HomeLUMINAvol. 21 no. 2 (2010)

The Practice of Democracy in Nigeria: The Pre-Colonial Antecedent

Victor Osaro Edo

Discipline: History



Democracy, in its simplest term, is a system of government where the common interest of the majority is accommodated and articulated. A democratic system works within a political system that recognizes and acknowledges the majority interest. A political system is an orderly arrangement of institutions and machineries by which people rule, while a pattern of political organization is how people rule themselves over a long established period. Although a political system has a fixed pattern, it is dynamic, and not static. Such was the nature of most political systems in pre-colonial Nigerian states and societies.

At first glance, most of these states, either mega-states or mini-states, looked totalitarian. Some of the forest kingdoms, for example the Oyo Empire, had developed into centralized states with monarchies. While the Hausa states, had emirates which were all under the sovereignty of the post-Jihad Sokoto Caliphate. A closer look will reveal that these were not totalitarian entities. There might also be views that the other noncentralized states (or societies) were less intelligent than their empire-building and stateforming neighbors, but again, a closer look will reveal that their political systems had some much more direct manifestations of democracy. Whatever kind of government these states had, all the operations of their structures and institutions were democratic. These encompass the law and policy making processes, decision taking, judicial process and so on.