Traditional Aristocracy

Nigerian traditional aristocrats in 1952 London conference
On 30 Jul 1953, the Ooni of Ife, a member of the Action Group delegation, arriving at No. 10, Carlton House Terrace for the opening of the Nigeria Constitution Conference. Source-CORBIS © Hulton-Deutsch Collection

Traditional Aristocracy, the political system that trusts power with a limited ruling class in ancient times, existed side by sides with the royal institution and over the centuries, a balance of power between these two was somehow achieved in the region that would constitute the southwestern Nigeria. Hardly was there a monarch who successfully promoted himself above this regimentation. Awujale Adesanya’s belief in the special rights of Kings isolated him even from fellow monarchs and exposed him to attacks from the aristocracy and inevitably, the people, that even his patriotism to his own dominion was questioned following the loss of Remo territories which was alleged to have been permitted by him. A petition signed by 2,635 tax payers was issued against him in 15 May 1943.

Chiefs continued to maintain considerable sway over the affairs of rural areas and traditional towns of Yoruba land. Awolowo’s wisdom was to use this most effective means provided by traditional aristocracy for organizing masses for rapid political advancement. Many chiefs, however, were reluctant to engage openly in politics as it was thought that this would constitute abuse of traditional authority. Most chiefs believed their positions, sanctioned by customary laws, were higher than politics, and that they were fathers of their people irrespective of their political affiliations.

The traditional distance which occupiers of the Ooni of Ife stool used to keep from worldly affairs became impractical in the time of Adesoji Aderemi, whose portfolio as the Governor of the Nigerian Western Region under the British Empire, obligated him to be more busy with everyday administrative businesses and politics of the region. By 1952, monarchy had been so demystified that Abubakir Olorunimbe beat Adeniji Adele, the Lagos monarch, in a general election to emerge mayor of Lagos. Obafemi Awolowo, as the most important politician of the decade however utilized existing sociopolitical structure of his time ingeniously to bring about a kind of traditional aristocracy that is amenable to the inevitable new Africa that was unraveling.

The igbo society of the mid-19th Century featured a social and economic class called Ogaranya, distinguished by their many wives, children and slaves. They sponsor wars and purchase traditional titles to legitimize the link between their wealth and new found political influence. Soon, the traditional men of northern and central igbo organized themselves into associations to regulate the administration of future local titles.

Tope Apoola
Profession: Writer