THE Aare Ona Kakanfo title is a very sensitive position in Yorubaland. It was a title given to the generalissimo, the war general during the old Oyo Empire. At the time, an Aare Ona Kakanfo would lead battles, fight wars, mobilise, train soldiers and conquer the enemies. The introduction of the title was informed by the need to fortify the ancient, pre-colonial army of the old Oyo Empire, which at one time could boast of over 100,000 horsemen.
In recent times, however, the title has become more or less ceremonial, because there is no war to fight. Nevertheless, the Aare Ona Kakanfo is expected, in a sense, to ‘fight’ for the development and growth of the Yorubaland. He must be at the vanguard of the advocacy of Yoruba interests within the larger Nigerian framework.
The Aare is also to foster unity among the Yorubas and become a rallying point for the promotion of Yoruba culture and tradition. In this regard, he must work assiduously with other eminent personalities in the Southwest to actualise a common front on the issues that can advance both the Yoruba and national interests.
Yoruba culture enthusiasts expect Kakanfo Adams to first work towards the unity of the descendants of Oduduwa. There is a school of thought that believes that things have not been the same for the Yoruba since one of their ancient obas, Alaafin Aole, cursed the race. Aole was believed to be a highly temperamental ruler. He was offended by the sixth Aare Ona Kakanfo, Afonja, who refused to wage war against Iwere-Ile, in the present day Oke-Ogun area of Oyo State. As history has it, the first Aare Ona Kakanfo was from Iwere-Ile, so there was a kind of understanding within their ranks that no Aare Ona Kakanfo should go to war against the town. Alaafin Aole saw this as an affront against his office, because in the ancient Oyo Empire, the Alaafin was so powerful that everyone deferred to him.
Scholars and students of Yoruba history say the refusal of Aole to recognise and accept Afonja, as the new generalissimo of Yoruba Army, made him (Afonja) to send an empty calabash to Aole, which symbolised a rejection of Aole and demanded his head in the empty calabash. That was a sign of rejection in the Yoruba nation in those days. This school of thought believes that the curse is still affecting the Yoruba race till date.
One of such culture enthusiasts, Mr. Ajani Fadare, said Aole also cursed Afonja and his descendants. Afonja is the founder of Ilorin, but today the throne of the ancient kingdom is occupied by the Fulanis. Aole had declared that Afonja and his descendants would never get to the throne and that they remain second-class citizens in their kingdom.
Fadare said: “That’s exactly what is happening today; as we speak, they have not been recognised as the custodians of the throne. So, as Aare Ona Kakanfo, Otunba Adams is expected to do something to appease the spirits of our great grandfathers and find a way to neutralise the curse.
“In terms of political unity, Aare Adams is also expected to bring the Yoruba together, to have a common political agenda, which all politicians from the region should adhere to, irrespective of their political affiliation. The agenda should be such that it would bring peace, harmony and also promote the welfare of all Yorubas and the visitors in their midst.
“The third one is to bring all Yoruba towns and villages in the present day Kwara and Kogi States that are being marginalized back into the Yoruba fold in a way. Most of these towns are today clamouring to have a sense of belonging within the Yoruba fold. This is because they are perceived as minorities in the two states Some of the communities affected in Kwara include Shao and Jebba. In Kogi, the Yoruba-speaking areas are known as Okunland, which includes all the towns in the defunct Kabba Province. Take the case of the communities in Kwara, for instance, their obas are not classified as high-ranking chiefs, because of the Fulani hegemony in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital.
“Aare Adams is also expected to do something to ward off the present onslaught of Fulani herdsmen, who are moving southwards with their cattle in search of greener pastures. They have been wrecking havoc; destroying farmlands and clashing with farmers in the process. The new Aare should rally round other leaders in the Southwest, to take a common stand on the matter that would be adhered to throughout the region.”
The traditional ruler of Ejigbo, Oba Olayiwola Oyesosin, said the Aare title is a title for powerful people and “because I know you are capable of holding the office because of your antecedents, I charge you to use the office to foster unity among the Yorubas”.
His Ede counterpart, Alhaji Munirudeen Adesola Lawal, said: “The Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland title is not a small title, especially to those who know”. The monarch, otherwise known as the Timi of Ede, said: “Nobody can shove Gani Adams aside if we talk about fighting for the good of Yorubaland”, hence his submission that with God on his side, he will succeed.
In the same vein, the Oluwo of Iwo, Oba Rasheed Adewale Akanbi, said there is no war to fight like the Aare Ona Kakanfo of old did. Rather, he wants the Aare to put into use the braveness and ideas which he is noted for to solve the problem of the Yoruba race.
He said: “The Aare is meant to defend the territory and the crowns of Yoruba kings. Your first job is to defend the crown. When you do that, the entire Yorubaland is defended. You have been picked to restore the dignity of the Yoruba race.
“You are no more Gani Adams of Oodua People’s Congress (OPC) alone; you are now Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland. It’s different. You must repackage the kingship stool. You should be the solution to Yoruba problems.”
The Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, sees the role of the Aare beyond the Yorubaland. He said the Aare has the onerous responsibility to work for the unity of Nigeria. Saraki, who made the call when Adams visited him in Abuja, said: “You have a great role and responsibility ahead and I pray that the Almighty Allah will give you the strength and wisdom, so that in your time too, you can achieve a lot of feat; not just for the youth, but also for the unity of Nigeria, because at this particular time, there is nothing more important to us than the unity of this great country.”
Saraki said the conferment of the title on Adams is a reflection that the time has come for the younger, vibrant and energetic generation of Nigerians to take responsibility. He added: “The demographics of the country show that over 70 per cent of our population is under the age of 30. At such, it is only good to see that those in these positions of authority should be the people that can connect with the youths.”
The Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, alluded to the reason why he picked Otunba Adams as the 15th Aare Ona Kakanfo, when he said the title is reserved for men of courage and patriotic zeal. The monarch said Gani Adams is very courageous and that he has the interest of the Yoruba at heart.
In a letter titled: ‘The making of new Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland’, the Alaafin said: “Since the demise of Aare Moshood Olawale Kasimawo Abiola there have been numerous appeals, requests, applications, delegations, and agitations from various parts of the Yoruba nation for the filling of the vacant position.
“The position of Aare Ona Kakanfo in Yoruba history makes it mandatory for us to hasten slowly, and that is what we have done. Manliness, courage, and patriotic zeal (not political ambition or opportunism), were three virtues respected in Yorubaland, even during the Yoruba warfare in the 19th century.”
Historian and Second Republic politician, Prof. Banji Akintoye, sheds more light on the above position. He said to be the Aare Ona Kakanfo, one must be a great warrior and very courageous, adding that the creation of the title stopped the invasion of Yorubaland by external aggressors.
He said: “The Aare Ona Kakanfo was so powerful and invincible that he would fight several wars at the same time. He never lost any battle. Due to his power, the Alaafin would not allow him to live in the same town with him. The Aare Ona Kakanfo normally lives in a commercial city.”
Akintoye said the choice of Otunba Adams for the title is a good one. The historian added: “He was nobody, but he developed himself and became what he is today. We have a lot of people who developed themselves. I was a lecturer for many years in the university and I had students who rose from nothing to become great scholars. I appreciate people like that. Adams belongs to that category. He started from nothing and without anybody, but today he is a university degree holder. Those who say all sorts of things against the OPC are not fair to the group. Have they forgotten what the OPC did for us in Yorubaland?”
From all indications, the enthusiasm and commitment of Otunba Gani Adams to the promotion of the Yoruba culture must be, no doubt, one of the factors that earned him the title. He is a believer of Yoruba culture and tradition. For instance, Adams is the sole sponsor of Olokun Festival Foundation, the only non-governmental organisation (NGO) that is dedicated to promoting and preserving Yoruba culture and tradition.
The NGO is supporting Yoruba festivals such as Eledumere Festival, Ijora Lagos; Ajagunmale Festival Lekki, Lagos; Osun Oshogbo Festival; Olokun Festival, Badagy; Oya Festival, Kwara State; Oke Ibadan Festival, Oyo State; Oodua Festival Ile-Ife; Olumo Festival, Abeokuta; Obatala Festival, Oyo State; Oranmiyan Festival, Oyo State; Okota Festival, Ondo State; Oro Festival, Iseyin, Oyo State; Ogun Festival, Ikorodu, Lagos; and Elegbara Festival, Shasa, Lagos State.
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Author: Raymond MORDI, Deputy Political Editor