LESSON NOTE ON GOVERNMENT – SSS 2
YORUBA PRE-COLONIAL POLITICAL SYSTEM
The Yorubas can be found in the south western region of Nigeria. Before the arrival of the British, Yoruba kingdoms had maintained an orderly and unified political systems. Administration in the system was decentralized. It consisted of a central level and subordinate units. The central political level was headed by the King (Oba) assisted by chiefs and other political figures. The subordinate levels were each headed by provincial governors (Baale or Obas) also assisted by a handful of chiefs in his domain. The Oba ruled from the headquarters (olu-ilu) at the centre while the Baales operated from administrative towns and villages.
FEATURES OF THE TRADITIONAL YORUBA POLITICAL SYSTEM
- Succession to the throne can be described as semi-hereditary as a king was not succeeded by his son buy by someone in another royal family, following a selection process conducted by the kingmakers.
- The monarchy system was not absolute but constitutional.
- Elements of checks and balances existed in the system.
- There existed a standing army in the system.
- The Oba and the council of chiefs meet regularly to discuss governance and the success of the empire.
- There existed the office of chief priest who perform rituals to appease gods or conduct traditional ceremonies.
- There were secret societies such as Ogboni.
There were a number of kingdoms in the Yoruba political system each of which was headed by Obas with distinct title. For instance, the Oba of Ife kingdom was designated as Oni; the Oba of Oyo kingdom was designated as Alaafin and so on. Of all the kingdoms in the Yoruba pre-colonial era, Oyo Empire was the most outstanding.
THE POLITICAL SYSTEM OF OYO EMPIRE
Oyo Empire was the most popular of all kingdoms in the pre-colonial Yoruba political system. It had a wide territory divided into provinces and was able to influence issues in distant territories such as Egba, Ekiti, Ijebu, Dahomey (now Republic of Benin), and so on.
STRUCTURE OF THE ADMINISTRATION OF OYO EMPIRE
- THE ALAAFIN: The head of Oyo Empire was titled, Alaafin. He was the political head of the kingdom. He was assisted by the Aremo, the Basorun (Prime Minister) and others.
- THE AREMO: Just like many kingdoms in Yoruba political system, the eldest son of Alaafin (Aremo) did not succeed his father as king but only helped him in administration.
- THE OYOMESI: These were seven hereditary king makers headed by one of them who was designated as Basorun. They helped Alaafin in administration. They were responsible for installing a new Alaafin after the demise of one. The Oyomesi can also remove an erring Alaafin.
- BAALE OR OBA (PROVINCIAL GOVERNOR): Ajele or Baale was the title of the provincial kings. They facilitated the payment of tribute and homage to Alaafin annually.
- THE ARMY (ESO): Oyo had a strong standing army, headed by Are Ona Kakanfo. The army was not known for defeat but, if there was a defeat, the head of the army must commit suicide or go into exile.
- THE OGBONI SOCIETY: This was a secret society which influenced events in the society. They wielded judicial power, influenced policy making and worked to maintain cultural values.
- THE THREE EUNUCHS: The three of them handled different aspects in the administration of the empire. They were:
a) The Osi Efa: he was also called ‘Abobaku’. In the lifetime of Alaafin, Osi Efa was in charge of political affairs but at the demise of the king, he must also die and be buried with the king.
b) The oona Efa: he worked for judicial purpose in the empire.
c) The Otun Efa: he performed religious duties for the Alaafin.
ELEMENTS OF CHECKS AND BALANCES IN YORUBA POLITICAL SYSTEM
The Oba was not an absolute monarch because there existed a number of political institutions carrying out various constitutional public functions which engendered balance of power. The hierarchy of power in the polity and administration under the monarch performed certain functions which served as significant checks on the Oba’s power. For instance, the kingmakers in conjunction with the Ogboni can dethrone the Oba by sending him occult calabash or suicide emblem. The chiefs may stage a boycott by not attending the palace meeting. The provincial governors might revolt or rebel by not paying tribute and homage to the king; they could instigate the occult to send the Oba on exile if he was found to have acted unconstitutionally. The head of the army must not show up in the empire if they lose a battle, he must commit suicide or exile himself. Consulting the Ifa oracle before major decisions were taken was also an element of checks and balances. Swearing of oath with occult powers worked to commit individuals to keeping their promises or curtail abuse of power.
The political systems that existed before the advent of the colonialist were significantly altered at the instance of colonialism. Although the custodians made frantic efforts to protect their political institutions, most of them had to give way in the wake of pressure from the British. There still exist traces of what the political systems used to be in the precolonial era across Nigeria but the impact of colonialism had eliminated most of them.
- (a) Describe the system of government of Yoruba in the pre-colonial era.
- (b) Discuss the roles of the structural components of Yoruba political system in the pre-colonial era.
- (c) Discuss the differences and the similarities in the pre-colonial political systems.
- (d) Highlight the elements of checks and balances in the Yoruba political system in the pre-colonial era.