Procession of Alaafin of Oyo prior to celebrations hosted by Oyo chief, Ashamu Dec 27, 1978 © HRH Alaafin of Oy
Procession of Alaafin of Oyo prior to celebrations hosted by Oyo chief, Ashamu Dec 27, 1978 © HRH Alaafin of Oyo

Chieftaincy, the highly developed system through which leadership is conferred in pre-colonial Western Nigeria existed in several tiers; some military and some, civil. Associations such as the Ogboni, Tradesmen, craftsmen, or market women are usually the entities which serve as the authority conferring the titles of, to mention a few; Balogun, Otun, Osi, or Agbaakin (granted in Abeokuta by Plumbers’ Association). Without authorities such as these entities, chieftaincy can only be wished for, but not realized, as it is said that Ologbon kan ko ta omi ni koko, Omoran kan ko fi ara re j’oye (No sage can knot the water, no clever man can install himself as a chief).

Titles bestowed by these groups are in hierarchies, most of which are fashioned like the traditional military set-up of each kingdom as derived from the Old Oyo Empire army. Although there are civic titles that never had to do with the military (examples are oluwo, Odofin, and Apena), military titleholders don’t shed their appellation in peace times, or when they hold a new civil position. Curiously, no civil titles were invented to accommodate the new status of veterans in peace times.

In S.W. Nigeria, a town’s senior woman, title translating as “mother in town”. With her Otun, Osi, and Ekerin, Iyalode exercised considerable influence in the affairs of the king’s court. She controlled the market women, among whose duties it was in the time of war to drive out to fight those who lagged behind. Through the Iyalode, the king’s council learnt the woman’s views on town affairs. With the advent of imperialism came the decline of the power of the Iyalode’s office. When Miniya Jojola who succeeded the powerful Iyalode, Efunroye Tinubu stepped into the old shoes in the early 20th Century, her influence was progressively atrophied.

A University don's investiture as "Asiwaju of Okeho" by the Oyo state town, Okeho's monarch.
A University don’s investiture as “Asiwaju of Okeho” by the Oyo state town, Okeho’s monarch. Photo: The Nation

A chief is supposed to be an embodiment of good character. Also important is that he must be a person of means. Even before the era of proliferation of titles, and when honor was still synonymous with chieftaincy, many good men have had to wait for years to save money before realizing their dream of becoming chief. The monarch, called Oba, is in every kingdom, the first and highest Chief in the land, and his position is mostly hereditary.

Tope Apoola
Profession: Writer