Traditional rulers and their roles in Nigeria

Traditional rulers and their roles in Nigeria

Did you know that traditional rulers and their roles are still significantly important in Nigeria? In this article, we are going to tell you the functions and importance of these leaders in the modern societies.

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Traditional rulers in Nigeria

The traditional rules are known as chiefs or kings of independent communities or states existed before the formation of modern Nigeria. Officially they do not have formal political power, but still, the traditional rulers have considerable influence and respect of their people.

Traditional leaders maintain the monarchical style of rule and hold the titles introduced by their ancestors. In the time of the pre-colonial period a territory of modern Nigeria was occupied by many ethnic groups. In these times, the recognized rulers were the main political figures, who controlled the life of people. The main empires of these times were Benin, Oyo, Sokoto, and Kanem-Bornu.

In the time of the colonial era, many of traditional rulers played only symbolic roles. But the relationships between traditional rulers and the colonial administration evolved over time. As a result, in some cases, traditional rulers were the means of communication between colonial administration and local people.

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Traditional rulers


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In the time of independent Nigeria, the role of traditional rulers has become even more evolved. Traditional rulers are still highly respected in many communities and states and have considerable economic and political influence in the country.

There is intense competition for royal seats of the dynasties, although they have no formal power in the democratic structure. The rulers play a significant role in the communication between people and state government.

Roles of traditional rulers in Nigeria

Among the main roles of traditional rules we can highlight:

  • Achieving democracy in the country.
Ooni and Buhari


Traditional rulers often give advice to modern politicians in such questions as economic policy, security, culture and customs, and general well being of the citizens. Because of long experience of the dynasties, the monarchs and kings often has the ability to give wise advice in many questions related to the ruling.

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Every traditional leader builds his relationships with people on the basis of traditions, that were developed for centuries. This experience sometimes is very helpful for modern politicians.

  • Order and peace.

Often traditional leaders settle land disputes and resolve minor conflicts, they are more successful in these issue than many modern politicians. Their function is not to give the conflict a chance to escalate into any hostility. Unfortunately, land conflicts are still often in rural areas. In this situation, the rulers try to be the guarantors of peace and solve the disputes in the most peaceful way.

Oba leader


Order and peace are the vital conditions for the economic development of any country. Government administration relies on local traditional leaders who can support order and peace in their domains.

  • Religious sanctions.

Traditional leaders still have the power to use religious sanctions in the cases of stealing, quarrels of married couples or neighbors, and land disputes. Only traditional leaders have the power to use local religion as an instrument to keep order and exclude the cases of misbehavior in local areas and communities.

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  • Outstanding members of society.

As it turned out this role is very important for the development of democracy in the country. Outstanding members of society helps to support moral directions in the society, often traditional leaders are considered role models for the community. It plays an essential role in the formation of communities of good citizens.

Okori leaders


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  • Culture and customs protection.

Often local traditional rulers are considered a spiritual leaders. They are the keepers of traditional religions and customs. This is a very important role in the time of globalization and losing the traditions.

  • Social authorities.

The authority of traditional rulers often influence many essential social questions, for example, the rulers can influence government election process. Theit influence is significant almost in any social issue.

  • Chair meetings of elders.

Such chair meetings of elders play a significant role for the well being of a domain. This is the main method of regulation of the issues in the community.

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Traditional ruler


  • Taxes and civil duties.

Traditional rulers mobilize local citizens to pay taxes and not forget about their civil duties. This is a common responsibility of local government and traditional rulers. They educate people about civil duties. It is especially important function of rulers in rural areas.

List of traditional rulers in Nigeria

Here we have the list of the most influential traditional rulers in Nigeria:

  • Emir of Kano
Emir of Kano


Kano empire was formed in 1805. Emir is one of the most powerful traditional rulers in Nigeria. Current Emir is Muhammadu Sanusi II.

  • Aalafin of Oyo
Aalafin of Oyo


This is the monarch who is considered as the most powerful leader of Yoruba land. Currently, the position is held by Lamidi Adeyemi III.

  • Sultan of Sokoto
Sultan of Sokoto


He is an influential leader of Northern Nigeria and spiritual leader of Muslims in the country. At the present time Sultan Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar III holds the position, he is a 20th Sultan of Sokoto.

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  • Ooni of Ife
Ooni of Ife


One more influential figure of Yorubaland. Current monarch is Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi Akande.

  • Dein of Agbor
Dein of Agbor


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Benjamin Ikenchuku Keagborekuzi holds this position at the present time. The leader was crowned at the age of two years in 1979.

  • Oba of Benin
Oba of Benin


The poison is held by OmoN’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo Erediauwa II, he is a ruler of historic Eweka dynasty of Benin kingdom.

  • Oba of Lagos
Oba of Lagos


Another powerful leader of Yorubaland, the ruler is a ceremonial and traditional leader of the largest city of Africa - Lagos. The current leader is Oba Rilwan Babatunde Osuolale Aremu Akiolu.

  • Olu of Itsekiri (Warri kingdom)
Olu of Itsekiri


This is the leader of Itsekiri speaking people. Full name of a current monarch is Ikenwoli I A. M. A Godfrey Ikenwoli Emiko.

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  • Obi of Onitsha
Obi of Onitsha


The current Obi is Igwe Nnaemeka Alfred Ugochukwu Achebe.

  • Olubadan of Ibadan
Oba Saliu Adetunji


Full name of a current monarch is Oba Saliu Adetunji. He is 40th monarch of the ancient kingdom.

Those leaders maintain order and law in their communities. As you see from our overview, the functions of traditional rulers in Nigeria are still significantly important for the society of the country.

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