Structure of Pre-Colonial Governments
Hausa/Fulani Pre-Colonial Administration
Hausa/Fulani communities in the North were ruled differently through their own respective customs and traditions. They had a political-administrative system through which they directed their own affairs. But with the advent of Islam, through the “Holy War” fought by Uthman Don Fodio in the 19th century, an emirate system of administration in the area was imposed.
The Hausa/Fulani pre-colonial administration was highly centralized with administrative headquarters in Sokoto. The emirates were under the control of the Emir of Sokoto and Emir of Gwandu respectively. Emir of Sokoto and Emir of Gwandu appointed Emirs of the Emirates under their control. The Emir is the Political, Spiritual, and Religious head of his Emirate. He has officials that assisted him to administer his territory, but the Emir of Sokoto remained the Political, Religious, and Spiritual Leader of the 14 Emirates.
Emirate was the Largest Political administrative structure with an Emir as its Political, Religious, and Spiritual Leader. He has a number of officials that helped him administer the capital and entire emirate. Each Emirate had districts that were made up of villages. Districts were administered by Hakimi and villages by village heads.
Hausa/Fulani pre-colonial Political system had Islamic injunctions as its administrative principles. Sharia guided the actions of all in the state including the political leaders. Where the law may not be covered adequately, the emir made laws.
The emir was the chief executive as the political system was monarchical and highly centralized. He had a body of officials that assisted in administration of the emirate among them were:
Waziri: A senior official and head of administration of the emirate. He was in charge of all other officials and carried out the day-to-day administration of the emirate on behalf of the Emir (Emir’s Prime Minister).
Galadima: Administrator of the capital of the Emirates
Maaji: Treasurer and Administrator of Finance
Madawaki: Commander-in-Chief of the Calvary (Army) in charge of defence of the Emirate.
Dogari: Chief of Police, in charge of maintenance of law and order.
SarKin Fada: Head of Palace officials
SarKin Pawa: Officers in charge, the head of all butchers
Sarkin Ruwa: The river fishing official
Hakimi: District head
Village Heads: Administrator of the villages
Executive duties they performed included maintenance of law and order, collection of taxes and rates, defense of the emirate, regulation of economic and religious activities, etc. (Kharaji tax on land, Zakat tax on Property, Jangali tax on cattle, etc.)
Emir’s Palace was the highest court of appeal but disputes were settled by Islamic Judges (Alkali) according to Islamic injunctions. Grand Khadi headed the sharia courts.
Yoruba Pre-Colonial Political Administration
Yorubas were believed to be descendants of Oduduwa. Oduduwa had seven sons who later founded the first seven kingdoms. These kingdoms later split into fourteen Kingdoms due to conflicts and wars. With the rise of the Oyo empire, these Kingdoms were united under a central leader, the Alaafin of Oyo. Though with the fall of the Oyo empire, so many Kingdoms sprang up, the Oyo empire’s Political administration was used to describe Yoruba Pre-colonial Political administration.
The empire (Kingdom) was the highest Political administrative structure. Each Kingdom was headed by an Oba (Alaafin or Oni). Provinces made up the Kingdom headed by Oba. The Provinces were made up of towns, villages, and wards. The ward was the smallest administrative unit. Towns, villages, and wards had Baale or Ajele as their heads.
The Oba was not a supreme leader. He was assisted by seven Oyomesi led by Bashorun (Chief Minister), Aremo (Oba’s son), also assisted him in the administration, it operated constitutional monarchy. The system had inbuilt principles of checks and balances to control the powers of the different political institutions. Oba was checked by the Council of Chiefs (Oyomesi), Ogboni cult, and age grades. Oyomesi was checked by the Ogboni cult.
Religious functions were performed by the priests and Ogboni cult priests who needed to perform sacrifices from time to time on behalf of the Oba and the people as Oba’s power emanated from such sacrifices.
The vassal states paid tribute to the Oba/Alaafin.
Age grades (Elegbe) and the Ogboni cult assisted in the implementation of decisions. The age grades also acted as a standing army of the Oba.
The Legislative Functions were performed by Oba and his Council of Chiefs based on Yoruba customs and traditions. The subordinate chiefs, Baale, Oloja, or Ajele made minor laws to administer their villages, towns, and wards.
Oba-in-Council (Oba and his senior chief) made up the executive. They made and enforced law. The council of chiefs ensured decisions of the council were implemented. The age grades and Ogboni cult ensured execution of such decisions. Baale or Oloja appointed subordinate chiefs to ensure maintenance of law and order.
Oba’s Palace/Court was the highest court of appeal. Serious and difficult cases were settled in the palace court by Oba and his senior chiefs. Minor cases were settled by Baale and subordinate chiefs in the towns and villages.
Igbo Pre-Colonial Political Administration
Igbo Pre-Colonial Political Administrative Structure was decentralized. The small republics or autonomous communities (villages) were the highest administrative structures. These villages were made up of family units (Umunna). Though some villages had traditional rules they were titular heads.
All adult male citizens and groups participated in Political administration. There was political equality. They were part of the village Assembly where major decisions were arrived at through consensus. Different Political institutions participated in administration e.g Council of Elders (Ndichie) Ohana eze, Village Assembly, Age grade, Okpara, Umuada, Umunna, etc.
Village Assembly consisted of all-male adult citizens. They played a very important role in the process of public decision-making. Decisions were taken at the village assembly through consensus. Everybody had an equal right to expression and vote on issues. At the family unit decisions binding on family members can also be reached. The Council of elders presided over the meetings of the village assembly. Some nutty issues undecided by the village assembly can be decided by the council of elders.
The council of elders ensured effective implementation of decisions of the village assembly. In some situations, the council delegated the age-grade and family units to implement such decisions under the direction of Okpara.
Family heads (Okpara) settled disputes among his family members. More serious issues or issues involving members of different families were settled by council of elders and village assembly. Village assembly was the highest court of appeal.