Pre-Colonial Political System: Yoruba Political System


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In today’s class, we will be talking about the pre-colonial political system: Yoruba political system. Enjoy the class!

Pre-Colonial Political System: Yoruba Political System

Pre-colonial Political Administration In Yoruba land


  • Pre-colonial Administration in Yoruba Land
  • Functions of Traditional Rulers, Council of Elders, Secret Societies and Age Grade


Oyo was a very large empire divided into different provinces. The system of government in the Old Oyo Empire was like most other kingdoms and empires that existed in Africa. It was monarchical in nature and was headed by a king called Alaafin.

Features of Yoruba Pre-colonial Political System

  1. The size of the political system was a very large one.
  2. The system was a constitutional monarch, the system was decentralized, and the Oba was not an autocratic ruler.
  3. There was a system of checks and balances so that the Oba did not abuse the power.
  4. The Oba only ratified the decisions taken by the chiefs.
  5. There was no system of taxation.
  1. Political head: The Alaafin was the political head of the empire. He was chosen by the Oyomesi and seven hereditary kingmakers of the empire. It was claimed that the Alaafin only appears to the public three times a year during historic festivals. The administration of the empire involved the Alaafin assisted by the Aremo, the Bashorun, Oyomesi and others. The Bashorun (prime minister) and the Oyomesi played a key role in the administration.
  2. The Aremo: He is the eldest son of the Alaafin but cannot succeed the father at his demise. He only assisted the Alaafin in the administration of the empire.
  3. The Oyomesi: They were the seven hereditary kingmakers in the empire headed by the Bashorun. Their duty was to install a new Alaafin when the ruling one dies or to remove the Alaafin. They also assisted the Alaafin in the administration of the empire.
  4. Provincial Governors: (Bale or Oba) each province was ruled by Ajele or Oba. They were responsible for the collection of tributes and the payment of homage to the Alaafin.
  5. The Army: The Are-ona kankafo was the head of the army. It was claimed that if the army suffers a defeat, the kankafo will commit suicide.
  6. The Ogboni Society: This was a secret society made up of prominent diviners headed by the Oluwo. They were the third organ of government in the Old Oyo Empire. They checked the excesses of the Oyomesi such as their rejection of an Alafin. They performed judicial functions. They maintained and preserved the cultural duties of the people.
  7. The three Eunuchs: They were also involved in the administration of the empire. They included.
  • The Osi Efa- He was in charge of political affairs and customary, he had to die with the Alafin.
  • The Oni Efa- for the judiciary
  • The Otun Efa- performs religious duties for the Alafin.
  1. The Empty Calabash: If the Alafin begins to act unconstitutionally, the Oyomesi could authorize the Bashorun to send an empty calabash to the king which signifies his rejection. The Alafin was expected to commit suicide afterwards.
  2. Kingship: The ascension to the throne of Alafin was not hereditary but the Oyomesi was free to choose a new ruler from the royal families.
  1. They acted as the supreme rulers in their various communities.
  2. They performed legislative functions of lawmaking in their communities.
  3. They ensured the defence of their communities.
  4. They performed religious functions as a high priest of some religious cults.
  5. They were the head of administration in their various communities.
  6. They safeguarded the lives of people in their communities.
  7. They were involved in the sharing of communal wealth.
  8. They served as political symbols of unity.
  9. They were involved in the maintenance of law and order in the communities.
  10. They planned for the progress and development of their communities.
  1. The council advised the paramount chiefs.
  2. The council of elders was responsible for the maintenance of law and order.
  3. The council acted as a decision-making body.
  4. It performed religious functions.
  5. The council helped to install and deposed paramount chiefs.
  6. The council checked the activities of the paramount chiefs.
  7. The council decided whether the community would go to war or not.
  1. They helped to enforce law and order.
  2. They performed both military and police functions.
  3. They served as a link between the members of the communities and their ancestors.
  4. They protected their members.
  5. They helped to educate their members and other members of the community.
  6. They performed rituals to drive away evil spirits.
  7. They acted as agents of socialization.
  1. The prosecution of warfare was done by the age-grade.
  2. They undertook social labour like the construction of roads, bridges etc.
  3. They performed socialization functions.
  4. They performed ceremonial functions during important occasions in their communities.
  5. They helped to defend their communities against both internal and external aggression.
  6. They checked the wrong use of powers by permanent chiefs.
  1. State the functions of the Oyomesi in the old Oyo empire
  2. Highlight the functions of the Ogboni society in the Yoruba pre-colonial system.
  3. Define State
  4. List and explain the characteristics of a State.
  5. Discuss the component of political culture.


In our next class, we will be talking about Colonial Administration.  We hope you enjoyed the class.

Should you have any further question, feel free to ask in the comment section below and trust us to respond as soon as possible.

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12 thoughts on “Pre-Colonial Political System: Yoruba Political System”

  1. Thanks so much
    It really help me.
    It’s just all I need to know in the Yoruba precolonial system and I’m happy to see some valuable stuff

  2. Thanks so much
    It’s really help me alot
    It’s all i need to know in the Yoruba precolonial system and I’m so happy to see some valuable stuff here

  3. A wonderful wonderful has been done already, but my contribution is that some of these traditional names should be used side by side with the English names eg in the Igbo political system, for the village assembly, names like umunna, opara (most senior of the council of elders). ama’ala(council of elders) etc should be used side by side because exam bodies at time makes use of the traditional names more. Thanks

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