Rise of a Yoruba General

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It’s been 19 years since the last Aare Ona Kakanfo left this world. But it appears a new one is about to be ordained, writes Michael Enoette

In Yorubaland, the Aare Ona Kakanfo is the highest military title. In times past, the Kakanfo was the Field Marshall and Supreme Generalissimo of the dreaded military of the Oyo Empire. He symbolised the might of the Oyo Empire. Also, he must never be defeated in battle. He either won the war or he died fighting. And because of the enormous powers he wielded as the Supreme Commander of the Army, the Kakanfo never lived in the capital with the Alaafin.

In the modern era, the title has become largely ceremonial. The 13th and 14th holders of the Aare Ona Kakanfos– late Premier of the defunct Western Region, Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola and Chief MKO Abiola – were politicians. However, their penchant for courage and heroism remains.

Kakanfo Akintola was the first Aare of the modern era. On the night of January 15, 1966, a company of soldiers marched on his residence. He was then the Premier of the Western Region. Akintola, it is said, took up arms against Nigeria’s first coup plotters. Reports have it that he wiped out the entire contingent before reinforcements arrived. One man, officially a civilian, nearly overpowered a company of professional soldiers armed with offensive weapons. He fought till daylight, before he was mortally wounded. Eyewitness accounts have it that several hours later, with his body riddled with bullets, lying on the bare floor in the old Adeoyo Hospital in Ibadan, he was still breathing and remained so until he gave up the ghost at sunset. One of his predecessors, Kakanfo Afonja, also battled Fulani warriors in Ilorin in 1834. Even as the arrows rained on him, Afonja did not fall. He died on his feet, held up by the hundreds of arrows trained on him. That day, the Yoruba lost Ilorin to the Fulani hegemony. The Kakanfos were consummate tragic figures.

History informs that the Aare Ona Kakanfo title was created by Alaafin Ajagbo who reigned in Oyo-Ile, then headquarters of the Yoruba Nation, sometimes between the 16th and 17th centuries. Alaafin Ajagbo was the one that built a sophisticated military system that often ensured victory for his troops in their military expeditions. He created 70 command offices (Eshos) in the formation – 16 in the upper division and 54 in the lower division.

However, 19 years after the death of Abiola, a new Kakanfo is yet to be found. Recently, a familiar name has been making the rounds, that of the National Coordinator of the Oodua People’s Congress (OPC) and Founder/Convener of the Oodua Progressive Union (OPU), Otunba Gani Adams.

On Sunday, April 30, Adams hosted thousands of dignitaries on his birthday at Batten Hall, an events centre in Alausa, Ikeja, Lagos. At the event, Aare Ayandotun Oyelakin, who represented the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi (Iku Baba Yeye), had informed the guests that the revered monarch might be considering conferring the exalted title of Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland on the OPC leader and Chief Promoter, Olokun Festival Foundation.

The announcement generated a muffled debate at the venue, with some wondering whether Adams should accept such a title if he was offered by the eminent royal father.

And recently, at the Annual Festival of Wealth (Odun Aje) held by the Olokun Festival Foundation in Agege, Lagos, Bashorun of Oyo, Chief Ayoade Olawuyi, who represented the Alaafin, informed the guests that God had already perfected the conferment of the Aare Ona Kakanfo title on the OPU founder and culture promoter. The Bashorun of Oyo, the traditional prime minister of Oyo, Leader of the Oyomesi and next in command to the Alaafin, urged people at the event not to exercise doubts on the proposed conferment, noting that Adams had displayed an indescribable passion for fighting the cause of the Yoruba race over the past two decades.

While pouring encomiums on Adams, Olawuyi noted that God had been promoting the OPC leader as a result of his commitment to the progress of the Yoruba nation. He urged all members of the OPC to be focused and loyal to the organisation, asserting that anyone involved in treachery would never go far in life.

Zaki of Arigidi-Akoko in Ondo State, Oba Yisa Olanipekun is one monarch that is fully convinced that Otunba Gani Adams totally deserves the Kakanfo title. He said when he first heard from the grapevine that Adams was being considered for the position, he had no doubts that the OPC leader was totally worthy of the title.

“For what he has been doing for the Yoruba race, he totally deserves it. This is a man that has been fighting for the Yoruba race for over two decades now. He has suffered a lot of personal deprivations as a result of his struggles for our race. He has been arrested by the police and detained in police cells. He has been detained in prison cells, all because of his passion for the race. This is a man that has never committed any crime.

“Otunba Gani Adams has also been promoting the Yoruba culture all over the world. Show me any Yoruba man, living or dead, that has promoted the culture more than Gani Adams. Look at the number of festivals that the Olokun Festival Foundation promotes across Yorubaland, from state to state every year. Then he founded the Oodua Pogressive Union (OPU) for the Yoruba people in the Diaspora. Right now, OPU is in 78 countries of the world. And he has been doing all this with his own money, without government sponsorship. No other Yoruba man has done this. And it has been paying off. In some European countries now, there are schools where the Yoruba language is being taught. Through the activities of the OPU, our children in the Diaspora are being taught the values of Omoluwabi.
“Look at the issue of pipeline vandalism. When the contract for pipeline security was given to the OPC, there was no issue of vandalism. Gani Adams knows his onions. He’s passionately committed to the cause of the Yoruba race. We will be delighted if he’s installed as Kakanfo by Iku Baba Yeye.”

In the olden days, becoming the Kakanfo never came easy. Foremost Yoruba historian, Rev Samuel Johnson wrote that in the past, the Kakanfo, at his inauguration, must completely shave his head. “And 201 incisions are made on his occiput, with 201 different lancets and specially prepared ingredients from 201 viols are rubbed into the cuts, one for each. This is supposed to render him fearless and courageous. They are always shaved, but the hair on the inoculated part is allowed to grow long, and when plaited, forms a tuft or a sort of pigtail.

He writes further: “This ceremony, which renders the Kakanfo ‘fearless and courageous’ also makes him difficult, disruptive and prone to warfare.” He recalled that the 11th Kakanfo, Ojo Aburumaku of Ogbomoso, upon finding no war in the period during which he held the title, fomented a civil war at Ogbomosho which he also repressed with vigour.

On his part, His Royal Majesty, Oba Joseph Adebayo Adewole (Owa Ajero of Ijero Kingdom in Ekiti State), thanked the Alaafin for his choice of Otunba Gani Adams for the conferment of Aare Ona Kakanfo.

“I feel very happy that Baba Alaafin intends to confer the prestigious Aare Ona Kakanfo title on Otunba Gani Adams. I thank the Alaafin for his deep research. Of course, the Alaafin remains a repository of wisdom, experience and knowledge in Yoruba history, folklore, culture and tradition. He certainly knows who the cap fits.

“Otunba Gani Adams is most deserving of this great honour because as leader of the OPC, he has been a dogged fighter in defense of the Yoruba race and he has remained highly committed and consistent for many years now.

“Secondly, with his OPU, Gani Adams has been championing the unity of Yorubas worldwide preaching the message of the supremacy of Yoruba language and culture.

“Thirdly, he has been promoting and sponsoring many traditional festivals throughout the length and breadth of Yoruba land.
“And, it is remarkable that he has been doing all these with his own personal resources.

“He is young, energetic, highly intelligent, articulate, humble, level headed, and well connected to be able to use the position and office of the Aare Ona Kakanfo to enhance and promote the cause of the Yorubas worldwide.”