Adewale Adekunle Adeyeye

PhD Candidate
Adewale Adekunle Adeyeye photo
Dissertation Title
Amodu Tijani: A Comparative Reappraisal of Judicial Approaches to Indigenous Land Rights under Colonial Treaties of Cession in South-Western Nigeria and Canada

I am a research lawyer, a Yoruba from the South-Western part of Nigeria. Since my elementary school days, I have always been curious to understand the historical forces responsible for the protracted underdevelopment of the global south. This curiosity and strong interest led me to learn the intricacies of British colonialism. I then embarked on a five-year undergraduate academic pursuit after which I bagged a first degree in History and International Studies in 2008.

Following my first degree, I realized there is more to learn, especially about the relevant colonial and African laws under which British colonialism operated. Consequently, I went back to the university between 2013 and 2016 for another undergraduate law degree. The basic knowledge I acquired in the course of these two degrees spurred my interest in academia. I wanted to research further and disseminate the knowledge I have acquired about the workings of colonialism, especially as it affects the African continent. This moved me towards embarking on graduate degree studies.

Thus, to further understand the various legal instruments used by the British colonial systems in colonizing and administering the colonized Yoruba region of Africa, I put in for the 2022-2023 Osgoode research LLM program. My LLM thesis which was on the effects of the judicial colonial system on the Yoruba pre-colonial justice system opened another window of research. This resulted in my current doctoral research in which I am investigating colonial courts' approaches to indigenous land rights in Canada and Nigeria.


By the 1850s, Europe was on fire. The fiery intra-European socio-political rivalries, unresolvable by the Concert of Europe, assumed a new dimension. The rivalries soon shifted to colonial fields when the protracted “Scramble for Africa” became competitive with Britain's interest keen on occupying land territories in South-Western Nigeria. To accomplish its goal of territorial occupation, starting from 1851, Britain tactically and diplomatically employed the international law of treaty-making to seize lands in Lagos Island and other Yorubaland. Several “Treaties of Cession”, purportedly conveying land territories in Lagos and Yorubaland to the Queen of England were signed between the Queen’s representatives and Obas (Kings) of Lagos and Yorubaland. As a consequence, the conveyance clauses contained in the treaties affected the private rights of families, communities, and groups who owned the lands under native law and customs but were not parties to the conveying treaties.

Similarly, the indigenous Saulteaux people of the Anishinaabe First Nations of Canada also felt the impact of the British colonial land acquisition policy of the nineteenth century. By the provisions of Treaty 3 of the 3rd of October 1873 signed between the British federal government and the Saulteaux peoples, the Crown supposedly acquired indigenous lands in the Canadian area known today as Lake of Woods in Northwestern Ontario and Eastern Manitoba. The controversial Treaty 3 practically stripped the Saulteaux Anishnaabe people of Canada of an expanse of land estimated at fifty-five thousand square miles.

Thus, this research proposes to investigate conflicting judicial interpretations of the implications of these treaties of cession on the ownership rights of the pre-colonial indigenous occupants of the lands conveyed by the treaties. This is achieved through an in-depth reappraisal of the broader impact of the Privy Council’s decision in Amodu Tijani v. Secretary, Southern Nigeria on Calder v. Attorney-General of British Columbia against the conflicting decisions in St Catherine’s Milling and Lumber Co. v. The Queen, Cook v. Sprigg, and Oyekan v. Adele. This is done along with a comparative evaluation of the approaches of the courts to subsequent conveyances and occupancy of the lands under the treaties.

This research raises one central question and two sub-questions; How did the landmark case of Amodu Tijani v. Secretary, Southern Nigeria impact indigenous land rights in Canada after the determination of the case in 1921? The sub-questions are; How did the colonial Lagos Treaty of Cession of 1861 and Canadian Treaty 3 of 1873 impact indigenous land rights in colonial and post-colonial South-Western Nigeria and Canada respectively? And, how did the courts approach the validity of the conveyance of lands under the treaties of cession vis-a-vis the rights of the indigenous families, communities, and groups in South-Western Nigeria and Canada?

Methodologically, this research shall be conducted using a combination of law-in-context, and interdisciplinary approaches, relying on history, political science, economics, and sociology sources. Thus, substantially, this research shall be library-based, archives-based, and internet-based. Relevant source materials are to be accessed online, at the school libraries (Osgoode, Scott, and other online libraries to which Osgoode and York University are subscribed for inter-library loan services). Archives of Ontario at York University, the National Archive of Nigeria in Ibadan, the United Kingdom National Archive in Richmond, and the Archive at Yale University, shall be consulted for relevant primary sources. Semi-structured interviews shall also be conducted to garner additional resources from indigenous leaders of the ethnic groups selected as case studies.

The significance of this research includes adding to the currently insufficient African legal history scholarship and making policy recommendations to policymakers on ways to resolve the protracted indigenous land rights issues in Canada and Nigeria.