Aare Onakakanfo: A Reversal Of The Trend

BY: Jagunmolu Adedeji


Since the news of the appointment of Otunba Ganiyu Adam as the Aare Onakakanfo of Yorubaland designate broke out past weeks, it’s been a season of wagging tongues on the suitability of the appointee to the expectation of the majority of the people called the modern Yorubas of Nigeria. It is important to go a bit historical as to ascertain the locus of those asking questions and raising queries.

Until around 1896, there was an Oyo empire that consist mainly of the descendants of Oduduwa from Ile-ife, the famed source of all Yorubas. It was a powerful empire and a respected one in the history of African empires. Historically therefore the Oyo empire covers primarily the Oyo dialect speaking part of the modern Yoruba states, particularly the area carved out as the present day Oyo state and perhaps some part of the present Ogun state.


History is replete with the Kiriji war escapades of the Ekitis and Ijeshas resisting the domination attempt by the Oyos which never succeeded. We also still have the Egbas, the Ijebus, the Aworis, the Eguns, the Ondos, the Owos, the Akokos, the Isale Ekos, all of whom have today come under the umbrella of Yoruba nation after the de-activation of the old Oyo Empire. It was also never in history that Oyo Empire conquered or subjugated Ile-Ife being the source of the first Alaafin Oranmiyan himself. It is therefore left to the realms of claims and self-delusion to ascribe any appointive power into an office for the whole Modern Yoruba race to one person. Modern constitutional government does not create such a person anywhere talk less of such a power outside of democratically elected leaders.

The Aare Onakakanfo title according to history was the “Generalissimo”, head of the military garrisons of the Alaafin, an equivalent of the modern Chief of Defence Staff who was next in rank to the Bashorun, the Oyo Kingdom minister of Defence. As the ‘General of Generals’ and commander of the Oyo Garrisons, he wields enormous military powers and hence strategically does not live in the same city (Oyo) with the Alaafin. From the 1st to the 13th holder of the title, it is very doubtful whether the title was ever Aare Onakakanfo of Yorubaland as there was never a Yoruba empire but rather an Oyo empire where the Alaafin wielded his enormous power as the “iku baba yeye! Alase igbakeji orisa!” (the imperial monarch with the power of life and death only next to the gods in authority).


However, with the advent of colonization and introduction of modernized state and political administrative structure, the absolute power of the Monarchs became circumvented and circumscribed leaving the institution mainly with relics of history and creative ingenuity of the current monarchs to reinvent history and create an aura.  Meanwhile, the name ‘Yaribas’ which became adopted and later transformed to Yoruba was a stranger’s description of the people who inhabits the western axis of the south of River Niger. It is arguable that this etymology of the name Yoruba suggest its post-dating the Oyo Empire and the existence of the Aare Onakakanfo title.


The real Aare Onakakanfo of Yorubaland therefore was a modern creation and the real first holder of that title might have been the political czar, successful lawyer and world class words-smith and orator extraordinaire-the Late Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola who was the second Premier of the old Western Region. He died in the military coup of January 1966. The second real holder of the title came some some 22 years after the demise of the first Aare Onakakanfo of Yorubaland. This was in 1988 when the Late Billionaire extraordinaire & Business mongul-Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, a world acclaimed philanthropist and the pillar of sport in Africa, the Bashorun of Ibadan and Bada Musulumi of Gbagura, the titanic politician who won the presidency of Nigeria for the Yorubas for the very first time in 1993 but was never allowed to take the benefit of his electoral victory until he paid the supreme price in 1998. It was based on that mandate of his and the Yorubas trenchious protestation of the annulment of his victory at the June 12, 1993 poll that led to the compensatory presidency of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999. Such were the intellectual credentials and political sagacity of the two earlier holders of the Aare Onakakanfo of Yorubaland title. They were political heavyweights that will tilt the scale in any jurisdiction. They were outstanding successes in their chosen careers as well as in the politics of Nigeria. The Yorubas overwhelmingly accepted their nominations as befitting Ambassadors to the glory of the race and who can proudly represent them in the comity of races. These two former occupants of that office have defined the standard which made the whole Yorubas proudly subscribed to the hitherto Oyo kingdom title.

The Yorubas are not war mongers and we are not a race that will celebrate thuggery and hooliganism in the 21st century. We can only appeal to such elements to embrace modernity and live a peaceful and meaningful life.  We cannot allow our history and heritage as the people of the Southwest of Nigeria to be redefined by acclamation of egregious rascal as the epitome of our armoury in the contemporary intellectual fire power world. The Yorubas can never make the mistake of throwing and exchanging pebbles for AK-47 riffle bullets.  We would rather hone and deepen the strategies that has won for us the President and the Vice President of a multi-ethnic nation like Nigeria in quick succession for twelve out of twenty years going of our unbroken democratic experience. The chief strategists of these victories are the true “Generalissimos” of our race and anything outside of such consideration will likely lose the aura and the appeal of the title.


Ironically, I do not have anything personal against the person of Otunba Ganiyu Adams who have shown that he acquired that negative fame in error of ignoramus by going back to school to eke a course in the only learned profession- Law in preparation for a meaningful life. Kudos must be given to him for this strait-gait but he should have been allowed to complete the purification process and metamorphose into the set standard if it is actually his destiny to be so crowned without doing callous injury to the memory of those old occupant of the office of Aare Onakakanfo of Yorubaland. Will the Aare Onakakanfo of Yorubaland after investiture go and sit before lecturers at the Law school or that enviable journey already started stands terminated? Will the Aare Onakakanfo of the Yorubas go and seek election into state governorship, senate or the reps without bringing odium to the very prestigious title that can only be inferior to the president of the whole country as defined by the personalities of the former holders of the title? These thoughts really puzzled me as the title, as prestigious as it appears has no official financial entitlements to sustain the holder if he was not self-made.


Jagunmolu Adedeji, a journalist and public policy analyst contributed this piece from Oyo town.



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