ARE ONA KAKANFO : The mainstreaming of a fringe movement – a lesson for the Igbos

ARE ONA KAKANFO : The mainstreaming of a fringe movement - a lesson for the Igbos

By Joseph Edgar…

The bulk of this write-up if not carefully diagnosed could begin to sound like a journey into the minds of ardent conspiracy theorists. But truth is that this story really does sound unbelievable.

When the announcement was made of the conferment of the legendary title Are Ona Kakanfo on Gani Adams by the highly revered Alaafin of Oyo, I quickly felt I had missed something. But as I was reflecting and about to commence some research, someone sent me the cover of Tell Magazine showing the recently announced Are Ona kakanfo in lesser than dignified pose with the Police celebrating his arrest.

Gani Adams had broken off from the organisation founded and led by Dr. Federick Faseun to form his own much more radical and aggressive movement which forcefully threw itself into national consciousness with its operations. He immediately pitched himself against authorities which brought him face to face with the police and in some cases the military. The organisation was renegade but its avowed push of the Yoruba culture and ethos was to say the least admirable. Removing the violence, its strict adherence to the traditions and culture of their heritage, its ability to massively mobilize and build a large followership began to interest mainstream forces who must have seen the organisation and its leader as a possible partner rather than an irritating enemy.

So the slow but gradual pull into mainstream politico-cultural environment began. First the mode of dressing and language softened. The clean-up had begun and the alignment with entrenched Yoruba leadership with the conferment of various traditional titles, appointments and invitations to speak and share ideas all began to forge a new image for the society. Do not forget that in numbers and reach, it had eclipsed other such type organisations like the Afenifere so it could no longer be ignored.

Read also: The Tyranny Of The Minority

I once had a chance meeting with the late erudite lawyer and Afenifere Chieftain, Chief Olaniyun Ajayi who lamented the seeming loss of influence of his group especially its inability to reach effectively the younger population. It was just this young generation that the Odua People Congress (OPC) had effectively corralled into a violent pressure group for change that the Afenifere needed and must draw close to.

I have watched very carefully Gani Adams transformation from an angry and seemingly violent crusader to a soft spoken ‘’Otunba” garnering institutional respect and now finally climaxing with this title which was held by the very well respected winner of the ill-fatedJune12 election, MKO Abiola. This title is one of the most sought after and highly regarded title. It has a lot of mythology surrounding it and it confers on its owner a lot of respect and regards all over Yoruba land and beyond. For Adams, this must be a welcome arrival.

For the Igbos, the same opportunity had been thrown at them with IPOB. Unlike Gani Adams, Nnamdi Kanu the leader of the IPOB is well versed, with international exposure, charismatic and neat. His appeal is cross sectoral as he can speak the language of the elites while still mixing freely with the masses. Just like the OPC, he has built a groundswell of agitation based on an Igbo supremacy hence their refusal to accept a junior partnership. His message resonated throughout Nigeria and today’s mainstream cry for restructuring can be dropped at the relative success of his work.

But that is where the similarities end. Unlike the Yoruba, mainstream Igbo has not been able to negotiate a détente with the authorities while defanging IPOB and mainstreaming his young, rascally leader. The Igbo elites have not been able to stand firmly between the authorities and their errant ward and like the Yoruba hold their son, while taking over his structure for a continued guided hold on power.

You do not know the effectiveness of OPC on grassroots politics and even security until you personally witness it. The handshake between it and traditional political power is entrenched. For the Igbo the difference is the case. The elites, although liking the fact that Kanu is saying things they would not dare say, are cringing at his threats to violence, his abusive nature and lack of respect for constituted authorities. They have carefully carved a wide distance between them in an attempt to show the federal authorities that they remain loyal to the Nigerian project, thereby dissociating themselves from the logic of his argument even though juvenile in its construct but still resounding in its cry for better presentation.

I sincerely think the Igbo elites should borrow a leave from this Are Ona Kakanfo story. Namdi Kanu, call him whatever you want to call him, understands better the temperature of the people, taking advantage of it and building an effective grassroots movement, although misguided and childish. Mainstream Igbo systems need to learn a thing or two from the Yoruba establishment. It must learn how to defang IPOB while maintaining its structures for the continued mobilization of the people in its bid for a better seat at the Nigerian table.


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