Aare Ona Kakanfo is a title given to the generalissimo, the war general during the Old Oyo Empire. The defacto Field Marshal who leads battles and conquers enemies. It is no little title. The Aare (XIII) before MKO Abiola, Ladoke Akintola died fighting, submachine gun in both hands during the Nzeogwu coup. And before Ladoke, the Aare (XII) Latosha of Ibadan committed suicide when he lost a battle. This is because the Aare tradition it is either victory or suicide. An Eso, of which the Aare Ona Kakanfo is boss, must never be shot in the back –in retreat – his wounds must always be in front. The 6th Aare, Afonja of Ilorin also died fighting. Evidently the Aare title is one of the most powerful in the Yoruba kingdom. The power and ritual invocations of the Aare are second only to the Alafin of Oyo.
As described by Hafsat Abiola, the daughter of late Aare Ona Kakanfo MKO Abiola, the inauguration ceremony the Aare goes through involves the complete shaving of his head with 201 incisions made on his occiput with 201 different lancets and specially prepared ingredients from 201 viols then rubbed into the cuts, a different one in each. This is supposed to render him fearless and courageous.
Since the demise of Chief MKO Abiola, the 14th General to hold the post, there is yet to be a new Aare Ona Kakanfo.
The Aole curse
There is a popular Yoruba tradition about the 18th century Alaafin of the Oyo empire, Awole, crowned in 1789. Before killing himself on the request of Oyo mesi (powerful chiefs) who he felt betrayed him, Alaafin Awole brought out ancient palace totems and pronounced a royal curse on Yorubas, that they will never be united. The curse has been attributed to infighting among Yoruba chiefdoms including the loss of Ilorin to the Fulani northern Emirate.
Aare Ona Kakanfo Chief MKO Abiola’s Political Battle
The last crowned Aare Ona Kakanfo, Chief MKO Abiola died under suspicious conditions in prison in 1998, but the death of the last Yoruba battle leader deserves attention. Aare Abiola had indisputably won the famous June 12, 1993 presidential elections with a Kanuri man as his running mate. The elections was declared the freest and fairest in Nigeria’s history by international observers. However the then Ibrahim Babangida government denied him of the presidency. The resulting unrest forced Babangida to ‘step down’ in 1993.
Enter dictator Abacha, Chief Moshood Abiola declared himself the lawful president of Nigeria in 1994. General Abacha slammed Abiola in jail and kept him there till he – Abiola – died under suspicious conditions in June of 1998.
Betrayed Like Aole
General Abdulsalami Abubakar, former president Ibrahim Babangida’s foster cousin ruled Nigeria for almost a year, from June 1998 to 29 May 1999. Abdulsamami’s 11 month stint was announced from the first days as transitional; with him promising to conduct elections asap. He did, but not until some very high level secret meetings were held in Nigeria with various northern power-brokers involved. During the meetings, the former deputy to former military administrator Muhammadu Buhari, General Tunde Idiagbon who was one of the invited important persons, threw-up all the way back to his hometown in Ilorin and died days after. He was believed to have been poisoned at the Abuja meeting.
Not long after the notorious US’ Susan Rice visited MKO Abiola in prison on the invitation of president Abdulsalami Abubakar, Nigeria’s last Aare Ona Kakanfo Chief MKO Abiola died in prison. Nigerians widely believed that Susan Rice brought a poisonous cup of tea to kill Abiola on the request of the northern leadership cabal. Some believe the northern elite and their chosen candidate, Olusegun Obasanjo who would be made victorious, wished to clean out potential controversies before the transition to an Obasanjo democratic presidency.
An Aare Curse?
As Aole cursed after he felt betrayed by Oyo chiefs, it is fathomable that Abiola cursed after betrayal by the northern power elite who still struggle to hold on to power. The northern elite are the same people who had benefitted tremendously from his generosity for decades. A top on the list is Ibrahim Babangida whose power grab and coups d’etat the CIA concluded were single handedly sponsored by Moshood Abiola in addition to an alleged conspiratorial move between him and the Saudi king that invited Tunde Idiagbon, thus paving the coup path.
As Yoruba empire’s Aare Ona Kakanfo Chief MKO Abiola lay writhing, dying in prison, did he place a curse on Nigeria’s north and northern elite precisely? MKO Abiola satisfied all conditions of a great victory deserving presidential coronation. An economist and Yoruba nationalist who believes in reparations, he defeated his debate rival in intellectual battle on the way forward for Nigeria. He was a Muslim as would be expected to satisfy the so-called core-north’s religious preferences, and he won the elections with a sweep. The only condition Abiola was believed to have failed to satisfy was his not being a core northerner.
With the wind of the masses who voted for him behind him, could he have possibly invoked for no core northerner to ever sit on the presidency throne for more than 2 years? For those of us who believe in the power of curses and karma especially from the betrayed, oppressed and murdered, aggressive atonement might well be extremely and urgently necessary.
Written by Dr. Perry Brimah