By and large, I have enjoyed the conversation around the issue of the Oodua People’s Congress’ leader, Otunba Gani Adams, becoming the new Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland. Like everything haphazardly joined-up, the debate has been worthwhile; those for and against his selection have been trenchant in their views. I also paid attention because the title holder will represent the Yoruba and will, henceforth, claim to speak with the authority of a collective identity we all share.
One side of the aisle has those who think Adams is undeserving of the prestigious title. They deem him an uneducated thug who owes his relevance in Yorubaland to the OPC’s banditry, the amoral abdication of the present crop of Yoruba elite and, casuistry as governance enthroned in Yorubaland. His critics do not attribute any iota of intellectual perspicacity, economic foresight or influential networks to Adams. They imagine that Yoruba people of the 21st century should be able to produce an Aare Ona Kakanfo with genteel comportment.
The other aisle has the champions of Adams who argue he is a perfect fit for the position because the title was historically reserved for a war tactician who had enough military strategies to defend the Yoruba people against external aggression. There is no point arguing further whether the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, made a sagacious choice or not. That argument is now pointless since the issue seems settled.
At this point, what I am interested in learning –and I think all progenies of Yorubaland who are debating back and forth should be curious too– is the role and relevance of an Aare Ona Kakanfo in the 21st century. If we can answer this poser, only then should we bother questioning whether Adams is a good fit or not; whether his limited education will hamper him, and, whether he has the innate nobility of spirit to rise to the merits of his 53rd chieftaincy.
Those questions are important because those who have seen enough of the world and read widely are, by now, rightly convinced that the times we live in do not call for clannish, uninformed or pre-historical posturing. And, Adams’ interviews have illuminated his critics’ positions, albeit unwittingly. In the interviews he has granted the media since the nomination, I half-expected Adams to speak about what his ambitious plans for Yorubaland might be. Instead, he has spent more time debunking the mythology of the office and justifying his qualifications for the position.
In one of his interviews, he was asked what his plans for the office were and he responded to the interviewer that it was too early to divulge them; that he would reveal them on his coronation day. I suspect he has no plans yet even though he had known about his appointment for a while. In the interviews I have read so far, he also talked about confronting Yoruba’s external aggressors several times. I was struck by the number of times he mentioned he would be the “defender of his people,” and “unify the Yoruba race,” and “defend their interest,” by “believing in their cause.” Some of these assurances were repeated on the OPC website along with some other vague promises steeped in nostalgia for the glories of our past empire. This gave me pause.
First, who will the Aare Ona Kakanfo defend the Yoruba against in this increasingly connected and heterogeneous world? Who is the enemy or the aggressor? And if they cannot readily find one, will the OPC invent one so they can generate relevance for their boss? Will they run a parallel government without regard for the national context in which they live? Second, what good will unifying the Yoruba do – if such an undertaking were ever even possible? Third, should the cause of modern Yoruba that need to be defended not be stated explicitly? We no longer live in the times of our great ancestors, the Yoruba people of 2017 have been subsumed within the Nigerian nation.
The Yoruba no longer live in homogenous and rustic societies where an Are Ona Kakanfo has a defined constituency. The world has changed, and those who bear such archaic titles need to evolve. Whoever is named the Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland – or any similar exalted title– cannot afford to think of the Yoruba people and culture with an unreconstructed pre-colonial mindset. We live in the times where we have appurtenances of modern nation-states like the police, courts, armed forces, treasury, the legislature at the federal and state levels, governors, and even a President. Those are the institutions all the Yoruba should put their energies into so they can function for our collective benefit, rather than wistfully long for a past that never existed. If none of the apparatuses of modern governance can defend the Yoruba cause, there is far little, or nothing an Aare Ona Kakanfo or the six million foot soldiers Adams boasts can do. The fact that some of our historians and traditional rulers are valourising the myth of an Are Ona Kakanfo that will defend people against external aggression is a bad sign. We should not be talking of falling back on a band of militias to defend our territories, and with a vocabulary that suggests they still imagine the Yoruba people stuck in the time warp where they fought the Ibadan-Ijaye wars.
While we can mostly agree that what troubles the Yoruba today cannot be divorced from the same nightmarish cycle that has trapped all the entities within Nigeria into the combined curses of Sisyphus and Tantalus, we should also not suppose such problems can be solved by the defence of an undefined cause. We also live in times when our battles are not just physical; so, paraphrasing the popular Bible passage, the weapons of our warfare cannot be merely carnal. The stronghold of our problems, juxtaposed against larger global systems that define our lives, will not answer to “shakabula” weapons.
The problems the Yoruba currently face are as introverted as they are extroverted, and we are probably more weakened by our internal aggressors than the external ones against which Adams promises to defend us. The problems that plague the South-West – disrepair, rot, complacency, mediocrity, lack of vision and ideals, amoral politicians whose coarse and showy policies have no bearing on the current condition of things – imperil us more than any external aggressor. Every election cycle, it is almost to be taken for granted that we would be accosted with barely distinguishable choices of uninspiring leadership. Those who make it to office have a low moral bandwidth, and their farthest vision of governance is a mere primitive accumulation of resources. We live on borrowed tomorrow while staging empty socialist feasts on money and resources we can neither afford nor develop enough imagination to generate. Our leaders know that it is easier to build stomach infrastructure than human infrastructure. When people have been repeatedly dehumanised by poverty and despair, it is easy to lead them by their mouths.
Our “external aggressors” can be made answer to qualitative and inspiring leadership, to knowledge, to planning, to habits of thinking that upturn the banalities our leaders regularly wallow in. The world is exploring new ideas, breaking new grounds, and the planet the next generation of Yoruba children will live in should not be the one that still incubates on old and archaic ideas of warfare and armature. The scientific breakthroughs going on in other parts of the world make the future ahead more complicated, challenging, and exciting. We need leaders and visionaries who can rise to the times, not the ones who yearn for past glories. We have seen the past, there is little there we should want to return to. What is at stake is the future and that is what we should be servicing with our narration of histories and with our chieftaincy appointments.