‘Iyalojas’ – Women Chiefs Who Run Markets In Nigeria 

You would think that Nigeria is perfectly patriarchal, but obviously not in Yorubaland.

In Nigeria, Yorubaland refers to the seven (7) states that make up South-Western Nigeria.

These states are Osun, Oyo, Kwara, Ogun, Lagos, Ekiti and Ondo. The Yorubas are known for their rich cultural heritage. Everything from the way they dress, worship, speak and the foods they eat stands out.

Amala and ewedu is a popular Yoruba food.

The Yoruba style of communal leadership is less patriarchal than what is seen in other Nigerian tribes. They are even cases of women becoming kings (Obabinrin). The story of Orompoto who was a female Alaafin of Oyo in the 16th century was popular.

Orompoto, a woman, was crowned “king” of the Oyo in the imperial era, making her the first woman since the pre-imperial ruler Yeyeori to become king.

She was crowned because there was no male successor within her family at the time.

In Yorubaland, female titleholders like the Iyalode, Iyaloja and Iyalaje are given just as much respect as the male chiefs. Their opinions and judgement carry as much weight too.

Who is an Iyaloja?

The Iyaloja is the title given to the female leader of a market. Every major market in Yorubaland is under the leadership of an Iyaloja who is usually installed by the reigning king.

In Yoruba language, Ìyál’ọ́jà literally translates to “Mother of the Market”. It is the female equivalent of the Babaloja, which means “Father of the Market”.

In most cases, the Babaloja is functionally a subordinate of the Iyaloja, meaning the woman has more power. This is a rare situation in Africa where a female titleholder outranks the male.

How are Iyalojas chosen?

The usual way an Iyaloja is installed is by the traders of a particular market voting and submitting the name of the person they have chosen to the ruling Oba (Yoruba king) who will then confirm and install their choice.

This voting process is ordinarily democratic, though eligible candidates are allowed to canvass for votes. Eligibility for the post of an Iyaloja is usually achieved by age, market experience and political influence.

There have also been occasions where an Oba single-handedly picks and installs an Iyaloja himself. This is often seen as a corrupt practise as it should be left for the trade unions, who the Iyaloja is going to govern, to select their leader.

Who is Iyaloja General of Nigeria?

Perhaps because the largest markets in Yorubaland are found in Lagos, the Iyaloja of Lagos automatically becomes the “Iyaloja General of Nigeria”. The Iyaloja General oversees all the other Iyalojas in the country.

There was some controversy in 2013 when the daughter of former governor of Lagos State, Chief Bola Ahmed Tinubu, was selected as the new Iyaloja of Lagos and the rest of Nigeria.

Her grandmother, Chief Abibatu Mogaji (who was also Tinubu’s mum) held the same title until her death on June 15, 2013.

Many argued that Tinubu’s daughter, Chief (Mrs.) Folashade Tinubu-Ojo was not qualified for the title in terms of her age and market experience.

Despite the criticisms over her selection, Folashade Tinubu-Ojo was officially installed as the new Iyaloja General on 29 October, 2013, by the Oba of Lagos.

The Role of an Iyaloja

The title of an Iyaloja is just as political as it is cultural. The respect paid to the title is synonymous with the kind of respect deserving of mothers. After all, the Iyaloja is the mother of the market and single every trader in it.

The Iyaloja title stands as a firm reminder that women can be leaders. Every Iyaloja ensures the smooth day-to-day running of the market she is leading. They play a vital role in keeping a market in order, thereby enhancing safety and security.

They act as intermediaries between trade groups and the government, relaying to the respective institution what a particular market needs in order to thrive. Perhaps a better road that leads into the market, or more space for traders.

The role of Iyalojas in the election of political leaders cannot also be overemphasized. Markets are full of many registered voters and the Iyalojas will often utilize their power and influence to sway the market people into supporting their candidate.

Iyalojas are also always at the forefront of political and social issues affecting women, such as maternal health and domestic abuse.

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