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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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