According to some authors, the meaning of trust as a legal concept is traceable to the moral connotation of the term which eventually informed its jurisprudential basis. Literally, trust means confidence reposed in others. It was this moral obligation that was eventually developed into a legal concept by the English chancery court and it became part of the Nigerian legal jurisprudence through statutory enactments, its administration regulated by established principles of equity and statutes. In medieval times, trust was widely employed as a means of transferring estates from one person to another for the benefit of a third party. The transferor is variously known as settlor, feoffor or testator, while the person (or persons) for whom the trust is created is called feofee or beneficiary. In the same vein, the person in whose care the settlor entrusts the estate is known as the trustee.
It is instructive to note that the office of the trustee is very vital for the smooth administration of the trust. This is so because the estate is vested in the trustee who holds such property in accordance with the terms of the trust for the benefit of the beneficiary. A person may be expressly appointed trustee by an instrument or through some other means recognized by law. The equitable principle that “equity does not want for a trustee” is to the effect that considerable importance is attached to the office of a trustee in the trust administration. Even in situations where the instrument fails to appoint one, a trustee can be appointed by the court or through statutory powers.
This long essay seeks to examine the powers of a trustee vis-a-vis its operational regime under the Nigerian legal system. As a general rule a trustee must be capable of holding and disposing of property in his capacity. He must be competent to deal with the estate as required by the trust instrument for the beneficiary’s benefit. He must not be under any disability by nature or by law. He must be amenable to the jurisdiction of the court and be capable of the business. He must disclose any situation which might result in a conflict between his personal interest and his job as a trustee. A trustee must ascertain the validity of his appointment and understand the terms and nature of the trust.
In our clime, experience has shown that in the course of carrying out their assignments, trustees have come up against a lot of challenges and limitations despite statutory provisions relating to the exercise of their powers. Some of these challenges have to do with our customary and religious beliefs which result many a time in unending litigations.
Essentially, this essay will discourse trust holistically. In pursuance of this objective, this work will be divided into five chapters. Chapter one will deal with the general introduction to the topic which will include the historical evolution of trust and its reception into the Nigerian legal jurisprudence. Aims and objectives, importance of study, scope of study, research methodology, and literature review as well as meaning of trust and parties to a trust will be discoursed in this chapter. Chapter two will examine the relationship between trust and other legal concepts, classification, capacity, and the essentials of trust will be discoursed. Chapter three will focus on the seemingly simple but complex duties and powers of trustees. Chapter four will deal with remedies for breach of trust and liabilities. In closing, chapter five of this long essay will make recommendations, suggestions and propositions on how to improve the administration of trust in Nigeria.