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The Igbos are republican by nature. They maintained a decentralized and a cephalous
society. Igbo society was democratic and egalitarian. In Nigeria, the Igbos generally
occupy the former Eastern Region and a part of the former Mid-Western region. The
Igbo unlike the Yoruba and the Hausa – Fulani, had a complex and complicated
system of administration in pre-colonial era. The Igbo, generally had no kings or
chiefs. They operated a democratic system of government. The executive, legislative
and judicial powers were vested in the Oha-na-eze, the council of elders; the Ofo title
holders; the family; the Ozo title holders; the Age – Grades, the Umuada, and the
“Ala” or the Earth’s goddess represented by a Chief Priest.

Political Administration

The structural organization of Igbo political system was based on the following:-

  1. Village Administration:- A village is seen as inhabited by a group of related families. Each family head held the Ofo title and all of them put together formed the council of elder. The council governed the village.
  2. The Age – Grade:- The age – grade are people of the same age group, they perform the following functions:-
    i. Perform the public duties such as:- clearing the paths, construction of
    roads, and markets etc.
    ii. They were involved in the administration of the villages
    iii. They served as army for the defense of the villages against external
    iv. They acted as the police force for the maintenance of law and order.
    v. They helped in the implementation of policies made by the council of
    vi. They assisted in checking abuse of powers by the paramount rulers and
    the council of elders.
    vii. They also perform ceremonial and cultural functions during important
    ceremonies in the village or communities.
  3. The affairs of the village are discussed from time to time by family head.
  4. The villagers make laws for themselves and even the age-grades can enact a
    law which the elders would accept.
  5. Succession to leadership position was not hereditary in Igbo political system.
  6. The political system was of a Republican on. Decisions were reached by
    consensus, different institutions played different important roles in the
    administration and powers were shared by them.
  7. Wealthy and influential men in the community or village are given the Ozo
    title holders. This title makes the holder to be recognized in the society and
    could then preside over meetings about issues affecting the community with

Judicial Administration

Minor disputes were settled by the family while major disputes were handled by the
council of elders or “Amala”. The final adjudication of cases was done by the deities.
The age – grades settled cases that are minor among themselves. The Earth goddess
(Ala) plays a great role in judicial functions, for example, offences such as homicide,
murder and birth of abnormal children are crimes against Ala.
The chief takes part in judicial settlement; the whole village may constitute itself into
a court for the purpose of settling disputes. The native doctor called Dibia could also
settle disputes amongst people.

Official Religion

The official religion practiced in pre-colonial Igbo land was the traditional religion.
They had chief priests who performed sacrifice from time to time to appease the gods.
The Igbos have great respect for the deities and the departed ancestors. The chief
priests were the link between the people and the deities, as well as the departed
ancestors. The Igbos believe in re-incarnation. Profaning of deities was a very
serious offence among the Igbos. The religious lives of the Igbos were surrounded by
mysticisms and superstitions.


Nigeria, before the advent of the European powers into the country, it had well organized institutions which some of them are still in place. The Igbo used decentralized system of administration unlike Hausa-Fulani and Yaroba.

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Pre-Colonial Political System in Yoruba Land



The Yorubas form a large group united move by language than culture. The Yorubas trace their origin to Oduduwa who was the founder of the Yoruba kingdom. Oduduwa had seven sons who later founded the first seven kingdoms of the Yoruba land and these kingdoms were united under a central leader known as Alaafin of Oyo.

Hatred, jealousy, etc made the first seven kingdoms to split into fourteen new kingdoms and the central leadership now changed from the Alaafin of Oyo to Ooni of Ife who is the spiritual Head of the Yoruba. Oyo is regarded as the political headquarters of the Yoruba and was the most developed kingdom in the Yoruba traditional society and it administration is accepted as a model or a representation of the Yoruba. The king in Yoruba land is called Oba, the Yoruba kingdoms were headed by the Oba who must be a descendant of the Oduduwa.

The Yorubas regarded Oyo as their political headquarters, the Oba of the Oyo kingdom has a special name known as the “Alaafin”

Political Administration

The political head of every Yoruba kingdom is Oba but that of the Oyo and Ife kingdoms are called “Alaafin” and “Ooni” respectively. The Alaafin as the political head of the Oyo kingdom is assisted by his son called Aremo, who is not allowed to succeed him immediately he dies. Oyemesi is the seven king makers headed by the Bashorun. The Oyemesi is stronger than the Alaafin and can overrule any decision made by the Alaafin which is not acceptable to it.

The other officials apart from the Aremo include:

  1. Ilari:- He is the permanent adviser to the Oba
  2. Bashorun:- He is the Chief Minister or Prime Minister of the Kingdom.
  3. Baale”- He is the village Head of the administration of the villages
  4. Kakanfo:- he is the commander of the kingdom Armed Forces.

The chiefs or Obas and the baale are not appointed by the Alaafin even though they
receive his blessings.

There are certain limitations or checks and balances to the power of the Alaafin. The
limitations include:-

i. If Alaafin disagrees with Oyemesi and Ilari, the only option open to him is to
commit suicide
ii. Oyemesi could authorize the Bashorun to send empty calabash to Alaafin
symbolizing rejection by the people. Alaafin is not to commit suicide if this
iii. Disloyal army commander could revolt
The executive council members also formed the legislature. Laws made were executed by the Oba and his council of advisers.

The system of government in the traditional Yoruba society was a loose monarchical
arrangement and highly democratic.

Judicial Administration

The Alaafin was the final court. Certain offences were regarded as serious offences,
these include – murder, burglary,, land case, witchcraft, profaning the deities and
homicide. This kind of offences that attract capital punishment is usually tried in the
Oba’s palace or court. Minor offences such as family quarrels, exchange of abusive
words, owing of debt were hand from the family level to the level where the parties
involved were satisfied with the justice they have obtained. This does not go beyond
the Oba’s court.

The age–grade usually referred to as the “Elegbe” has the responsibility of implementing the decisions reached in the Oba’s court. For instance, if anybody is to be executed or imprisoned it is their duty to carry out the instruction or order to the last letter.

Official Religion

The Yoruba official religion was the traditional religion. The Oba was to perform sacrifice from time to time or as the need arises. The essence of the sacrifice is to appease the Oduduwa the founder, ancestors and deities. He usually performs the sacrifice through some priests. The performance of this sacrifice is very important because it is the source of the Oba’s power, legitimacy, respect and the basis of unity, solidarity and the progress of the Yoruba people. For instance if the Oba fails to fulfill these religious obligations the deities, ancestors and the Oduduwa might be angry and will cause pestilence, epidemics, drought, famine and calamities among the Yoruba people.

Therefore, to prevent the gods from becoming angry, the Oba usually performs these sacrifices. Kwara as one of the Yoruba kingdoms and some parts of Oyo were conquered by the Jihadist of Usman Dan Fodio and converted from the traditional religion to Islam.


The system of government of the old Oyo Empire (Yoruba land) in the period before 1800 was like most other kingdoms and empires that existed in Africa. It was monarchical in nature, based on the not too easy to run principle of checks and balances, like and Hausa

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The Hausa land, before 1804, was made up of fourteen towns grouped into two. The first group of seven was called Hausa Bakwai while the other group of seven was balled Banza Bakwai. The Fulani took over the political leadership of the Hausa or Habe states in the early 19th century. The Jihad that preceded this occupation was seen as religious as well as political.

Othman Dan Fodio led the Fulani Jihad and took over the political leadership of the Hausa/Habe and established the Sokoto caliphate with outstanding centralized political system of government. He introduced a new system of selecting and appointing rulers described as Emirs to rule the caliphate. Each of the Emirs owed
allegiance to Dan Fodio and his two representatives at Sokoto and Gwandu. The Fulanis settled in Hausa land and intermarried with the Hausa people after conquering them and this was how the name Hausa-Fulani came about.

Political Administration

The Fulanis introduced centralized system of government after conquering the Hausa land. This gave rise to the Hausa- Fulani traditional or pre-colonial system being known as a centralized government. The Caliphate was divided into emirates and each emirate was headed by an Emir. He had the responsibility of making laws, enforcing them and maintaining peace and order in his emirate. He was expected to administer the emirate in accordance with the provisions of the Islamic and sharia laws. He was believed to have the divine right to rule.

However, each emir was assisted in the administration of the emirate by a number of advisers. These were:-

1. Sarkin Fada:- The spokesman of the Emir and organizer of palace workers.

2. Waziri:- The Prime Minister of the Emirate

3. Galadima:- The Administrator of the capital city.

4. Madawaki”- The commander and Head of the Emirate Army.

5. Magaji:- Government Treasurer in-charge of the government treasury.

6. Sarkin Dan Doka:- Inspector General of Police Force Called Dan Doka.

7. Sarkin Ruwa:- Minister in-charge of Water Resources.

8. Sarkin Pawa:- Head of Chairman of Butchers at the Abattoirs

9. Yari:- Chief Superintendent of Prisons in the Emirate

Judicial Administration

The judicial administration of Hausa-Fulani was based on the Islamic legal system called Sharia. Sharia courts were established through out the Emirates and each was headed by a trained Sharia Court Judge called Alkali. The Emir, despite this provision, remained the head who had the final say in deciding critical judgments.

The chief justice of the Sharia courts was called Grand Khadi. Village heads settled minor disputes in their villages but more serious and criminal cases were referred to the Emir for final and adequate settlement.

Official Religion

The Emir is the religious leader of his people,  this accounts for the great authority which was wielded by the Emirs and which made them such suitable rulers even under the British protectorate.

The official religion was Islam and Koran was used as the holy book where all the teachings of religion were contained. Mohammed was seen as the founder of the religion.

Some teachings that were contained in the Koran before the coming of the
colonial administration include:-

i. A good Moslem must fight a Jihad at least once in his life time. If such a person dies in the process he would go to paradise.

ii. It is mandatory for all Moslems to perform hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca the holy land at least once in the person’s life time.

iii. A good Moslem must not marry more than four wives.

iv. A good Moslem must abstain from drinking alcohol

v. A good Moslem must fast during Ramadan period.


Nigeria, before the advent of the European powers into the country, it had well organized institutions which some of them are still in place. For example, in the northern part of Nigeria, emirs are found in some parts of it.

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