The Pre-Colonial Administration In Nigeria (Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba And Ibo)

Table Of Contents

1. The Pre-Colonial Administration In Nigeria
2. Hausa/Fulani Pre-Colonial System/Administration
3. The Yoruba Pre-Colonial System/Administration
4. The Checks And Balances To The Power Of The Oba
5. The Ibo Pre-Colonial System/Administration
6. Structural Comparison Of The Pre-Colonial System Of The Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba And Ibo

The Pre-Colonial Administration In Nigeria

Pre-colonial era in Nigeria is the period of Nigerian history before the official establishment of colonial government. Historical evidence shows that some Nigeria’s such as the Bini Kingdom, had contacts with the Europeans circa between 1472-1846 AD, and these were the Portuguese. The pre-colonial period was terminated when in 1914, Sir Fredrick Lugard amalgamated the Northern and Southern Protectorates of Nigeria, and hence the birth of what is today known as Nigeria.

Before 1914, the entity now known as Nigeria comprised of many independent ethnic nationalities which has little or nothing in common.

These ethnic nationalities which existed before the coming of the Europeans cherished their identity. Examples of these groups include the Ibos, the Hausa/Fulani’s, Efik, Ijaw, Itsekiri, Uhrobo’s etc.

Some of these pre-colonial societies had organized structures, institutions, cultures and administrative systems that were capable of maintaining law and order. Our discussion below will be focused on the three major ethnic groups of Nigeria.

Hausa/Fulani Pre-Colonial System/Administration

The Hausa/Fulani pre-colonial society was feudalistic, hierarchical and oligarchic in nature. The two administrative headquarters namely Sokoto and Gwandu were headed by Sultans known as the Sultan of Sokoto and the Sultan of Gwandu respectively.

The Emirate system was introduced whereby the Emirs headed the Emirates and the appointment of each Emir was approved by the Sultan. Each Emir is expected to send part of tax collected to the Sultan. The Emirs had principal officers whom he appointed in the administration of the emirates.

Some Of These Officers Include The:

1. Galadima – The chief secretary of the Emirate.

2. Madawaki – Commander of the Army. Also responsible for convening all meeting of the chief councilors.

3. Waziri – Closet adviser to the Emir, a kind of Prime Minister.

4. Maaji – Emir’s treasurer.

5. Sarkin Fada – Head of palace officials.

6. Sarkin Pawa – Incharge of burtchers.

7. Sarkin Ruwa – Incharge of fishing in the rivers.

8. Dogari – Incharge of security.

9. Arkimi – Incharge of districts.

10. Hakim – Maintains law and order through settling of disputes.

There was no democracy in the Hausa/Fulani administrative system. The government was autocratic. The system was an example of theocracy. Theocracy is a state where the religious head is equally the political head. The Emir performed executive, legislative and judicial functions at the same time, without checks. For effective administration of the emirate, the emirs imposed taxes on their subjects. The Sharia Islamic Laws were the general code of conduct of the people and they were to be guided in the everyday relations by these Sharia Laws.

The Yoruba Pre-Colonial System/Administration

The Yoruba’s live in the South Western Nigeria. The political system of the Yoruba’s could be best described as “centralized and democratic” even though they lacked common leadership and were divided into several political systems. Ile-Ife was regarded as an important cultural religious centre for all the Yorubas.

The community’s chief, was called the Oba, but the title of the Oba differed from community to community. For instance, the Oba of the Ife and Oyo kingdoms goes with the title ‘Alaafin’ and ‘Ooni’ respectively. The Alaafin is assisted by his son called Aremo, who is not allowed to succeed him immediately he dies.

Each kingdom was divided into districts and a senior chief was put in charge of a district. The chief made sure that all the decisions taken at the headquarters were carried out in his district. Each district consisted of town and villages. In each village or town was a leader called Baale who was directly responsible to the Oba.

The Oba is not autocratic as the Emirs in the North and the throne of the Oba is regarded as sacred. The Oba and his council of chiefs collectively performed legislative, executive and judicial functions. The Oba is subject to certain checks and balances, which made the Oba a mere constitutional ruler.

The Checks And Balances To The Power Of The Oba Include:

1. If the Oba disagrees with the Oye-mesi and Ilari the only option to him is to commit suicide.

2. The Oye-mesi could authorize the Bashorun to send empty calabash to Oba symbolizing rejection by the people. Oba is to commit suicide if this happens.

3. There could be a revolution by disobedient army commander.

4. Neglect of religious ceremonies and other rituals by the chief.

In the pre-colonial Yoruba structure, there were different occupational groups and secret societies like the Ogboni and Egungun who must be consulted on policy matters. Other important officials who assisted in the administration of the Oyo-mesi are the Basorun, Shamu, Alapini, Lagunna, Akinnikun and the Ashipa. Other important officials who assisted in the administration of the Oyo kingdom were Kakanfo (Army Commander). Eso (assisted in the Alaafin’s court), Palace Eunuchs (domestic palace officials) etc.

Lawmaking was the responsibility of the Oba and his senior chiefs. Thus the enactment of new laws, imposition of taxes and decision to wage wars were carried out jointly by the Oba and his senior chiefs. Allocation of vacant lands were also done in the same way.

In the Yorubas pre-colonial system, settlement of dispute between members of the same village was conducted by the elders of the lineage. The chiefs adjudicated and settled disputes between members of different lineages. They were responsible for the selection and election of the Oba, as well as advisiong him on how to run the state. The title of the Oba is hereditary. The Oba could be dethroned or replaced by his council. If the Oba misuse his power he might deposed by his chiefs who will ask him to die by showing him empty calabash.

To qualify for selection as an Oba, one must have come from a royal family. This means that one must have directly descended through the male line from the first Oba, or in some of the Yoruba kingdoms the candidate must be son of an Oba while he was actually ruling. In addition, his mother must not be a slave or any way deformed.

The Ibo Pre-Colonial System/Administration

The Ibos live in the South Eastern Nigeria and Nri in the present Anambra State is regarded as the ancestral home of the Ibos. The Ibos generally has no kings. The Ibos operated a democratic system of government. The highest democratic institution among the Ibos is the Oha-na-Eze meaning (the town assembly). The Ibos had a decentralized system of government. Unlike the Hausa/Fulani Emirates and the Yoruba Kingdom, the Ibos had no centralized authority.

There was no powerful and influential rulers who could wield enormous political power. In the same vein, there was no formal law-making organ, instead political decisions were collectively made by various groups such as the council of elders, the Oha na Eze, Age-grades, Umuadas, Village Assembly, Nze na Ozo title holders etc.

The function of the council of elders include among others:

1. Trial of offenders and ensuring that the punishment imposed on them are carried out.

2. Settling of disputes.

3. Organizing age groups and assigning duties to them.

4. Negotiating peace with neighbouring towns as well as planning for and engaging in war.

The age grades are formed by persons born within a given age bracket. Each age grade is usually organized under a leader and other officials. The age grades were called upon to perform public services and duties such as clearing the foot path to the market and stream; repairing of the king’s houses and bridges; preparing the town centre for ceremonies; religious duties such as taking part in rituals, wrestling and dances; helped to maintain law and order; helped to arrest offenders etc.

The family settled minor disputes within the family level. Council of elders handled major disputes. The final adjudication of cases was done by the deities. In fact the whole village may constitute itself into a court for the purpose of settling disputes.

The Ibos practiced traditional religion, as they had great respect for deities and ancestors. The Ibos believe in reincarnation. The religious life of the Ibos were surrounded by mysticism and superstitions.

Structural Comparison Of The Pre-Colonial System Of The Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba And Ibo

1. The Hausa/Fulani and the Yoruba pre-colonial systems had well recognized kings (i.e Emirs and Obas) while the Ibos had no kings and therefore regarded as one of the “Acephalous societies”, Acephalous societies refer to those societies which had a decentralized system of government.

2. The Hausa/Fulani system was feudalistic and autocratic while that of the Yoruba and Ibo were democratic in nature.

3. The Hausa/Fulani had a highly centralized system of government, the Yoruba’s had a weak or partial centralized system of government while the Ibos had a decentralized system of government.

4. Title holders such as the Emirs, Hakimi, Oba, Nze na Ozo etc existed in the Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba and Ibo ethnic groups.

Suggested Posts: