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The political structure of the Yoruba in pre-colonial Nigeria

The Oyo Empire was founded by the Yoruba speaking people in the present day Nigeria. It was based on a system of checks and balances. 

The Alaafin
At the very top of the political structure of the Yoruba Empire in the pre-colonial period was the king, who was called the Alaafin. The Alaafin possessed almost all the political and spiritual powers of the empire.

The Aremo
Below the Alaafin was another authority called the Aremo. The Aremo was always the first son of the king. The main duty of the Aremo was to assist his father in the administration of the empire, however, he could never succeed him upon his demise.

The Lieutenants
The king’s administration was headed by three assistants. They were, Ona Efa, the Empires Chief Justice, the Otun Efa, the head of the Sango shrine and the Osi Efa, the controller of the palace finances.

The Council of Prominent Chiefs (Oyomesi)
This was a Council of Prominent Chiefs within the empire. They were about six or sometimes, seven in number. The head of the Oyomesi was called by the title, Bashorun. The Oyomesi served as a check on the excessive powers of the Alaafin or the king. One of these checks was the power of the Oyomesi to dethrone the Alaafin. When the Oyomesi lost confidence in the King, the Bashorun was mandated to present the king (Alaafin) with a Calabash. This signified that the Oyomesi, the ancestors and the people have lost confidence in him and therefore, he must kill himself.

The Ogboni
The Ogboni was a gathering of the representatives of the various lineages which was headed by the Olowu. The Ogboni acted as a check on the powers of the Bashorun so that he does not exercise his powers excessively. For example, the Bashorun needed the approval of the Ogboni before he could be appointed as a Bashorun. Sometimes, the king or Alaafin could use the Ogboni to water down the excesses of the Oyomesi (Council of Prominent Chiefs) headed by the Bashorun. They judged cases related to the spilling of blood such as murder and manslaughter.

The Army Commander
The empire's army was headed by an Army Commander, locally called Are-Ona-kakanfo. The Army Commander was answerable to the Alaafin and the Bashorun. The army officers were appointed by the Alaafin but their promotions were carried out by the Oyomesi. It was the duty of the Army Commander to ensure victory in every battle. Anytime the Army Commander lost a war, he was expected to commit suicide or go into exile. This system compelled the Commander to strive for victory at all cost in every war.

Oba and Council of Elders
In the communities of the empire, there were Obas or chiefs and their Council of Elders who ruled. Each community had an Alaafin supervisor who was resident in the community called Ajale. They were in charge of the local administration of the community. The king, Alaafin, established very special messengers known as Ilari and their role was mainly to supervise the different Ajale under their jurisdiction so as to check some of the Ilari who may become corrupt and very oppressive.

1. Highlight six features of the political system of the Yoruba in the pre-colonial era.
2. Describe the political system f the Yoruba kingdom before the advent of colonialism.

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