By Lasisi Olagunju
You do not become the Aare and lament that there is no war to fight. If the enemy refuses to charge at you, go out and take the war to his doorstep. Or you provoke a rebellion at home and crush it without mercy. That is the raw meaning of Kakanfo — patriotic (sometimes), rebellious (when threatened), courageous, heady, merciless, merciful, tough, warlike, bloody and unyielding (in war).
Kakanfo is Eni Ogun — the one custom-built to fight wars. And that fits Gani Adams who became the Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland two days ago. Slowly and steadily, he paid his dues. From roadside carpentry to soldiering, to field commander, and now supreme commander! It is a testament to the power of fate over man. Destiny is ayanmo; ayanmo is what fatalists say succumbs to no musket of man. And that was what was celebrated in Oyo Alaafin on Saturday. Adams was already an Aare before the installation. He rode on the back of destiny and determination laced with raw courage, humility and patriotism to the top of gallantry.
Before Kakanfo, what we had was Onikoyi — the intrepid head of the eso (royal guards) who never accepted death from the back. He was that lion who beheld war of friends and foes and rejoiced. Then came Kakanfo. He is called eni ogun (man of war). If you like, call him eni oogun (man of magic/medicine). If you like, still, call him eni oogun (man of perspiration). He fights life as war. He breathes the breath of his magical ancestors and sweats through the battles of daily existence.
I wish the new Aare well. But can he look back at the lives lived by his predecessors, the alaseku — the ones who did it and passed the staff down the line? Yoruba history has many tongues. One says the road was prepared by Seereki Apala — the restless first son of the grand old Onikoyi Oladogan who fought without boundary and got the praise of the Alaafin. Was he the first Aare? No. History does not say so but he was the first sign that the king needed a Field Marshal. Kokoro Gangan — the one famously called the Scorpion of Ode Iwoye — was the first Leopard installed in Oyo. There was also Oyatope. After him, there was Oya’bi who put an end to the wickedness of Bashorun Gaa. Oya’bi got rid of Bashorun Gaa but soon died (in peace) on his way to receive his king’s honour. Then the blood-thirsty one took over. He was Adeta, “the well dressed Ogun who makes them spill blood profusely.” There was Oku of Jabata. After him came Afonja who demanded the title and was given and then fought his lord with the same zeal he fought his enemies. Afonja fought and vanquished the Alaafin but he soon fell at the feet of his foreign allies, forever a lesson in how not to recruit outsiders to betray one’s race.
Gani Adams is the 15th Aare. He has behind him a line of other men of war and ambition. From 1797 to 1825, there was Toyeje who fought conspiracies and faced treachery and betrayal and was not subdued by the ugly powers of tragedy. He was a man of war who died peacefully. The Kakanfo chieftaincy is steeped in mysteries, miseries and unpredictability. Was that why Toyeje’s successor, Edun, was shifty in loyalty to the Alaafin and the Yoruba and spiteful of the grand old Onikoyi Adegun who gave him the title? Kakanfo Afonja used the Fulani against his land; he was not the only one who did. Edun did, too. At Kanla war which was to remedy the tragedy of Ilorin, Edun sold his people’s victory to the Fulani of Ilorin. History says this Kakanfo gave way to the enemy in the heat of battle. The Onikoyi, surrounded by the Fulani, “fought and fought bravely and fell like a hero…the Alaafin’s army was routed and the people fled away in confusion.” And Onikoyi was Alaafin’s prime warrior who relished war and its spoils. A warrior’s praise names are his banner: He is the one war corners in the forest, and becomes dweller of forest; He waits for death well stacked and packed; Onikoyi is the one who goes to war to capture the enemy and trudges home with swarms of slaves. He is the one who goes out to raid but returns to meet his homestead raided by thieves. On his way back from war, Onikoyi loses more than the pearls at home. He crosses the path of the grand thief and gets his head chopped off by the thief. His descendants boast that they know whose homesteads their father raided. They add that they know too whose father was the thief who raided their father’s home. And his children say they know who their father beheaded and they know who beheaded their father.
The tragedy of power is the multiplicity of misfortune that clothes it. Onikoyi was betrayed and the Fulani won and kept Ilorin forever. And how did Kakanfo Edun of Gbogun end his reign? He fell too, like Afonja, at the hands of his Fulani allies. His Ilorin friends in the next Gbogun war pursued and caught him at Gbodo. “His head was taken off, raised upon a pole and carried in triumph to the camp, and from thence to Ilorin.” His homestead, Gbogun, in eternal ruins.
The person who betrayed his people died in war and yielded the space to Ojo Amepowuyi who was there before magical Kurunmi came in 1840. Kurunmi was the tragic hero who was with Oluyole in the many wars against the Ijebu and their Egba neighbours. Unfortunately, Kurunmi thought his insistence on tradition was right. He would not recognise the Alaafin who succeeded his father. He insisted that “the king’s son must die with the king” and his people sang the song with him. He was the one who had to die — broken, completely at the hands of his Ibadan friends. The Kakanfo stool then took a false move to Ibadan where Afonja’s son, Oluyedun gave his father’s title to himself. He soon died and his co-claimant “the wicked one who would not die” — Ojo Aburumaku proceeded to get it from Alaafin. This tough one fought friends and foes until the god of thunder stopped him at Igbeti. He was struck by lightning, but he was “the wicked one who would not die.” He did not die but his position was taken by Obadoke Latoosa of Ibadan who fought and won wars against Fulani marauders and their Yoruba allies. Then on August 11, 1885, he too slept in his war camp at Kiriji after suffering a revolt by his war chiefs.
Ladoke Akintola was brilliant, mercurial and eloquent. He became Kakanfo in 1964 and had role models among some of his predecessors. He too made friends abroad and foes at home. He did what some before him did and died as they died. The Aare stool became vacant on January 15, 1966. On January 14, 1988, it was filled once again with a man of means and uncommon generosity. Moshood Abiola had money. He had children. He had people. He had all and enjoyed all. He wanted more and went for power. His northern friends said no and stopped his momentum. But Kakanfo must not come home empty-handed. Abiola was defiant. He was loud and brave. And then, like some others before him, Kakanfo Abiola fought and fell at the feet of his friends from the North.
These were the men who wore the magical leopard dress, cap and sandals of war before Gani Adams came on January 13. They were the wearers of the shoes our friend stepped into on Saturday. The Kakanfo title is not just about war, blood, betrayals and death. It is not just about two hundred and one deep incisions in the head stuffed with 201 mystery preparations. It is about friends and fate. It has also its own peculiar canine fashion. The title has rhythm and rhyme. Think of an Obadoke yielding the Kakanfo space to a Ladoke. Think of Akintola ending it on January 15,1966; and Abiola starting his own on January 14, 1988; and, now, Adams’s epochal entry of January 13, 2018. Could this gradient be a mere coincidence in dates and figure combinations?
Gani Adams is a very good man taking up a tough job. He has lessons to learn from those illustrious strongmen and the interesting times that preceded him. The Aare cannot say there is no war raging now. These are not normal times for the one called to service. He cannot recline in an easy chair when marauders are at home and on the way. Can the warrior sleep when men cannot farm and women cannot fetch water in peace? May the new Aare be a success story. From now on, the Aare will be required to act and speak to Nigeria on its dance of death.