Legal imperialism and the democratisation of law: towards an African feminist jurisprudence on the development of land law and rights in Nigeria 1861-2011.


University of British Columbia

Date Issued


Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy - PhD




This thesis examines the role of law in the establishment of colonial rule in Nigeria in the 19th and early 20th century and argues that the legal imperialism of this period continues to characterize the post- independence modern legal system creating a crisis of legitimacy, relevance and justice which can only be resolved through a process of democratization of law. Focusing on a case study of the development of land law in Southern Nigeria, from 1861 to 2011, and its impact on women’s land rights, the thesis explores the continuities and discontinuities in land use policy, law and practice and options for democratic reform. It demonstrates that there has been a growing centralization and concentration of power over land in this period, which tends to result in widespread abuse and the dispossession of large groups of people of access to land and livelihoods. It shows how women have been disproportionately affected by these developments and how their dispossession has been facilitated by a colonial legal system – through its discourse, legislation and processes of conflict resolution. Colonial conceptions of law and of gender have intersected to produce a dominant discourse and practices relating to “customary” and “modern” law and rights that goes largely unchallenged today. This thesis analyses these intersections adopting an historical and contextual feminist approach, which I have termed an African feminist jurisprudence, using the term jurisprudence here to mean the philosophy of law. It calls for a shift of emphasis from the customary/modern law dichotomy to focus on substantive issues of equality, equity and justice in law reform as well as the active participation of citizens in governance.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International




Law, Faculty of