Before the coming of Europeans into Nigeria, the various ethnic groups were autonomous and had developed their governmental systems in such a way that it reflected the culture,beliefs and traditions of the different areas.
The three dominant ethnic groups comprising the Hausa-Fulani, the Igbo and Yoruba established distinct and functioning government which was peculiar to their environment. While the Hausa-Fulani Empire established a centralised system of government deeply rooted in the Islamic religion, the Yoruba kingdom had a governmental system that provided for checks and balances on the organs of government – Constitutional Monarchy.
The traditional political organisation of the Igbo people provided neither for centralised no semi-centralised government for their were many institutions sharing political authority, sometimes with non having absolute Power over members of the community.
The Hausa Fulani Empire
The Hausa-Fulani Empire had its origin from the Holy War, Jihad of 1804 which Uthman Danfodio, a Fulani Muslim launched against the Hausa rulers of the period with a view to making Islam devotedly practiced as the only religion in the land.
Prior to this period, the Fulani people were under the domination of the Hausa. The dethronement of the then Hausa leadership made room for the establishment of an Empire under the leadership of Uthman Dan-Fodio. Based on the two main groups, the new Empire became the Hausa-Fulani empire, though the leadership became dominated by the Fulani.
The newly-established Empire was divided into Eastern and Western sections, namely, the Sokoto and Gwandu Emirates respectively. Each emirate was headed by an Emir who was both spiritual and political leader.
The emirs of Gwandu and Sokoto appointed emirs appointed emirs for the subordinate Emirates and wherever the local people appointed emirs, such appointment was subject to the approval of the areas of Sokoto and Gwandu. All other emirs paid annual tributes and allegiance to those of Sokoto and Gwandu with the Sultan of Sokoto being the overall head.
The Yoruba Kingdom
The yoruba people claim to have originated from Ile-Ife. The legend further says that Oduduwa, the father of the race, had seven sons who later became the first set of seven Yoruba kings (Oba) to rule the various Yoruba kingdoms.
By procreation and extension, the number of kingdoms increased, each ruled by an Oba (a king) and with largely similar administrative structures. The Oyo kingdom had a well-defined structure representative of the pre-colonial political system of the Yoruba as discussed below.
Political Structure Of The Yoruba Kingdom
The Yoruba Kingdom developed an efficient governmental system which existed for centuries before the coming of Europeans into Africa. The system was based on check and balances in which the various organs of government checked the activities of one another to avoid dictatorship.
As a result of the existence of many political institutions in Igbo land, there was no centralisation of power among the Igbo. Instead, political institutions were performing similar or different functions.
There were no traditional rulers in the form of Kings unlike the Hausa Fulani and the Yoruba system, hence, no hereditary claims to traditional stools. In this setting, there was never an Igbo kingdom or empire.
The largest political unit was the village. The various institutions that exercised governmental powers included family heads, the Council of Elders or the Ofo Title Holders, the age-grades, the Ozo title holders as well as the lineage heads.
Functions Of Traditional Rulers In Pre-colonial Nigeria
The traditional rulers during the pre-colonial period administered Justice among their people. Some of them presided over the local courts that settled such disputes as divorce, debt recovery, slander, land, and custody of children. For instance, the emirs presided over the final court of appeal in the hausa-fulani empire.
The traditional rulers appointed subordinate chiefs and village heads to assist them in administering their territories. The village heads paid homage to the traditional rulers by collecting taxes and annual tributes for and on behalf of the traditional ruler.
The traditional rulers helped to make laws, order and peace in their domains.
They levied and imposed different forms of taxes and levies in order to raise revenue for their government. In some areas, the subordinate chiefs collected taxes on land, cattle, and annual tributes on behalf of the traditional rulers.
The traditional rulers allocated land, and some other communal wealth and resources to the various segments of the society.
They protected their domains with the establishment of well equipped army. They also declared war against external enemies when there territories were threatened.
the traditional rulers conferred honorary traditional titles on hardworking and deserving citizens of their communities. The honours were meant to motivate individuals from such communities to provide essential services to the people and to encourage others to live a life of industry and honesty. Such a title was the Ozo Title Holders among the Igbo communities.
They performed religious functions, and many acted as high priests in their kingdoms.
As heads of their communities, they served as symbols of unity, power and security.
The traditional rulers were actively involved in the planning and development of their kingdoms. Some of them mobilized the youths to carry out public services like the building of boundary walls, clearing of bush paths and establishment of markets.