Pre colonial administration in Yorubaland

Pre colonial administration in Yorubaland

How well do you know the history of Yoruba? Let us recollect some interesting facts from the past and talk about pre colonial administration in Yorubaland. Who ruled here hundred years ago, before Nigeria was colonized and had to fight for its freedom?

Pre colonial administration in Yorubaland Kings of Yoruba
Yoruba Kings II. Painting by Julien Sinzogan

Our ancestors remember how different Nigerian tribes used to be autonomous centuries ago. Different communities had their own administration and political systems, unique culture, and traditions. Yoruba ethnic group was not an exception. It also had its exclusive government organization and kingdoms with a set of rules, structure and self-governing administrations.

Yorubaland Pre colonial administration

History of Yoruba

Historically, this big ethnic group occupies the Southwestern territories, some Central, and Northern parts of Nigeria. Besides, you can meet Yoruba tribe in Benin. The community gives its own name to the areas where its people live. Yoruba tribe members and all Nigerians call such areas Yorubaland.

What was Yorubaland like in the times of pre colonial Nigeria? Did it have kings or other leaders? Was its administration democratic or not? There are many questions asked by modern Nigerians who wish to learn the history of Yoruba people, thus we are more than willing to describe those old pre colonial times to you.

Read also

16 good Nigerians Buhari met in Japan during TICAD7 summit

Pre colonial administration and Yoruba people

How to describe the pre colonial administration in Yorubaland

How did Yoruba people live in pre colonial Nigeria, before the British invasion in the 19-20th centuries? This tribe was always fond of decentralized political life.

Yoruba people were known for kingdoms with chiefs, decentralized administration, and subordinate unit structure. Their system has been around in pre-colonial Nigeria, and we can describe the tribe’s political assembly as follows:

  • Tribe’s kingdom (it had its own name such as Oba, Allaafin, Oni, etc.)
  • Headquarters or kingmakers who were assisting the king (they were called Ijoye, Oyomesi, Osugbo, etc.)
  • Village/town administrations lead by Baales, Ajele, etc.
  • Army (called Esho or Eso)

READ ALSO: Uncommon Yoruba female and male names with meaning

Pre colonial administration in Yorubaland king Oba

The king was the main ruler. Many chiefs offered assistance to their king, forming the Yoruba kingdom’s administration center. Lower administration centers (town, village and other territories) were led by their local chiefs who received help from local politicians.

Read also

The fascinating history of Abeokuta, Ogun State

According to the history of Yoruba, every village and town was responsible for paying homage each year to their kingdom. In other words, Baales or Ajele were expected to provide annual payments (called Isakole) to their kings. Besides, each Baale obeyed their kingdom’s ruler, could be fired from their post or punished according to the offense type.

At the same time, there was no centralization in pre colonial administration in Yorubaland, so politicians at different levels could share power and follow the famous ‘check/balance’ principle that allowed them checking and even nullifying the acts and things performed by other politicians, without following the hierarchy.

Still, the king was chosen by people called kingmakers, who followed tribal beliefs when deciding who was going to be the next ruler. There were usually 7 kingmakers, and that group had the right to select the King of their kingdom through the religious cult.

Pre colonial administration in Yorubaland King of Benin
Prince Salomon, crowned Oba (king) of Benin. Photo by Daniel Laine
  • The head of the kingdom spent the most time in the castle and was seen by public several times a year, which mostly happened at important events.
  • The king’s eldest son (he was called Aremo) helped to rule, but he didn’t have the right to become the next Yoruba kingdom king after his father’s death.
  • All kingdom’s villages and towns had their local administration that paid homage to their king.
  • The army was supposed to protect the Yoruba people from any possible invasion.

Read also

Do you know who created Lagos state and when it was created?

Of course, with the real invasion of Britain, Nigeria and pre colonial administration in Yoruba, and other ethnic groups tried to protect their political system but couldn’t succeed. The pressure, threats and European influence had a major impact on many old systems of government, which had to adjust to new changes and new times expectations.

READ ALSO: Yoruba festivals and holidays in Nigeria


Online view pixel