Enter new Yoruba Generalissimo


The leader of Oodua People’s Congress (OPC), Otunba Gani Adams, is to be installed as the 15th Aare Ona Kakanfo (generalissimo) of Yorubaland today by the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi. LEKE SALAUDEEN traces the genesis of the office, the rise and fall of the past Kakanfos and the antecedents of the new Aare.

The 19-year-old wait for Moshood Abiola’s successor as Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yoruba land ends today. The new Aare, Otunba Gani Adams, will be installed by the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi III, at Durbar ground in the historic city of Oyo. Adams is the national coordinator of Oodua People’s Congress (OPC).

Aare Ona Kakanfo was a title given to the generalissimo, the war general during the old Oyo Empire. His duty is to lead battles, fight wars, mobilise and train “soldiers” to crush enemies of Oyo Empire.

The title was introduced about 700 years ago during the reign of Alaafin Ajagbo to fortify the army of the old Oyo Empire which at one time could boast of over 100,000 horsemen. The Kakanfos have been more or less troublesome, due to the effect of the ingredients they were inoculated with. In battle fields, they carry no weapon but a weapon known as the ‘King’s Invincible staff.

Before taking office, Kakanfos of old were made to pass through rigorous spiritual exercise, including shaving the head, after which 201 incisions are made on the bald head with 201 different lacents. Specially prepared ingredients from 201 viols are rubbed into the cuts, one for each. The incisions are mainly to make the Kakanfo fearless and courageous, hence the stubborn and obstinate nature of Aare Onakakanfos.

In the days of the Oyo Empire, Oyo indigenes or residents were never made Kakanfos because the Aare was not to give way to anyone, not even the Alaafin, if the need ever arose. By the virtue of his office as the commander of the Alaafin’s army and that of the entire Yoruba nation, Kakanfos of old were required to go to war at least once in three years on the orders of the Alaafin, and the Kakanfo must return dead or alive within three months. In other words, he’s to return home a victor or be brought home as a corpse. Kakanfo’s regalia Kakanfo usually has certain ensigns: The Ojijiko, and a cap made of the read feathers of the parrots tail, with a projection behind reaching as far down as the waist, an apron of leopards skin, and leopard skin to sit on always, the Asiso or pigtail and the Staff invincible.

Past Kakanfos

The following is the list of the past 14 Aare Ona Kakanfo that had been: Kokoro Igangan from Iwoye-Ketu; Oyatope also from Iwoye; Oyabi (Ajase), Adeta (Jabata), Oku (Jabata), Afonja (Ilorin), Toyeje (Ogbomoso) Edun (Gbogan), Amepo (Abemo), Kurumi (Ijaye), Ojo Aburumaku (son of Toyeje of Ogbomoso), Latoosa (Ibadan), Ladoke Akintola (Ogbomoso) and Moshood Abiola (Abeokuta).

Whether by coincidence or design, most of them were connected with turmoil that shook Yorubaland. Afonja L’aiya L’oko (the brave warrior with the spear) of Ilorin; Kurumi of Ijaiye; Latoosa of Ibadan and Ladoke Akintola of Ogbomoso had their deaths connected to incidents of change of government. Toyeje who could have been said to have a good end suffered an ignominious treatment as Onikoyi, a provincial ruler created a parallel Aare Onakakanfo in person of Edun. As such, Toyeje had to cope with the existence of rival Kakanfo and it was only in his time that Yorubaland had two Kakanfos.

The similar fate that befell past Kakanfos obviously were more than just a coincidence. Moshood Abiola’s immediate predecessor, Ladoke Akintola, a former Premier of the Western Region, was shot dead on January 15, 1966 during a coup that marked the end of the First Republic. Armed soldiers had stormed his residence and like a true Kakanfo, Akintola did not give up without a fight. He opened fire and wounded some of the soldiers before he was eventually shot.

Otunba Gani Adams

Yorubaland will never forget Iyanda Asubiaro Latoosa of the Oke Aare fame in Ibadan. Latoosa died in the course of the 16-year Ekiti Parapo War that shook the whole of Yorubaland. Ekitis and Ijesas came together with their allies and in a desperate battle to attain independence from Ibadan, which held them under subjection for many decades. After spending years on the war front on the hills of Imesi Kiriji, Latoosa died of a broken heart in 1885. Of course by the end of the Ekiti Parapo War, the face of administration of Yorubaland changed, the Ibadan yoke was thrown off just as the British became the new masters.

Kurumi, the Aare who held sway in Ijaiye, paid dearly in the hands of the Ibadan army for insisting that Crown Prince Adelu should die with Alaafin Atiba, his father, according to the old order. His refusal to recognise Adelu as Alaafin led to his downfall as Ibadan army had aligned with the “constitution amendment”effected by Alaafin Atiba, which enabled crown princes to succeed their fathers. After a two- year war, Ijaiye was reduced by famine and the Aare eventually died a sad man having lost two of his sons in one of the battles. Till date, Ijaiye has not fully recovered from the 1870s war. Most of the inhabitants fled to Abeokuta where they took refuge in a part of the town known then as Ago-Ijaye. Many never returned as they adopted Abeokuta as home leaving Ijaye which was one of the main Yoruba towns then with the status far below the one it enjoyed in the days of old.

The case of Afonja of Ilorin was pathetic. At the zenith of his glory, he was the greatest and most powerful Yoruba ruler. His undoing was the invitation he extended to his Fulani priest to come and reside in Ilorin. It was only a matter of time before an insurrection was made against him; he eventually died by the hands of the Fulanis. With Afonja’s death came the transfer of power as Ilorin which was before then a Yoruba town went into the hands of the Fulanis. Like Ijaye, Ilorin changed; a town that was once ruled by an Aare came under the firm control of the Emir.

Those who believe the Aare Ona Kakanfo title is jinxed have traced the woes of subsequent Aares after Afonja to the curse placed on Afonja by Alaafin Aole. Aole had ordered Afonja to embark on a suicide mission by attacking Iwere-Ile, a town naturally fortified. The refusal of the Aare to carry out the orders of his sovereign led to distrust. With the help of Fulanis, Afonja instigated an attack that sacked Oyo. Before the Alaafin went to sleep eternally, he pronounced some curses after which the Yoruba nation never remained the same.

The questionable deaths that former occupants of the position suffered could have informed the earnest prayer offered by a former Olubadan of Ibadanland, Oba Akinyele in his book, History of Ibadan, where he prayed that nobody from Ibadan land should be made Aare Ona Kakanfo.

Though the title might have become ceremonial after the end of civil wars in Yorubaland, the change has probably not been effected in the spiritual realm.


Transformation of Gani Adams

Adams started as pro-democracy activist and turned leader of Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC). He  was a part of the post-democracy movement in the 90s, as he served as the Public Relations Officer of Mushin Local Government chapter of the Campaign for Democracy (CD) in 1993. He is a foundation member of the OPC, a Yoruba nationalist organisation. He was the first deputy national coordinator and currently the national coordinator of the group. In 2000, under former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Adams was declared wanted by the police authorities for the alleged murder of  Mr Afolabi Amao, a divisional police officer at the  Bariga police station in Lagos. He was also accused of being behind the series of attacks carried out by members of the OPC in Lagos and other parts of the southwest. A year after he was declared wanted, Adams was arrested, paraded like a criminal and held in prisons. He was however released.

Likening his imprisonment to that of Nelson Mandela and Obafemi Awolowo, who were both political prisoners, Adams in 2015 said his offence was fighting for the interest of the Yoruba. Adams said his arrest and subsequent treatment by the police during the Obasanjo regime brought him to stardom. “I thank the former Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Mike Okiro, for declaring me wanted and subsequent arrest, because it turned out to be a blessing for me”, the OPC leader said.

Born on April, 30, 1970, at Arigidi-Akoko, the present Akoko north-west local government  area of Ondo State, Adams started his education at the Army Children School, Oturkpo, Benue State, before his father moved to Lagos, where he completed his primary education at Municipal Primary School, Surulere, in 1980.

He attended Ansar-Ud-Deen Secondary School, Randle Avenue, Surulere, and later went to train in furniture making and interior decoration, which he completed in 1987. Upon completion, he was employed by an Italian construction company , Visinoni Stabilini, Apapa, Lagos. He later resigned to start his own business.

Perhaps, to hush critics who tagged him an illiterate, Adams obtained diplomas at the International Aviation School, Ghana, and the Lagos State University (LASU).

Alaafin with Gani Adams

A chequered past

Since his selection was announced by the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, a great deal of criticism came the way of the monarch’s choice. The criticism stemmed from Adams’ murky past and role in the reportedly violent OPC operations in the southwest. The critics say he lacks the refinement and pedigree to man the title of Aare Ona Kakanfo.

Explaining the rationale behind his decision on selection of Adams, however, the Alaafin said he was selected for his contributions to the promotion of the Yoruba culture. According to the monarch, the new generalissimo of Yorubaland possesses “three virtues” important to the Yoruba. Manliness, courage and patriotic zeal (not political ambition or opportunism) were the three virtues respected in Yoruba land, he said.

Apparently reacting to criticism over his choice, Adams said he was a fighter, worthy of being Aare Ona Kakanfo. “I never lobbied to become the Aare. When people felt I should be the next one, I had to consult widely, both intellectually and spiritually. I am a fighter. We must understand that death is a product of God. I have been fighting for many years and will work to promote the Yoruba agenda.

“The myth that all the Aare Ona Kakanfo ended in tragedy is not true. We shouldn’t allow such a myth to cast a shadow on the good office of the Aare Ona Kakanfo. The title is not a death knell for anybody chosen as the Aare. I am going to be a bridge- builder and promote the unity of Yoruba land. I will reach out to the people who will help to move the Yoruba race.

“My new position will moderate my radicalism, but it will not make me to compromise my principles. Let me also mention that the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi was always referring to me as generalissimo; I never paid much attention to it”.


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