All Saints Secondary School Oyigbo, Rivers State.

History Department.


Week Six Topic; Major Centralized States in Pre-colonial Nigeria (Oyo Empire)


The Origin and Early History of Oyo Empire

Oyo Empire was the earliest and largest of the four great forest states or kingdoms of West Africa. (Benin Empire, Dahomey kingdom, Oyo Empire and Akan states of Ghana).

Oyo Empire was founded by Oranmiyan (1388-1434), the seventh son of Okanbi and the grandson of Oduduwa- the chief ancestor and first king of the Yorubas.

Oranmiyan (AD 1388-1434) was sent to Benin kingdom by his father, the Ooni of Ife ( Okanbi) to rule over Benin.

Oranmiyan found the task of ruling the Benin kingdom a difficult one, because of the factional war raging in Benin Empire.

Oranmiyan packed away from the Benin Empire and instead of going back to Ife, he went straight to establish the old Oyo Empire.


Government or Political Structure of the old Oyo Empire

  1. Alafin of Oyo (King)
  2. Oyomesi (council of seven headed by the Bashrun)
  3. Kakanfo
  4. Ogboni cult.


The Alafin ruled with a council of seven, called the Oyomesi. The head of the Oyomesi ( kingmakers) was the Bashrun or prime minister.

The Oyomesi (kingmakers) elected or deposed the Alafin.

The ogboni cult checked the powers of the Alafin and his council of seven.

If an Alafin became tyrannical over his people, the Oyomesi would force him to commit suicide by presenting him with an empty calabash or parrot’s eggs, which signified that his people had rejected him.

Kakanfo was the Commander- in- chief of the Oyo army. They had no standing army, but a semi standing army.

Every able bodied man served in the military campaigns which took place usually in the dry season.

If the kakanfo was defeated in battle, he was bound to commit suicide rather than return to Oyo in shame.

Finally, the ogboni cult was a secret society of freemen, who were the social, political and religious leaders of the state.

The members sometimes mediated between the Alafin and the council of seven.



  1. Give reasons why the Oyo Empire lasted for so long.

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