A scene of ‘unusual beauty’: The Alaafin Administration.

ACCORDING to a Swiss Theologian, Hans Kung, he said “that means that every human being- without distinction of sex, age, race, skin colour, language, religion, political view, or national or social origin- possesses an inalienable and untouchable dignity”.

It is not a gainsaying that the Alaafin of Oyo enjoyed the same degree of respect and honour with the Queen of England-Queen Elizabeth and other highly placed Kingdoms in the universe following Oyo Empire’s uniqueness and exceptional in its system of government.

In the sixteenth century, Oyo was one of the rare Empires that had an inherent checks and balances, and, this contributed to its stability for centuries. The Alaafin was the head of the Oyo Empire and was resident in the capital. He was also regarded as “Lord of many lands”.

In his administration, the Alaafin was assisted by a retinue of officials made up of priests, officials, eunuchs and a well organized court as well.

Theoretically, the Alaafin was the fountain of authority and therefore regarded as the “companion of the gods”. Though, he sometimes display an autocratic tendency, but, however, in practice, his powers were often subdued and regulated by the “Oyomesi”, a council of seven members headed by Bashorun who acted in the capacity of Prime Minister. Members of the Oyomesi were king makers as well.

At the demise of the Alaafin, they were the ones to select his successor. Equally, the Oyomesis had the power to impeach any Alaafin especially when he appeared dictatorial or transgressed the laws of the land. Usually, the deposed Alaafin was expected to commit suicide.

Stressing further, apart from the Alaafin cabinet, members of the Oyomesi cult constituted another arm of government known as the “Ogboni”. It was a very powerful cult. It was assembled of free and prominent members of the society as well as members of the Oyomesi.

The Ogboni cult had a crucial position in Yoruba society. It played a mediatory role in any conflict between the Oyomesi and the Alaafin, it was a kind of counter power to the Oyomesi as well.

There is no doubt; the Oyo Empire was well organized. The Army was another arm of government. Its head was conferred with the coveted title of “Are-Ona-Kankanfo”. It was made up of infantry and Calvary. The Are-Ona-Kankanfo was expected to live outside the capital.

In the same vein, the Army was credited with performing important functions which included stability of the Empire, expansion, as well as keeping dissident territories in check. Oyo Empire also had provincial governments which were modeled after the central government.

They were administered by Princes, minor Kings and Baales and all of them were subject to the over lordship of the Alaafin. These provincial governments enjoyed considerable autonomy, but the Alaafin had personal agents, “Ilari”, all over the provinces. The Alaafin used the “BERE annual festival periods to acknowledge the renewal of allegiance of the provincial governors to him.

This in-built system of government has helped the Oyo Empire in sustaining its stability, legacy and dynasty till date.


By Idowu Ayodele.


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