The 1000-hectare land that the IITA campus rests on was donated by the government to the Ford and Rockefeller foundation. The terms of payment are stated as follows in decree no. 32:
“Land so made available by the Government shall be held upon such term or terms as may be agreed and upon payment of, in each case, one peppercorn as annual rental (if demanded).”
One might wonder why the Nigerian government demanded one peppercorn, today’s most commonly used spice, as rental.
Peppercorn, dried black pepper, is the fruit of the black pepper plant native to Kerala, a southern state of India. In the ancient times, black pepper was one of the most widely traded spices in the world.
Black pepper has many medicinal properties. It can be used to relieve respiratory disorders, coughs, colds, constipation, indigestion, anemia, impotency, muscular strains, dental disease, pyorrhea, diarrhea, and even heart disease. It is also used to preserve food, and is a very good anti-inflammatory agent. It is rich in manganese, iron, potassium, vitamin C, vitamin K, and dietary fiber.
However, this does not explain why the government only asked for one peppercorn. Given peppercorn’s medicinal properties, the government could have asked for a greater quantity, so as to increase the chances of addressing the high crude mortality rate at the time with an average of 25 per 1,000 people.
A more viable explanation would have to be the concept of peppercorn rent in British contract law. Peppercorn rents originated during the Middle Ages wherein landowners sometimes deed over a piece of property to an employee. Nominal rents, usually in the form of peppercorn, sometimes of a single rose or a petticoat, were used as a reminder that the person living on the land was still a tenant; that he did not own the land outright.
In modern times, peppercorn rents can sometimes be used when a struggling company is sold. And up until today, the University of Bath in the UK pays a peppercorn as rent for the land its campus is built upon.
With freshly-gained independence from British colonial rule, the Nigerian government’s request for one peppercorn as rent does not seem as unusual now.
History of Nigeria, The Nigerian Database of History and Historical Figures, Kingdoms of Nigeria, http://www.kingdomsofnigeria.com/independence.php
Nigeria Death rate, 1960-2015, Knoema, https://knoema.com/atlas/Nigeria/Death-rate
9 Amazing Benefits of Black Pepper, Organic Facts, https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/herbs-and-spices/health-benefits-of-black-pepper.html
Curious English Words and Phrases: The Truth Behind the Expressions We Use, Max Cryer, 2012
University hands over its peppercorn rent, University of Bath, 2007, http://www.bath.ac.uk/news/2007/11/14/peppercorn.html
International Asset Transfer: An Overview of the Main Jurisdictions : a Practitioner’s Handbook, Gero F. Pfeiffer, Sven Timmerbeil, Frederik Johannesdotter, Walter de Gruyter, 2010
International Institute of Tropical Agriculture Decree 1967, Federal Military Government of Nigeria, 1967