Blocking Legal Evolution and Paying the Price: Property and Conflict in the Nigerian Highlands
This article examines current high levels of violent conflict in Plateau State in central Nigeria using an economic property-rights analysis that draws on the work of Harold Demsetz, Robert Cooter, Terry Anderson and Fred McChesney.
The thesis of the article is that this wide-spread violent conflict over resource use/access is tied, in important ways, to the passage of federal legislation in Nigeria that nationalized land. This legislation, I contend, blocked the continued evolution of customary land-law norms that had evolved to meet a variety of land-use needs and that had a relatively low-cost and transparent indigenous dispute resolution mechanism.
The new institutional environment is beset by problems associated with very high levels of official corruption that make enforcing the law difficult. More importantly though, the legislation itself blocks the evolution of land law so that outright sale (which was occurring under customary law) is now prohibited. This change means that individuals are forced to rely on corrupt government officials to allocate an increasingly scarce resource. Because the official channels for allocation are perceived as corrupt and because the government often does not enforce property rights, individuals might be resorting to costly private enforcement in a desperate effort to gains rights over valuable land.
Comparative and Foreign Law
Date of this Version
Karol C. Boudreaux, "Blocking Legal Evolution and Paying the Price: Property and Conflict in the Nigerian Highlands" (March 11, 2005). bepress Legal Series. bepress Legal Series.Working Paper 504.