Differences Between Pre-colonial Political Administration In Nigeria

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The three major traditional political institutions (Hausa – Fulani, Igbo and Yoruba) had certain common attributes in their systems of government. There were also some differences between them.

Differences Between Pre-colonial Political Administration In Nigeria

These areas of agreement and disagreement between the political systems are now explained below.

Differences Between The Yoruba and Igbo Political Systems

  1. The political organisation of the Yoruba Kingdom was semi-centralised with an OBA as the head of government, while the Igbo political system lacked centralisation, and had no paramount ruler as head of the society.
  2. Succession of the throne of an OBA was hereditary through the royal lineage, whereas the Igbo political system rotated the stool of Okpara on the basis of seniority in age and family.
  3.  The political organisation of the Yoruba kingdom had checks and balances, while the fact that nobody or organ could wield autocratic powers itself served this purpose in the Igbo society.
  4. The Oba in council formulated governmental policies in the Yoruba Kingdom, but decisions were collectively taken by the concensus of the title holders, council of elders, age grades and the entire village assembly among the Igbo.
  5. The Yoruba OBAs appointed lesser chiefs called Baale(s) to rule the village while the Okpara or Obi in the Igbo society had no power to appoint officials, and his power did not go beyond his village.
  6. The activities of the age grade societies were more pronounced in the Igbo political system.
  7. The Yoruba OBAs received tributes and other dues while Igbo leaders didn’t.

Differences Between The Hausa Fulani and Igbo Political Systems

  1. The political organisation of the Hausa-Fulani Empire was highly centralised and focused on the emirs but the Igbo political organisation was diffused in nature where all of the Okpara, council of elders, titled chiefs, age grades shared responsibilities and came together for decisions.
  2. Succession to the throne of an Emir was hereditary or dependent on appointment by Sultan of Sokoto, while there was no provision for hereditary succession or appointment by a superior ruler to a throne in the Igbo system of government.
  3. The council of elders in the hausa-fulani empire who was only advisory to the Emir, but the council of elders in the Igbo political organisation exercised executive, legislature and judiciary powers.
  4. The judiciary was based on the Sharia law in the hausa-fulani Empire with the Emir and the Alkali presiding over the courts, but in Igbo governmental system, judicial functions are performed by the council of elders, age grades, the Ozo title holders and the entire village assembly.
  5. In the Hausa Fulani emirate system, the Emir who was the head of the emirate, while the family head was the most senior person in a family in the Igbo system.
  6. In the hausa-fulani system, the Emir served as the religious and political head of the system, while the chief priest single-handedly handled religious issues in the Igbo system.
  7. In the Igbo traditional system, the customary laws were applicable, while the Emir in the Hausa empire administered his system with Islamic and customary laws.
  8. There was taxation in the Hausa Fulani system while the Igbo system had none.

Differences Between The Hausa Fulani and Yoruba Political Systems

  1. The Hausa – Fulani governmental system was centralised and ruled by an Emir while the Yoruba kingdom was semi-centralised and headed by an OBA.
  2. The Emir exercised absolute executive, legislative and judicial functions, whereas the Yoruba governmental system was based on checks and balances by various organs of government.
  3. The council of officials in the HausaFulani empire were mere advisory in nature, but the council of chiefs in the Yoruba Kingdom were so powerful, they could removed an OBA from the throne. He had to accept their decision and opinion.
  4. The governmental system of the hausa – fulani empire who was based on the Islamic religion, whereas the system of government in the Yoruba kingdom was based on the customs and tradition of the people.
  5. The Hausa judicial system was based on the Islamic body of laws (Sharia) with the Emir presiding over the final court of appeal. However, laws in the Yorubaland had to be made by the Oba – in – council who also together decided the cases and disputes brought before them.
  6. The Ogboni fraternity performed rituals on behalf of the whole community in the Yoruba kingdom, while there was no place for secret societies or rituals in the Hausa Fulani empire.
  7. The district and village heads collected fixed taxes on behalf of the Emir while there were no fixed taxes in Yorubaland. The village heads (Baale) only paid tributes annually
  8. The Yoruba had age grades as part of their administrative structure while this was not the case with the Hausa Fulani.


The Fulani took over the political leadership of the Habe (Hausa) states in the early 19th century. The Jihad that preceded this occupation was seen as a religious one as well as political.

Othman Dan Fodio led the Fulani Jihad and took over the political leadership of the Hausa and established the Sokoto caliphate with outstanding centralised political system of government. He introduced a new system of selecting and appointing rulers described as Emirs to rule the caliphate. Each of the Emirs owed allegiance to Dah Fodio and his two representatives at Gwandu and Sokoto.


The Igbo political system may be seen as a fragmented political system. Many institutions were in place and political authority was shared among them. For example, the Ofo title holders (council of elders), Ozo title holders and age grades were all involved in the power sharing exercise. No wonder then that, the term “Acephalous”, was ascribed or used to describe the political organization of the Igbo society.

There was the absence of centralization of power and authority in Igbo political system as it was more of the people’s direct participation in their government (Direct democracy).


Oyo was a vast empire or territory divided into different provinces. It happened to be the most popular and outstanding of all the empires or kingdoms in Yoruba political system. Oyo was able to influence issues in other areas like Dahomey (Republic of Benin), Ekiti, ljebu and Ile-Ife.


  • Existence of a Central Government

The Fulani emirates had a highly centralized system of government. The emir was the executive head of government and was assisted by ministers such as the Madawaki, Waziri, Galadima, Sarkin Fada and Maaji. In the Yoruba kingdom, the government was partly centralized and partly decentralized.

The Oba was the paramount head of the kingdom and the senior chiefs such as the Balogun assisted him in the administration of the kingdom. The Igbo society was a segmentary or stateless sbciety. Like other stateless African societies such as the Nuer of Sudan, the Fang of Gabon, the Kikuyu of Kenya and the Bemba of the Central African Republic, the Igbo had no central political institution.

  • Performance of Functions of Government

In the Fulani emirates, the emir and his senior officials carried out legislative, executive and judicial functions. The Alkalis interpreted the laws and punished offenders. The three functions were performed by the Oba and his senior chiefs in the Yoruba kingdom but the guidance and direction of the secret societies and cults like the Ogboni, Oro etc. were sought from time to time.

In the Igbo political system, these roles were not assigned to any specialized political institutions but an array of institutions including the family heads, council of elders, the village assembly, the diviner, the priest of the village god, the Ozo title holders and the age grades carried out legislative, executive and judicial functions. But the problem of coordination was always there.

  • Type of Government

The Igbo political system operated a democratic and republican system of government. The Fulani emirate was essentially a theocratic state. The Yoruba had a monarchical system of government.

  • System of Law

The Islamic and sharia laws were the basic laws in the Fulani emirate. They guided the social and political life of the people. In the Yoruba kingdom and Igbo society there was no recognized system of law. There were no formal rules but the pronouncements of the ruler or relevant institution had the force of law.

  • Operation of the Principle of Separation of Powers

There was no clear separation of powers in all the pre-colonial governments in Nigeria. The Yoruba, however, had a rudimentary system of checks and balances that worked to prevent tyrannical rule. For example, the Oba could be forced to abdicate the throne if the women go out nakedly in protest against him.

  • Source of Revenue

In the Hausa / Fulani emirates, direct taxation had always been part of the system and taxation formed the major source of revenue in the emirates. The tribute system was common in the South especially among the Yoruba. Notwithstanding there was a lot of corruption in the tribute system. Under the system those connected with the collection of tribute had always profited from the transaction. Their obligation was only to hand over the balance to the king.

  • Law Enforcement

In the three political systems, law was enforced through some political institutions. The age groups helped in law enforcement in the Igbo political system. They were also mobilized for wars against neighbouring communities. The Oba’s bodyguards and the standlng army assisted in maintaining internal and external security in the Yoruba kingdom. The cavalry headed by the Madawaki helped in the maintenance of law and order in the Fulani emirates.

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