By Bisi Olawunmi
Gani Adams, National Coordinator of the militant group, Odua Peoples Congress (OPC), burst on the national scene in the early 1990s as a young, violent agitator, but who is now trying to repackage himself as a civil man of culture and tradition. However, with the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi 111, conferring on him the war title of Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yoruba land, it would seem Iku Baba Yeye want to pin him to an odious past.
Are Ona Kakanfo is the Generalissimo of Yoruba land, a warlord. Given the pan Yoruba nature and high visibility of the title, its award to a Gani Adams needs to be vigorously interrogated. First, what is the nature of the ‘war’ the Yoruba are likely to face in the immediate and near future? My submission is that the battle of the modern era is knowledge-driven, to be fought with intellectual brain power, not menacing street brigandage. So, the question arises: To what extent is the new incumbent equipped to lead that war? It is up in the air. Gani Adams talks of engaging in unification of the Yoruba. The Ooni of Ife, His Majesty, Oba Enitan Ogunwusi, the Ojaja 11, already on that mission, is more eminently qualified for the role.
Now, a little take on the new honoree, Gani Adams. One striking point is the phenomenal transformation of this migrant to Lagos from rustic Arigidi-Akoko, in the northern fringes of Ondo state from the apprentice carpenter, renegade violent agitator and fugitive to a national figure courted by the high and mighty!! Times are a changing, indeed, as intoned by singer and Nobel Laureate, Bob Dylan. Situations thrust roles on people, and so it was that the annulment of the result of the 1993 presidential election, widely believed to have been won by Chief M.K.O. Abiola, a Yoruba man, created a groundswell of protests against the ruling military juntas of Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha. The battle against the annulment was fought at the intellectual/political level led by the likes of Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi and the Afenifere grandees, including Chief Abraham Adesanya, Chief Ayo Adebanjo and Pa Alfred Rewane who provided leadership for the young Turks like Bola Ahmed Tinubu. There was, however, a fringe street component where a horde of excited youths – Columnist Louis Odion called them ‘’roughnecks’’- wielding all manner of weapons, held sway. Though Dr. Frederic Fasheun, who conceptualized the OPC, the platform for the youths, tried to provide informed leadership, the street guys – mainly artisans – soon found one of their own as leader. Enter Gani Adams, the carpenter. They turned the streets into battle grounds with security agents. Fasheun, rather too late, realized he has created a monster and his ouster as leader followed shortly after. The OPC transformed into a Gani Adams militia with cells in virtually every village in Yoruba land. He led his troops in street battles. No doubt, he was a fearless warrior and an escape artist in battles. Perhaps, the most fabled of his wars was that in Owo, in his home state, Ondo. Cornered in an ambush, he got into a fire-fight, blazing his way out, though he lost many of his foot soldiers. He thus acquired a myth of invincibility, the cat with nine lives.
The return to democracy brought Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo to power as President on May 29, 1999. The terrain changed but OPC militia could not fathom the change and carried on with their violent rampage. A ruthless President Obasanjo grabbed Gani. It was a tamed Gani Adams who emerged from the gulag after an extended confinement, seemingly abandoned by the Yoruba elite. The Yoruba elite, who place high premium on education and courteous conduct, had apparently felt that Gani Adams was over-reaching himself.
Today, Gani Adams nurtures two personalities – the remodeled, civil, culture entrepreneur and ambassador in the all white attire and the OPC militant persona, in the background, as a bargaining chip. The dual personality makes him an enigma while it has thrown the Yoruba establishment, that had somewhat kept him at arm’s length for some time, into a dilemma. There may be troubling days ahead for the Are Ona Kakanfo-designate and the Yoruba nation. Gani Adams boasts of a six million-member OPC militia and seeks a quasi-official role in providing community policing. Given the documented excesses of OPC cadre, how can it be incorporated into formal state security architecture without friction and a blow-up down the line ? There is the potential temptation for the new Are Ona Kakanfo to want to play the political kingmaker in the Yoruba southwest in the 2019 general elections. Didn’t he lead weapons-welding OPC militia in a brazen show of outlawry (apology to Columnist Olakunle Abimbola) in the intimidating march on the streets of Lagos in 2015 in support of President Goodluck Jonathan’s re-election bid? Such road show, this time around, can lead to violent confrontation that threatens the peace of Yoruba land. There is also the issue of protocol order as Gani Adams may now the recognized ahead of establishment grandees in Yoruba assemblies, a development that would be resented by many. Adams is currently accorded position on the high table in Yoruba gatherings – he was there at the Yoruba forum held at The Dome in Akure in the twilight of Ondo Governor, Olusegun Mimiko’s administration and was also publicly recognized at the Yoruba summit organized by The Yoruba Initiative at Lead City University, Ibadan earlier this year. But that public recognition at Ibadan exposed the schism within the faction that Gani Adams supposedly leads. Another OPC factional leader at the summit, stood and with fury, publicly challenged the pre-eminence accorded Gani Adams. The atmosphere became charged. It took the dexterity of Otunba Deji Osibogun, convener of The Initiative, to pacify the aggrieved factional leader and prevent fireworks! The incident showed that Gani Adams may not be the indisputable OPC Supremo as projected in the media. The Are Ona Kakanfo title may, therefore, fuel the animosity between OPC factions which could spill to the streets in violence. Already, Gani Adams is relishing the title to no end. He came into the 50th birthday reception of director of communication, Osun State, Semiu Okanlawon, in Iwo on Sunday, October 22, 2017 with a security detail that rivals that of governors. A now beefy Gani Adams, standing ramrod straight in his trade mark white ‘agbada’ spoke in English, cautiously, picking his words, but leaving no one in doubt that the audience is privileged to be witnesses to the first public appearance of the brand new Are Ona Kakanfo of Yoruba land. It would seem the title is an intoxicant from Alaafin’s palace brew!
Gani Adams, the optimist, assures that he would break the jinx of the tragic ends of holders of the Are Ona Kakanfo title, the last being Chief M.K.O. Abiola who died in political captivity. They say cowards die many times before their death and one cannot say Gani Adams is a coward. Nevertheless, it is hoped the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, is not offering Gani Adams a sweetened, deodorized poison chalice.
Dr. Bisi Olawunmi, Senior Lecturer, Department of Mass Communication, Bowen University, Iwo is former Washington Correspondent of the News Agency of Nigeria and Fellow, Nigerian Guild of Editors. Email : firstname.lastname@example.org Phone : 0803 364 7571.