Pre-Colonial Administration or Political System | Hausa, Igbo & Yoruba, Nigeria

Pre-Colonial Governance In Hausa/Fulani Region Background Of The Hausa States In the 19th century, the Fulani took political control of the Habe (Hausa) states following the jihad led by Othman Dan Fodio. The establishment of the Sokoto caliphate marked a significant centralization of political power. Othman Dan Fodio introduced the Emir system to govern the […]

Pre-Colonial Governance In Hausa/Fulani Region

Background Of The Hausa States

In the 19th century, the Fulani took political control of the Habe (Hausa) states following the jihad led by Othman Dan Fodio. The establishment of the Sokoto caliphate marked a significant centralization of political power.

Othman Dan Fodio introduced the Emir system to govern the caliphate, with Sokoto and Gwandu serving as dual headquarters. Emirs pledged allegiance to Othman Dan Fodio and his representatives in Sokoto and Gwandu.

 

Hausa/Fulani Political Organization

1. The Emirate: The caliphate was divided into emirates, each led by an authoritative Emir with extensive powers. The Emir enacted laws and maintained order based on Islamic principles, aided by advisers, including the Waziri (head official), Galadima (capital overseer), Madawaki (army commander), Dogari (treasury overseer), Sarkin Ruwa (river fishing official), Sarkin Fada (palace workers’ head), Sarkin Pawa (butchers’ head), Yari (prison overseer).

2. Legislative Body: Sharia, the Islamic law, governed the emirate, regarded as the supreme law of God.

3. Executive Authority: While the Emir had advisers, his authority was authoritarian, allowing him to accept or reject their counsel.

4. Judicial System: Sharia laws guided the Alkali judges, handling civil cases, with minor issues delegated to village heads. The Emir decided criminal and land cases within the framework of Sharia laws.

5. District Administration: Each emirate was subdivided into districts, each headed by an Emir-appointed official called Hakimi.

 

Pre-Colonial Governance In Igbo Land

The Igbo system lacked a central authority, embracing a decentralized, participatory, and direct democratic approach.

 

Features Of Igbo Political System

  1. Decentralized and Segmental: Power was shared among different groups, fostering general participation in governance.
  2. Republican: No hereditary rights to political office existed, promoting equality and social justice.
  3. Democratic: The principles of equality and social justice prevailed, with no centralized political ruler.
  4. Women’s Role: Women, through groups like Umuada, played a significant role in governance.

 

Structural Organization Of The Igbo Political System

  1. Village Administration: Villages formed the political unit, with families comprising the council of elders. The Ofor titleholders, led by the Okpara, presided over elder meetings.
  2. Executive Function: Village affairs were discussed by the council of elders, with every adult having the right to contribute.
  3. Legislative Power: Villagers made laws themselves, and age grades could propose laws accepted by the elders.
  4. Judicial System: Family heads settled disputes, while serious cases were referred to the council of elders and the Okpara.
  5. Age Grade System: Young men belonging to the same age group were actively involved in village administration, performing public duties.
  6. Ozor Titleholders: Wealthy individuals with the Ozor title joined the council of elders to deliberate on community issues.
  7. Women’s Association: Women played a crucial role in dispute resolution, serving as a powerful pressure group and imparting values to the younger generation. They stood against corruption and oppression.

 

Pre-Colonial Political System in Yoruba Land:

The Old Oyo Empire, a vast realm divided into provinces, operated under a monarchical government akin to other African kingdoms and empires. The system, led by the Alafin, exhibited distinctive features.

 

Features of Yoruba Pre-colonial Political System:

  1. The political system’s scale was extensive.
  2. It was a constitutional monarchy with decentralization, ensuring the Oba did not wield autocratic power.
  3. Checks and balances prevented Oba from abusing authority.
  4. The Oba ratified decisions made by chiefs.
  5. The absence of a taxation system.

 

Yoruba Political Administration:

  1. Political Head: The Alafin, chosen by the Oyomesi and hereditary kingmakers, led the empire. The Bashorun and Oyomesi played vital roles.
  2. The Aremo: The Alafin’s eldest son assisted in administration but couldn’t succeed his father.
  3. The Oyomesi: Seven hereditary kingmakers, led by the Bashorun, installed or removed an Alafin and assisted in administration.
  4. Provincial Governors: (Bale or Oba) Ruled provinces, collecting tributes and paying homage to the Alafin.
  5. The Army: Headed by Are-ona kankafo, claimed to commit suicide in case of defeat.
  6. The Ogboni Society: A secret society of diviners, serving as the third organ of government, maintaining cultural duties and checking Oyomesi’s excesses.
  7. The Three Eunuchs: Involved in administration, including Osi Efa for political affairs, Oni Efa for judiciary, and Otun Efa for religious duties.
  8. The Empty Calabash: Used symbolically to reject an unconstitutional Alafin, leading to the expectation of the Alafin’s suicide.

Kingship: The Oyomesi chose a new ruler from the royal families, and ascension was not hereditary.

 

Functions of Traditional Rulers in Pre-Colonial Political System:

  1. Supreme rulers in communities.
  2. Legislative functions, ensuring defence, religious roles, administration heads, safeguarding lives, communal wealth sharing, political symbols, and law and order maintenance.

 

Functions and Powers of the Council of Elders:

  1. Advised paramount chiefs.
  2. maintained law and order, and acted as decision-makers.
  3. Performed religious functions.
  4. Installed and deposed paramount chiefs.
  5. Checked paramount chiefs’ activities.
  6. Decided on community warfare.

 

Functions of Secret Societies:

  1. Enforced law and order.
  2. Performed military and police functions.
  3. Served as a link to ancestors.
  4. Protected members, educated and conducted rituals.
  5. Agents of socialization.

 

Functions of Age Grade:

  1. Executed warfare.
  2. Undertook social labor.
  3. Performed socialization and ceremonial functions.
  4. Defended communities against internal and external aggression.
  5. Checked misuse of power by permanent chiefs.

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