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Nigeria: Information on the administrative hierarchy within the Yoruba tribe including the difference among ruling houses, chiefs, Obas, elders, whether they can refuse a title, initiation rites surrounding the institution of kingship, the influence of Obas among the local community and the present government's attitude towards them

Publisher Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 1 March 1992
Citation / Document Symbol NGA10364
Cite as Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Nigeria: Information on the administrative hierarchy within the Yoruba tribe including the difference among ruling houses, chiefs, Obas, elders, whether they can refuse a title, initiation rites surrounding the institution of kingship, the influence of Obas among the local community and the present government's attitude towards them, 1 March 1992, NGA10364, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6abc76e.html [accessed 18 April 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

 

The information contained in this response was provided by a Yoruba professor of African Politics at the University of Texas at Houston, during a telephone interview with the IRBDC (26 Feb. 1992). The professor explained that Ruling Houses          are families that traditionally produce Obas (kings). Ruling houses, therefore, are the king-makers of the Obas of the Yoruba. The professor further explained that chieftaincies in Yorubaland are not hereditary. Chiefs are appointed by Obas. The latter also confer titles on the former. According to the same source, Elders is an honorary title that individuals acquire when they attain a certain age, usually between 60-70 years of age. The elders sit on the Council of Elders and they play an advisory role to the Oba. Chiefs and Elders are not members of the ruling houses and can never become Obas. The professor emphasized that elders do not have a say in matters relating to succession. However, an article in the Christian Science Monitor by Robert M. Press (18 Jan. 1990) contradicts this by stating that

"local elders, called "kingmakers," nominate Obas from several "royal" families in the villages, towns, or cities of the Yoruba."

The Oba or king is a traditional ruler and this is an hereditary title, according to the Yoruba professor. He further stated that there are about 150 Obas in Yorubaland today. Traditionally when an Oba dies, he is succeeded by his eldest son. However, this happens only in communities where there is one ruling house. In communities with more than one ruling house, the position of the Oba rotates among all the ruling houses so as to give each ruling house a chance at producing an Oba. The king is highly respected and wields a lot of influence in his community particularly in rural areas. In urban communities, however, the influence of the Oba is minimal particularly among the young educated people who do not attach a lot of importance to traditional institutions. This information is corroborated by Robert M. Press in The Christian Science Monitor (18 Jan. 1990). According to the professor, the role of the Oba is two-fold: (1) The Oba acts as an intermediary between the community and the government. Obas represent the interests and concerns of the people in their communities and articulate them to the government; and (2) Obas act as advisors to the government. Although Obas reportedly enjoy a good relationship with the present government, not all Obas enjoy the same status. Obas are classified into categories based on the size of the community, seniority or the number of years the institution has existed in a given state. The explained that Obas fall into three categories: A, B, C. The old "kingdoms" of Ife, Ondo, Oyo, Abeokuta, Ilesa and Obomosho are classified under "A" because in these states the institution of kingship has been in existence since pre-colonial times; those that were created during colonial times are classified as "B"; whereas those that were created after independence are classed under "C". He further explained that Obas and their traditional institutions are a dying breed in present-day Nigeria in the sense that they have lost their power and influence to the modern government. Most Obas, explained the professor, have political and business interests and their cooperation with the government is mutually beneficial (see also Christian Science Monitor 18 Jan. 1990).

The professor explained that it is possible to refuse a title but this happens in very few instances and usually for religious reasons. Traditionally the Oba is expected to perform certain rituals which are contrary to the beliefs and teachings of western Christianity. In instances where the incumbent has espoused western Christianity, he would refuse the title if he were opposed to the performance of the rituals attached to the title. Rituals vary from community to community but involve dancing and making sacrifices to deities. The source explained that in the 15th century, rituals involved human sacrifice. Fadipe in The Sociology of the Yoruba (1970) corroborates this information by stating that

The elaborate religious ritual surrounding the creation of a king has for its object the passing on to him in direct continuity with his earliest predecessor what is believed to be the source of authority. This was brought about either by making the new king partake of a part of the flesh of his predecessor (the heart) or by keeping among his principal objects of worship the head of the predecessor (207).

The professor emphasized that in present-day Nigeria, such rituals would be considered illegal and it would be a criminal offence to kill human beings for purposes of sacrifice. The source cautioned, however, that there are satanic cults in Nigeria, for example, the Ogboni Cult Fraternity which although it has been officially banned by the present government, still operates in secrecy and has been rumoured to engage in satanic practices. For further information on the above-mentioned topics, please refer to the attached documents and Response to Information Request NGA8434 available at your documentation centre.

Bibliography

Fadipe, N.A. ed. 1970. The Sociology of the Yoruba. Ibadan: Ibadan University Press.

Immigration and Refugee Board Documentation Centre (IRBDC), Ottawa. 7 May 1991. Response to Information Request NGA8434.

The Christian Science Monitor [Boston]. 18 January 1990. Press, Robert M. "Welcome to Tin-Roofed Palace." (NEXIS)

University of Texas at Houston. 26 February 1992. Telephone Interview with Professor of African Politics.

Attachments

Fadipe, N.A. ed. 1970. The Sociology of the Yoruba. Ibadan: Ibadan University Press.

The Christian Science Monitor [Boston]. 18 January 1990. Press, Robert M. "Welcome to Tin-Roofed Palace." (NEXIS)

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at http://www.irb-cisr.gc.ca/en/. Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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