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Pre-Colonial Administration in Nigeria: Political Structure in Yoruba Land

Pre-colonial administration in Nigeria in Yoruba Land was known for its political structure. The Yoruba people had a system of city-states, each with its ruler or king, known as the “Oba.” These city-states included Ife, Oyo, Ibadan, and many others.

Pre-Colonial Administration in Nigeria: Political Structure in Yoruba Land

The Oba was the authority in the city-state and was responsible for making important decisions, maintaining law and order, and acting as a spiritual leader to the people. However, the concept of the Oba as a central figure in Yoruba governance was common throughout Yoruba Land. Below are the political structure in Yoruba land.

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Political Structure in Yoruba Land

The political structure in Yoruba Land was known for its complex system of city-states, each with its unique governance and leadership. Below are some key features of the Yoruba political structure

1. The Oba

The Oba was not only a political leader but also a spiritual leader who served as the king and the highest authority in each city-state. The Oba’s authority was to maintain law and order, make important decisions, and represent the city’s unity. The position of Oba is usually hereditary, passed down through royal lineages, and has been like that for centuries so when an Oba passes away, a new Oba is chosen from the royal families.

 The Oba was often seen as a custodian of tradition and a link to the spiritual world. Rituals and ceremonies in Yoruba religious practices involve the Oba. The Oba is supported by a council of chiefs, including the Ogboni, who advise and assist in governance, they help the Oba in making decisions, settling issues, and maintaining order within the city-state. In Nigeria, they often act as cultural ambassadors for their communities.

2. The Ogboni

The Ogboni, also known as the Ogboni Fraternity, is a traditional and secretive institution among the Yoruba people of Nigeria. The Ogboni is highly secretive and membership is restricted to accomplished and respected individuals within the community. They always operate behind closed doors, and the activities and rituals of the Ogboni are always in secret.

The Ogboni is to serve as an advisor council to the Oba (king) or local rulers. Members of the Ogboni, are known as “Ogboni chiefs” or “Elders,” they provide counsel to the Oba on matters of governance, conflict resolution, and the welfare of the community. In traditional Yoruba society, the Ogboni are responsible for upholding law and order and they have a set of symbols and rituals, including the use of specific objects like the “Opon Ifa” (divination tray) and the “edan” staffs. These symbols and rituals hold deep cultural and spiritual significance.

3. Chiefs and Officials

Chiefs and officials were important to the governance of Yoruba city-states and kingdoms in pre-colonial Nigeria. They hold some roles and responsibilities within the political structure, assisting the Oba (king) or local rulers in various aspects of leadership and management.

The Chiefs serve as advisers to the Oba. They provided counsel on matters of governance, policy, and decision-making while the Officials were responsible for the day-to-day administration of the city-state such as taxation, trade, security, and land management. Chiefs and officials participated in various rituals and ceremonies, both religious and cultural. They represented the Oba and the city-state in these events, making the connection between governance and tradition.

4. Age-Grade Societies

Age-grade societies are organized around individuals who were born within a specific time frame, in every few years. These individuals progress through different age grades over time, with each grade having rights, responsibilities, and privileges. Age-grade societies serve various social, cultural, and communal functions and are responsible for organizing and participating in ceremonies, rituals, festivals, and other cultural events.

Age grades are often associated with initiation and transition rituals. When individuals move from one age grade to the next, they undergo initiation ceremonies, symbolizing their transition into a new phase of life and new responsibilities within society. Age grades are also involved in community development projects such as activities like road construction, and building maintenance, to improve the community’s infrastructure and well-being.

5. Lineage and Clan Systems

Lineage and clan systems are important to cultural identity. They help preserve and pass down customs, traditions, and oral histories that are specific to a particular lineage or clan. These traditions often include rituals, ceremonies, and myths that strengthen the group’s identity.

Lineage and clan members are expected to provide support to one another, for instance, assistance during times of need, such as in cases of illness, death, or economic hardship. In some Yoruba communities, lineage and clan leaders hold positions of authority within the community. They may be responsible for resolving issues, making collective decisions, and representing the interests of their lineage or clan.

6. Town Meetings

Town meetings, also known as community assemblies or gatherings, have been a traditional means of decision-making and governance in many African societies, including among the Yoruba people in Nigeria. Town meetings provide a platform for community members to voice out their concerns, propose solutions, and engage in debates.

It is a place where important issues are discussed and are often used to resolve issues within the community. They also help reach a resolution for conflicting parties to present their cases and they make decisions on them after the meeting. This means that the community seeks a solution that everyone can agree on, bringing unity and collective responsibility.

7. Oyo Empire

The Oyo Empire was one of the most influential and powerful pre-colonial African empires, located in southwestern Nigeria. It appeared as a dominant force in the 15th century and remained a significant regional power until the 19th century. The Oyo Empire’s origins are rooted in the Yoruba-speaking people. It is believed to have evolved from a federation of Yoruba city-states, with Oyo-Ile (Old Oyo) serving as the heart of the empire.

The Oyo Empire’s formation was marked by the Alafin (king) as the paramount ruler, leading to a more centralized political structure. The Alafin was the highest authority, followed by various titles and officials, including the Bashorun (prime minister) and the Are-Ona-Kakanfo (military commander). The empire expanded its territory through warfare and conquest.


The pre-colonial administration in Nigeria, within Yoruba Land was known for its complex political structure, The Yoruba people, with their city-states and kingdoms, developed a system that balanced political, cultural, and religious elements. The legacy of pre-colonial administration in Yoruba Land continues today, as these traditional structures, rituals, and customs play a role in maintaining cultural identity and community unity.

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Faith Oluwa

Faith Oluwa

Faith is a content and creative writer with a passion for storytelling and a natural flair for compelling content who is bursting with talent and ready to make her mark in the world of writing. She has all the skills necessary to succeed in this competitive field.View Author posts