually; even then no land case is a piece of cake, and the whole expe­rience taught the family why Mr. Monkey’s favourite prayer was: ‘May our kind acts not buy us trouble!’


By and large, the trouble with man is that the golden rule of loving one’s neighbour as oneself is often registered conversely upon the psyche. That is why the law is there to compel us to ‘live and let live’. (E-mail: umebeiozowa@gmail.com).


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