It’s Otunba Gani Adams. it has been announced , to much furore . Some for  the decision, and some against. What some people have against him

Punch has reported Otunba Gani Adams as the new Aare Ona Kakanfo-

The Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, on Sunday declared the National Coordinator of the Oodua People’s Congress, Gani Adams, as the 15th Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland.


So  has  Daily Post

 “Yes. It is true. We just received the appointment letter this evening.”


What does the post of Aare Ona Kakanfo mean to Yorubas?


Hafsat Abiola’s father MKO Abiola was the previous Aare Ona Kakanfo. He died in prison fighting under the Abacha regime for his stolen mandate. She wrote an article about the post of Aare Ona Kakanfo. Its a very long read. Highlights in bold. 




The Contemporary Politics and its Impact on the Office of the Aare Ona Kakanfo
By Hafsat Abiola

The traditional Yoruba city of Oyo was agog on the 14th day of January 1988, the special occasion when Bashorun Moshood Abiola was given the title of Aare Ona Kakanfo’ by the Yoruba people of Southwestern Nigeria. Presenting the title, the Alaafin of Oyo, prefaced his remarks with a statement on the changes in Yoruba traditional institution. According to him, change is the only permanent thing in the lives of men, institutions and the world at large, and no institution in Nigeria has been more affected by change than the institution of the Alaafin, probably more than any traditional institution in Nigeria. But, the Alaafin is prepared to change with the times rather than be a victim of change. The institution of the aare ona kakanfo, the generalissimo of the Yoruba, has also had to change . To conclude the ceremony, the Bashorun Abiola received the statue of the kakanfo, originally commissioned by King Ajagbo, one of the earliest recorded Yoruba kings. This essay explores the function of the jakanfi in post-colonial Yoruba society by comparing the kakanfo regalia on the statue with the attire worn by the new kakanfo during the inaugural ceremony, and by examining other differences between the traditional ceremony as recorded by Reverend Samuel Johnson (the preeminent historian on the Yoruba), and the fourteenth Kakanfo ceremony. It argues that first, although certain significant elements of the kakanfo office have changed, the core idea of ‘guardianship of the kingdom’ that was its essential function remains; second, the survival of the core function of the kakanfo office is a result of an articulated desire among the Yoruba to progress as a cultural unit, which interestingly, maybe a source of much of the instability recorded in its history.

Kakanfo: “The Generalissimo of the Yoruba”

The Kakanfo is a member of the Esos, the guardians of the kingdom, which are a rank below the Oyo Mesi, Yoruba Royalty. Hence, the Esos constitute the noblemen of the second class and are also referred to as ‘iba,’ a military title based solely on merit. Indeed, the esos are organized like a military cadre – there are 70 captains of the guard, ten of whom are under the each one of seven councilors. The Kakanfo has a special place within this noble unit.

Johnson explains: “first and foremost among them and apart by himself stands the kakanfo, an eso of the esos”. The Kakanfo title is akin to a field-marshal, and as Johnson also tells us, “is conferred upon the greatest soldier or tactician of the day”

Traditionally, much ceremony accompanies his inauguration:
…at the time of his taking office, he is first to shave his head completely, 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 according to Johnson’s account.

Johnson records that , this ceremony which renders the Kakanfo “fearless and courageous” also makes him difficult, disruptive and prone to warfare. Consequently, during their tenure as Kakanfo, these warriors led Yoruba campaigns into other regions. Ostensibly, this explains the behavior of the eleventh Kakanfo, Ojo Aburumaku of Ogbomoso, who, upon finding no war in the period during which he held the title, “fomented a civil war at Ogbomosho which he also repressed with vigor” (Johnson, 1926:75). Thus, Johnson surmises that the Aare Ona Kakanfo produce “stirring times and upheavals in the country”.

An opposing interpretation to that proposed by Johnson is suggested in aspects of the traditional inauguration ceremony, specifically, the kakanfo poems. These poems, called ewi, are recanted during the kakanfo ceremony and convey the history and demands of the position. Exerts from Reverend Johnson’s The History of the Yorubas are recorded below:

Ohun meji l’o ye Eso
Eso ja 0 le ogun
Eso ja 0 ku si ogun

One of two things befits an Eso
the Eso must fight and conquer (or)
the Eso must fight and perish (in war).

Eso ki igba Ofa Ehin
Afi bi o ba gbogbe niwaju gangan

An Eso must never be shot in the back
his wounds must always be in front.

Alakoro ki isa ogun

One who wears a coronet must never flee a battle.

Johnson does not draw on the implications for upheaval contained in the rules that guide the Kakanfo office. However, by stipulating a set of rules that caused the Kakanfo to engage in wars, Yoruba society instituted the upheaval associated with the position.

The Statue of the Are Ona Kakanfo
Like many Yoruba statues, which present leaders in sedate poses, the kakanfo statue is simply a stationary standing figure. The statue was commissioned by King Ajagbo, who also established the office of the Kakanfo. The period of the King’s reign is obscure and all that is said about him by Reverent Johnson in The History of the Yorubas was that he was “one of the earliest and most renowned of Yoruba kings”.

Although the original statue is in Nigeria, several others, based on the original are produced for sale. These reproductions are of different kinds; for women, for example, the original object is made into a brooch that can be worn as a clothing accessory. The statue/brooch is about two inches high and 2/3 inch wide. The following description of the statue is based on one such brooch, obtained during the last Kakanfo ceremony. It differs from the original in size – it is much smaller – and also the back of the statue is absent in the reproduction because of the brooch. Nevertheless, the reproduction does give a frontal representation of the Kakanfo statue.

The kakanfo figure is depicted wearing the traditional headgear of the Eso group, an Akoro (or coronet). He carries in his hand no weapon, but a baton, or a staff of war, known as The Staff Invincible. This also functions as the main ensign of office. His clothing is the traditional Yoruba agbada, which is a flowing gown with wide long sleeves. The agbada falls to the knees of the figure and are decorated with pouches, which, considering the period, probably contain medicinal herbs.

Although its details cannot be gauged from the statue, historians claim that the coronet is made of red feathers of the parrot’s tail, with a projection behind reaching as far down as the waist (Johnson, 1921: 75). This cap is called the ojijiko; also according to Johnson, the fabric of his agbada is leopard’s skin. All these features convey the prestige and power of the position.

The Fourteenth Kakanfo ceremony
The ceremony for the fourteenth Aare Ona Kakanfo was held in the heart of Yorubaland, Oyo, in January 1988. The ceremony, which was captured in a series of videotapes, was divided into four parts: the poetry recitation, the conferment of the title, and the social event with musicians singing and people dancing, and lastly, the new Kakanfo going through the crowd. The ceremony was very different from the traditional ones recorded by Johnson in several respects.

The videos of the fourteenth ceremony do not show the physical preparation of the candidate, Moshood Abiola. Indeed, it is doubtful that the recipient who is also a businessman allowed either 201 incisions to be made onto his “occiput” or his head to be shaved everywhere but “the inoculated part.” He is seen wearing a Yoruba fila, not an ojijiko. He does not carry a staff invincible nor does he wear a leopard skin apron. A possible concession to the traditional regalia is the geometric patterns of his garment, especially his fila (cap) which shows bold geometric shapes that might be a leopard motif.

The parts of the ceremony that remain from the past is the ewi, the poetry recitation. The poem itself is very important because it provides the chronology and history of the Kakanfos and explains the rules that guide the office. The delivery is also very popular: ewi is a lyrical form of poetry which demands a lot of training. After the arrival of the dignitaries, a renowned Yoruba poet, Olanrewaju Adepoju, moves to the stage and performs his version of the Kakanfo poem. The content of the lyrical poem is expected to deviate from the traditional one to allow the artist some freedom. However, some parts, such as the rules of the office are expected to be central to the poem. Adepoju’s poem contains references to the title in the beginning with the poet noting that “it [the Kakanfo] is one of the greatest titles among the Yorubas” (video part B). But after that, he proceeds to list the recipient’s accomplishments which are in the field of business, not warfare. The poet emphasizes the recipient’s nationwide and international networks. Revealingly, there is no mention of the rules for conducting battle or any of the traditional rules quoted in Johnson’s work.

The ceremony’s popularity appears to have survived the passage of time. Although there is no way to count the number of people, a rough estimate would put them at about five thousand. As in the past, most are Yoruba, but there are new groups represented as well. The poet acknowledges the presence of national military officers. The Alaafin, also welcomes the Obis (royalty of the Igbo people of eastern Nigeria) and the Emirs (royalty among the Hausa-Fulani of northern Nigeria).

During the conferment ceremony, the Alaafin explains the source of change in the Kakanfo institution. He says: “the institution of the aare ona kakanfo, the generalissimo of the Yoruba, has also had to change since the treaty of 1893 signed by my grandfather, King of Yoruba country, which put an end to intertribal and internecine wars”. Peace treaties nullified the need for a kakanfo that would lead the Yoruba in wars. This explains the lack of references to the traditional rules of the Kakanfo institution in the poem, the absence of a Staff Invincible and leopard fabric in the Kakanfo’s regalia. However, the Alaafin explains, men are still conferred the title to help advance the progress of the kingdom, even in times of peace.

Then, before conferring the title, the Alaafin asked the general audience: “Do you accept Abiola for Kakanfo or not?” The people responded: “We accept him.” This is done a couple times and then the Alaafin announces Chief Abiola’s appointment as Aare Ona Kakanfo of the Yoruba. Kakanfo Abiola then makes his acceptance speech and in the midst of the merrymaking that followed the ceremony, he is conducted through the crowd in an open jeep. At the end of the ceremony, people are gathered around the vehicle and chant: “Abiola, we will not fall from behind you”. The enthusiasm shown by the people suggests that the Kakanfo remains a popularly accepted and respected office.

Changes in Political terrain
Although the Alaafin says the source of change in the Aare Ona Kakanfo was situated in the treaty of 1893, it would seem that, it is the shift of political power from Yoruba nation to Britain, and then the government of the independent nation-state, Nigeria, that inform the present demands on the office. During colonial rule, Yoruba kingdom came under the control of Britain. It was administered within a territory with several other ethnic nations, some with which the Yoruba had had a hostile history. The colonial administration during this period and the national government at Independence in 1960 ensured that traditional institutions became less powerful than they had been before the introduction of the nation-state system. Specifically, traditional figures of authority in Nigeria were organized into subordination to the national government. The government’s restriction of the autonomy and strength of traditional systems can be seen in its policy toward the land tenure system. Under General Obasanjo (1976-1979), the military administration enacted the Land Use Decree which “vested landholding and distribution in the hands of the military governors”. Hitherto, land in most Nigerian communities has serious religious significance and is either communally owned or entrusted to the traditional rulers for safekeeping and fair distribution. As Toyin Falola observes, this decree not only rendered the institution of traditional rulership irrelevant but has alienated many communities and their rulers from the government.

Successive military governors have since held on to this Act. Such an act removes the core function of the monarchy and, thereby, the base of a culture group’s integrity, thus usurping the authority of traditional regimes. Direct instruments of state power were also used to ensure the support of traditional representatives of the people:

Under the military dispensations, any aspirant to a vacant stool or throne requires the final blessing of the State Military Governor before he or she can resume office. This arrangement, which is open to manipulation, has been employed quite often by military rulers to foist unpopular (but oftentimes, influential) candidates over the people mainly for political and selfish reasons.

In fact, things have reached a ridiculous extent that military governors are known to have unilaterally declared some lesser Chiefs or Obas as first class Chiefs by granting them the rights to wear crowns.

An example of the state serving as kingmaker was in the succession of the Sultancy of Sokoto in the former Fulani Empire in November 1988. After the death of the Sultan of Sokoto, Sir Saddiq Abubakar III, the people prepared to inaugurate the heir to the throne, Alhaji Muhammadu Maccido, his son. However, the State Military Governor approved Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki. The popular uprising that followed the military’s high-handed action had to be put down by military forces. The government then went ahead and enthroned Dasuki.

After General Babangida (the Head of State between 1985 until 1993) was forced to abdicate power, General Abacha, his successor, reinstalled the legitimate king in a bid to win the support of the people of Sokoto, who felt their tradition had been insulted. His action only served to reinforce the loss of power by the people relative to the Federal government.

Resistance to the increasing power of the national government was difficult to organize or sustain because of the unequal distribution of resources in the country. The national government received economic resources and distributed it to the traditional leaders. Independently, they were not permitted to collect taxes. The military set up “the state council of Obas, Obis, and Emirs, which became an institution for distributing funds and monitoring the traditional authorities.

These policies shifted the power dynamic between the two sets of institutions, which, some scholars argues, was precisely the point. According to Toyin Falola, the different initiatives were “to ensure that traditional rulers would service the interests of the military administration at the grassroots level.” For example, the government encouraged traditional rulers to intercede with them on behalf of politically estranged opponents. This served to legitimate military authority.

Against this general framework of disempowerment of traditional systems are differing degrees of autonomy and power within the ethnic nations. For 26 of Nigeria’s 36 years of Independence, it has been ruled by the military which is made up of majority northern Nigerians and controlled by the Hausa-Fulani ethnic group. This has widespread repercussions on the different ethnic groups, with the Hausa-Fulani traditional systems enjoying, arguably, a better relationship with the national government than other ethnic groups. It is perhaps to this relativity that the Alaafin refers when he said during the conferment ceremony: “no institution in Nigeria has been more affected by change than the institution of the Alaafin, probably more than any traditional institution in Nigeria” .

The need to maintain cordial relations with the military probably explains the presence of military officers at the ceremony. It may be a stretch of the evidence to suggest that the Yoruba sought to enhance their relationship with the federal political system through the Kakanfo. However, given the credentials of the Yorubas’ choice, Chief Abiola (a successful businessman with political connections and aspirations), the interpretation may not be without some basis. Certainly, such an interpretation is supported by the connection between proximity to the federal state and increased influence over policies, which impact the opportunities available to an ethnic group. The Alaafin suggests, as much when he notes the office of the Aare Ona Kakanfo is to lead the Yoruba to better relations with other cultures and institutions in the nation-state, and other communities.

Abiola as Kakanfo
According to the Alaafin, when the King in 1898 signed peace treaties with different kingdoms, the political landscape in the Yoruba nation was radically different and warfare was no longer the means of augmenting the power or control of the Yoruba kingdom. Hence, by the time of the eleventh Kakanfo, the emphasis on the role of the kakanfo shifted from warrior to tactician. The fourteenth Kakanfo would, therefore, be expected to augment the power of Yoruba within Nigeria. After the Kakanfo ceremony, Aare Abiola was officially the head of the Esos, guardian of the Yoruba. Considering the politics of the post-colonial state, his function – to augment the Yoruba power within the nation-state – was a difficult one. Besides the lack of military prowess of the new Kakanfo, other considerations suggested that a military tactic would not have been successful.

First, the Yoruba were a distinct minority in an army controlled by a foreign ethnic nation – the Hausa-Fulani. Also, two thirds of strategic military bases and commanders were in Hausa-Fulani territory, ensuring the military superiority of the Hausa-Fulani people compared with other ethnic groups (speech by Chief Anthony Enahoro, Nigerian journalist). Then there was the historical lesson of the 1966 Civil war when the Igbos, the ethnic nation in eastern Nigeria, had attempted to create a politically independent nation. During the ensuing war between its army and the Nigerian army, approximately two million Igbos were killed. Despite significant human losses, their secession bid failed.

I don’t know where that naughty dug out the old pic of Otunba Gani Adams from….

However, another possibility presented by the military in 1988 was a democratic transition program. Taking power from the Hausa-Fulani ethnic group, it seemed, could be done simply by winning an election. The Kakanfo was well suited for such an initiative: with 250 ethnic titles, he was one of the famous figure in the country. However, the military Head of State, General Babangida had banned him from contesting in the elections.

Maneuvering through the myriad of military decrees and plots required a great tactician. Using a combination of legal processes and personal contacts, Aare Abiola gained the opportunity to run in the 1993 elections. Setting aside the Yoruba votes, Aare Abiola won the election, receiving more votes than the opposition candidate in all parts of the country. Within southwest Nigeria, in Yoruba territory, he won over 90 percent of the votes, becoming the first Yoruba to be elected president in Nigeria. The election was a historic achievement by the Yoruba but their support for the candidate had been suggested during the Kakanfo ceremony eight years earlier. As Aare Abiola was being conducted through the crowd of Yoruba people after receiving the title, they had chanted: “Aare Abiola, we will not fall from behind you” .

Fear of losing power to the Yoruba caused the military officers to annul the election results. The ensuing protests were quelled violently, many Yoruba leaders including Aare (or now President-elect) Abiola, were incarcerated, protesters were shot and killed and other activists were forced into exile. The political instability which started in 1993 continues after three years with vigilante groups, mainly in the Southwest, bombing ‘military trucks and armories. Once again demonstrating how the Aare Ona Kakanfo is linked to “stirring times and upheavals in the country.”


According to Reverend Johnson, the “201 incisions [which] are made on… [the Kakanfo’s] occiput, with 201 different lancets and specially prepared ingredients from 201 viols [which] are rubbed into the cuts,” during the traditional Kakanfo ceremony explains the troublesome nature of the Kakanfo. However, by the inauguration of the fourteenth Kakanfo, the ritual had changed in significant ways, and much that had rendered the Kakanfo troublesome had been removed. The continued chaos located around the Aare Ona kakanfo despite this, suggest the need for new explanations.

The conferment of the title ‘kakanfo’, which literally translated is ‘guardian of the Yoruba’ demonstrates the desire of the Yoruba to continue to grow and develop as a people. This desire is probably as old as the Yoruba ethnic group. In pre-colonial Yoruba kingdom, it was expressed when the Alaafin chose a renowned warrior which ensured a high level of military expeditions into other territories. The result was to increase the political territory of the Yoruba or to reinforce the control of the Oyo capital over the peripheral communities. The brief investigation of the fourteenth Kakanfo done in this essay suggests that by choosing a candidate with political connections and aspirations, the Yoruba were expressing the now age-old desire to better their realm.

Although the Alaafin was speaking about his own particular institution during the conferment ceremony when he said: “…the Alaafin is prepared to change with the times rather than be a victim of change,” he may well have been speaking for all his people. This- laudable commitment to the progress of their culture also causes conflict within the Yoruba ethnic group and between it and other groups. This is because ‘progress’, measured in terms of increasing the power and prestige of the Yoruba, is relative with increased power among the Yoruba being seen as reducing the power of some or all the groups.

Consequently, the Yorubas push to innovate and progress is conflict ridden because of the response it engenders from other groups. There is clearly some truth in Johnson’s interpretation that the people made Kakanfo produce upheaval in their society. However, the ambitious, driven characteristics of the Kakanfo is precisely what the Yorubas want for the “guardian of the kingdom”. Hence, it can hardly be claimed that the Kakanfo foments upheaval on his own, but that he does on behalf of Yorubas, to expand the power of the people – through territorial expansion or by increasing their control over politics. So long as the Yoruba people want to be viable, revealed by their support for the office of the kakanfo, its troublesome nature will remain. However, whether this troublesome (or progressive) nature of the Kakanfo results in upheaval will depend; if politics continues to be viewed as a zero-sum game wherein one person must lose for another to gain, then it will, whatever the changes made to the traditional Kakanfo institution.


Secondary Sources
Akintoye, S.A. Revolution and Power Politics in Yorubaland 1840-1893: Ibadan
Expansion and the Rise of Ekitiparapo (Great Britain: Humanities Press, 1971).

Ajayi, Ade and Robert Smith. Yoruba Warfare In the Nineteenth Century (Ibadan: Ibadan University Press, 1971).

Atanda, J.A. The New Oyo Empire: Indirect Rule and Change in Western Nigeria, 1894-
1934 (Great Britain: Humanities Press, 1973).

Falola, Toyin, A.Ajayi, A. Alao, and B. Babawale. The Military Factor in Nigeria, 1966-1985 (Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 1994).

Johnson, Samuel. The History of the Yorubas: From the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the British Protectorate (Great Britain: Lowe R Brydone Printers, 1921).

“The Installation of Chief M.K.O. Abiola Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland,” Arisekola Kasain (producer)
“The Installation of Chief M.K.O. Abiola Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland” (Part B)
“Untitled 2A”, Untitled 2B”

Delivered by Chief Anthony Enahoro in Boston to the Nigerian Democratic Movement, October 1996.





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