Nigeria’s traditional society and leadership before the colonial era have been categorized as undemocratic. This is as a result of some missing elements of democracy which include election, rule of law, and a constitution.
However, the Nigerian traditional society was governed by different forms of traditional leadership. This also influenced the kind of traditional society obtainable in different geographical locations in the country.
Hausa/Fulani traditional society and leadership
Among the Hausa/Fulani, the political system in this society started in 1804. The political head of the Hausa/Fulani political system was the Emir. He made the laws and was also a religious leader.
The Emir-in-Council was the next in the line of power. The council performed the executive functions of the society. They declared war and concluded treaties, assisted in appointing lesser chiefs among other functions.
Those shouldered with the responsibility of maintaining law and order were the District Heads. The District Heads organised communal work, collected taxes and other levels and controlled village heads among other functions.
The Alkali was next in the line of power. He presided over the Alkali court and also interpreted the Islamic law and punished law breakers. The Alkali was the head of the judiciary. He adjudicated according to the Sharia.
The Village and Ward Head were equally another aspect of traditional leadership among the Hausa/Fulani society. They maintained law and order in their areas and also settle minor disputes.
Igbo traditional society and leadership
Among the Igbo, there was no central government with supreme powers over the land. The people adopted the concept of Village Democracy. This was a highly decentralised pattern of administration in which political power was not concentrated under one authority but shared across the scattered homesteads and villages that were closely knitted together by kinship ties.
Though the village system was dominated by elders, the Village Assembly was an important part of the society and leadership. The Village Assembly was composed of all male adults in the village. They made and executed all village laws. They were also powerful enough to decide both civil and criminal offences.
The Council of Elders came next after the Village Assembly. The Council of Elders was made up of heads of families, titled men and some highly experienced elders in the village. They performed legislative, executive and judicial functions.
The policing and community service group was the Age Grade. Age Grade is a group of persons who were born in a given age group. They rendered social services e.g. building and maintaining roads, markets, bridges etc. They also collected fines imposed on law breakers. This group also makes the military strength of the society.
The Titled Men were significant figures in the Igbo society. They help settled disputes and took part in law making.
The Okpara is another significant figure within the family setting in an Igbo society. The Okpara who is male head of the family, settled family disputes. He represented his family at the village assembly and council of elders’ meetings. He also saw to the day-to-day running of the family.
Yoruba traditional society and leadership
In Yoruba land, Oduduwa was the mythical father of the people and their spiritual home was Ile-Ife. There is historical information that speculated that the Yoruba’s origination is from the East. According to this record, they were believed to have moved from Egypt to West Africa and settled at Ile-Ife.
The traditional Yoruba society was famous with kingdoms and empires. One of such famous empires was the Old Oyo Empire. The empire was important in a number of ways. It was well organised and was led by the Alaafin alongside with a council of seven members called the Oyo Mesi.
The Alaafin was also known as Oba among some other Yoruba groups. He was the head of the empire and performed a number of functions. He was regarded as the second in command to the gods. He was the custodian of the customs and traditions of the people. As an Oba, he was the commander-in-chief of the army. He also executed laws made by the lawmakers and presided over judicial cases.
The paramount chiefs were important leaders in the society. They helped make laws for peace and good governance and also helped the people in communal works. They presided over meetings and co-ordinated the activities of lower chiefs.
The council of Elders are made up of paramount chiefs. They helped the Alaafin in deliberation and providing advises on constitutional and other matters. They also acted as an intermediary between the people and the Alaafin.
The age grades were also an important part of the political structure of the Yoruba society. They functioned just as effective as obtained in the Hausa/Fulani traditional society.
The Secret Society (Ogboni Cult) members were made up of religious societies, prominent merchants, diviners and the Oyo Mesi. They were responsible for checking the excesses and abuse of power. The cult also helped in maintaining law and order through making laws and executing it. They also have the final say in the removal of any king.