It is not known when the Ogboni society was created. it was an age long assembly of elders that created a cult based on the cosmology of Yorubas. Ogboni performed religious, political and judicial functions.
Ogboni considered themselves as the privileged intermediaries between the living and the ancestors and they venerate mother Earth or goddess Earth.
Ogbonis acted as the check and balance against the power of the king to the point of having the authority to remove him if necessary. Even though the Ogbonis had judicial functions, their primary role was the preservation of the Ifa oracle.
The high priests of the Ogboni society are often called on to consult the oracle to determine a number of sensitive issues, such as ancestral support for the King. In fact, members of the Ogboni society are guardians and protectors of the divine oracle and laws.
During the pre-colonial era, the Ogboni society was the highest court in Yorubaland, with the power to judge powerful individuals that did not face justice in the open judicial system. However, during the colonial era and after Nigeria’s independence, the Ogboni had no formal role to play in the society.
Since the common people no longer had any use for them as their protectors, they now protect any of the self-centered interests of their members by blackmail, intimidation, and murder. The Ogboni society, in most Yoruba parts of Nigeria, have no real power whatsoever.
The only Yoruba parts of Nigeria where they still have some real influence on the traditional administration of the cities are in the Egba, Egbado and Abeokuta parts of Nigeria. These would correspond roughly to pockets of areas in Ogun State and Lagos State. Also, in some rural villages and small towns along in the borders of Ogun State with Oyo, Osun and Ondo States where they are still able to intimidate pockets of people.
In old Oyo, all Ogbonis are under the authority of the political leader, referred to as the Alafin, who has the authority to convoke the priests into spiritual sessions. The structure of the Ogboni society is a secret that only an Ogboni member is answerable to.
Membership is open to Yorubas and other ethnicities, and men and women are eligible for initiation within the society, although the predominance of male elders is undeniable. If ones parent was a member of the Ogboni Society, and that person had been exposed to their activities (e.g. meetings held at his or her parents’ house while the child was present so that over the years the child grew up knowing the identities of the Ogboni; or, the parent deliberately pledged that his or her child would become a member) that child would be expected to join.
Ogboni society was re-created in Bahia, Brazil, during the early 19th Century when the Yorubas became a major cultural group in that region.