The significance of Aare Ona Kakanfo in modern day Yoruba Land
Rich in history, culture, custom and tradition, the Yoruba land (Western Nigeria), boasts of rulers and powerful chiefs who reshaped the mandate of the Yoruba race. The Aare Ona Kakanfo is a major significant title in the land. Taiwo Aakintunde writes.
The post of the Aare Ona Kakanfo was ordered by Alaafin Ajagbo in the seventeenth century. The Aare controlled the armies of the provincial towns of Yoruba land.
To avoid conflicts between the Aare and the provincial rulers who were themselves war commanders (for example, the Onikoyi and the Okare), the provincial rulers were often exempted from the campaigns led by the Aare. The Aare himself was a provincial ruler.
At his initiation, the Aare received all sorts of charms from the leading herbalist (Babalawo), besides the several incisions on the back of his head. “Like the Ilaris,” writes Johnson: “At the time of 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.”
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 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.
And by 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 is to return home a victor or be brought home as a corpse.
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 Ijaye, Latoosa of Ibadan and Ladoke Akintola had their deaths connected to incidents involving change of government.
Toyeje who could have been said to have had a good end suffered an ignominious treatment as Onikoyi, a provincial ruler created a parallel Aare Ona Kakanfo in person of Edun. As such, Toyeje had to cope with the existence of a rival Kakanfo and it was only in his time that Yorubaland had two Kakanfos.
The similar fates that befell past Kakanfos were obviously more than just coincidence. MKO Abiola’s immediate predecessor, Samuel Ladoke Akintola, the 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.
Yorubaland will never forget Iyanda Asubiaro Latoosa of the Oke Aare fame in Ibadan, Latoosa, Akintola’s predecessor died in the course of the 16-year Ekitiparapo 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 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 Ekitiparapo 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 Ijaye 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 the Ibadan army had aligned with the “constitutional amendment” effected by Alaafin Atiba which enabled crown princes to succeed their fathers. After a two-year war, Ijaye 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, Ijaye 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, however he pronounced some curses after which the Yoruba country never remained the same.
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.
Relevance of the Aare in Civilisation, development of the Western region
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.
Nineteen years after the death of the 14th Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland, Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale (MKO) Abiola, the National Coordinator of the Odua Peoples Congress (OPC), Otunba Gani Adams, emerged as the 15th holder of the revered title.
The Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi III, approved this in a letter sent to Adams.
With this, Adams has become the foremost War General of Yorubaland.
Adams, an indigene of Arigidi-Akoko in Ondo State, is also the Convener of Oodua Progressive Union (OPU), Founder of Gani Adams Foundation, Chief Promoter of Olokun Festival Foundation and the Chairman/CEO of Donyx Global Concept.
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.
Below is the list of former holders of the title:
- Kokoro Gangan of Iwoye
- Oyapote of Iwoye
- Oyabi of Ajase
- Adeta of Jabata
- Oku of Jabata
- Afonja of Ilorin
- Toyeje of Ogbomosho
- Edun of Gbogun
- Amepo of Abemo
- Kurumi of Ijaye
- Ojo Aburumaku of Ogbomosho (son of Toyeje of Ogbomosho)
- Latoosa of Ibadan
- Lakode Akintola of Ogbomosho (Premier of the Western region in the First Republic)
- MKO Abiola of Abeokuta (the only man in history to simultaneously hold the titles of Basorun of Ibadan and Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland).