Aare Ona Kakanfo! The Untold Story of How MKO Abiola Was Nearly Prevented From Becoming the Generalissimo
"...As if by telepathy, the crowd outside heard the ruling immediately! Shouts of joy erupted. Drummers who must have been hiding their gangan drums under their agbada sprang out. Sekere came out. Agogo was not to be left behind. Chief Afe Babalola was pulled out of his car, The Balogun was placed squarely on the roof of the car. Women danced, men jumped. I’m not sure but one of the songs on that day must have been “Ajekun Iya ni o je”. I have to confirm this from Chief. May God preserve his life."
Where were you in 1987? That was the year Oba Yesufu Oloyede Asanike, Olubadan of Ibadan made history. Olubadan installed Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola as the Bashorun of Ibadan. It was a prestigious title befitting of a distinguished personality in the mould of MKO Abiola.
That was the title of the legendary Bashorun Oluyole who was the paramount chief of Ibadan in 1850. It was also the title of Bashorun Ogunmola who reigned between 1865 and 1867. It was therefore historic that exactly 120 years after the death of Ogunmola, MKO Abiola became the fourth person to be conferred with the prestigious title.
It was indeed a befitting honour for someone who had amassed chieftaincy titles from almost every town in Nigeria. As of the time of his installation in 1987, MKO Abiola was reputed to have over 150 chieftaincy titles. He was the Bobajiro of Ode-Remo. He was the Bada Musulumi of Gbagura Egba.
As he drove out of the palace of Oba Asanike that fateful day with his son by his side, MKO must have thought that he had reached the peak of traditional chieftaincy in Nigeria.
He was just settling down in his Ikeja home when he was informed that he had a call. Who was on the line? He asked before collecting the phone. It was the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi III. MKO snatched the phone. “Iku Baba Yeye, Igbakeji Orisa! Kabiyesi!” The newly installed Bashorun paid his homage to the foremost traditional ruler. Alaafin must be calling to congratulate me, MKO thought. Kabiyesi was however not calling to congratulate the business magnate.
“We have decided that you are to be conferred with the title of Aare Ona Kakanfo!” Kabiyesi informed him.
The phone nearly dropped from the hand of Bashorun. Aare Ona Kakanfo! The Generalissimo of Yoruba race! The Field Marshall for all descendants of Oduduwa! The portfolio held by Afonja, the founder of Ilorin! The title of Aare Obadoke Latosa of Ibadan – the scourge of Efunsetan Aniwura! The position held by the last premier of Western Region, Ladoke Akintola of Ogbomoso! Ha!
For a single person to be Bashorun and Aare was unheard of. It was the ultimate! Traditionally, Bashorun is the Prime Minister. Aare is the Field Marshall. When Bashorun Gaa moved against Alaafin Abiodun around 1770, it was Oyalabi from Ajase (now Republic of Benin), the Aare Ona Kakanfo that came to the powerful monarch’s rescue. Now, Abiola was going to be both the Prime Minister and the Field Marshall!
Alaafin had spoken. MKO Abiola had no choice. The news spread like wildfire. Congratulatory messages poured in from all over the globe. Aare Ona Kakanfo was not just another title. It was the title. It was the father of all traditional titles. Father ke? No, it was the Grandfather of All Titles. If it were to be a national honour, it would be the equivalent of the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic!
Everybody in and outside Yorubaland was ecstatic at the choice of Abiola as the 14th Aare Ona Kakanfo. Well, almost everybody. It happened that the Ashipa of Oyo, Chief Amuda Olorunosebi was not pleased with the choice of Bashorun MKO Abiola as the Aare. Ashipa was one of the prominent chiefs of Alaafin. He objected to the choice of the flamboyant publisher, an Egba man, as Aare Ona Kakanfo. He went to Kabiyesi to protest. Iku Baba Yeye was adamant that MKO was eminently qualified to be the Aare Ona Kakanfo.
The Ashipa went back to his quarters at Isale Oyo. As MKO Abiola and the Alaafin were preparing for the installation of Bashorun, Chief Amuda was consulting with his lawyers. This was however unknown to the Alaafin. It was assumed that the Ashipa had been convinced to support Abiola’s candidacy.
Abiola was no ordinary person by any standard. He was larger than life. He was flamboyance personified. He was determined to make the chieftaincy installation as grand as possible. He invited all his contacts from all over the world. All the military governors were invited. A special invitation was delivered to the President, Ibrahim Babangida, who was a close friend of the Bashorun. African Heads of States cleared their schedules in order to honour MKO. Nigerian Embassies were issuing visas on daily basis. It was going to be a grand occasion.
Then the unthinkable happened! It started as a rumour. It was days to the installation. ‘Eti Oba nile, eti Oba l’oko, eniyan lo n je be.’ The ear of a king is everywhere. Iku Baba Yeye was in his palace when he heard from the grapevine that a case had been filed to stop the occasion! “Ewo! Sango o ni je! Abiodun o ni je! Aole o ni je!” Kabiyesi went on to invoke the names of his predecessors on the royal throne of Alaafin!
It was around noon when the phone rang in Ibadan. It was from the Palace, Oyo Alaafin. Chief Afe Babalola, the famous legal practitioner, picked the phone. After exchange of homage and royal blessings, Alaafin informed Afiwajoye of Ado Ekiti that Ashipa had filed a suit against the installation of MKO Abiola. Not only that, a motion ex parte for interim injunction had also been filed. It was apparent that Ashipa was not ready to gamble with his chance.
Though Kabiyesi did not say it, Chief Afe knew the urgency involved. Installation was on Saturday. The call came in on Tuesday. Less than thirty minutes after the call, Chief Afe was almost at Oyo. The legendary lawyer covered the 57 kilometres between Oyo and Ibadan as if he was on a chariot. He proceeded to court where he met the court registrar. Of course, the registrar knew Chief Babalola. It is doubtful if there is anyone in the Judiciary who does not know the Mayegun of Modakeke. Mayegun paid the requisite fees and conducted a search of the court’s file. It was there! Alaafin’s information was correct! Iduro ko si, ìbèreè ko si fun eni ti o gbe odó mi. A person who swallows a pestle can neither stand nor sit comfortably.
Installation was on Saturday. The search was conducted on Tuesday! The motion ex parte was to be heard the following day, Wednesday.
Time was of the essence! Chief Afe turned his car around, off to Emmanuel Chambers, Ibadan. Before the car reached Fiditi, he had mentally finished composing the processes. He was nodding as the cases and other relevant authorities began to surface in his mind.
By the time he reached his office, the mental process was complete. In a minute the Counter-Affidavit was ready. There was no need for a Written Address. Professor Yemi Osinbajo was then a Special Assistant to the Attorney General of the Federation. It would be years later before he introduced Written Address as the Lagos State Attorney General. The counter-affidavit was filed and served on counsel to the Ashipa. On Wednesday, the court was full. Chief M. L. Lagunju, Ashipa’s counsel was in court. He adjusted his wig and checked his books. He smiled. It was a Motion Exparte. It won’t be contested. He checked his time. Then there was some commotion at the entrance of the court.
Chief Lagunju blinked! He blinked again! Walking in majestically was the Afiwajoye of Ado-Ekiti, the Balogun of Mobaland, the Mayegun of Modakeke, Chief Afe Babalola in flesh! He was followed by a host of other lawyers, each armed with bags of legal authorities enough to open a law library. Chief Lagunju didn’t know when he said: “The game is up!”
On the dot of 9 O’clock, the Court began sitting. The trial judge was a royalty himself. Justice Aderemi’s father was the late Ooni of Ife, Oba Sir Tadenikawo Adesoji Aderemi, the first Governor of Western Region. The case was called.
The plaintiff’s counsel sought to move his application. The learned counsel informed the court that it was an ex parte application and therefore the other party had no right of audience.
His Lordship turned to Chief Afe Babalola. The court was as silent as a ghost town. Young lawyers craned their necks to hear what the Legend was going to say. They have been taught in law school that Ex Parte Motion was for only one party. Some of them must have been wondering what magic the Mayegun of Modakeke was going to perform.
Chief Afe Babalola brought out the White Book. Oh! Sorry, you don’t know the White Book? The White Book is an important book for lawyers. It contains the sources of law relating to the practice and procedures of the High Court. Ask your lawyer friend to show you a copy. He won’t charge you, unless you open it.
The Legal Colossus was on his feet. He was vibrating like a trumpet, but his voice was as soft as velvet. He began to reel out authorities after authorities to the effect that a defendant who became aware, anyhow, that a party had gone to court and was about to obtain an order ex-parte that would affect him, had a right to appear in court and to insist on being heard. His Lordship – a brilliant Judge from the Source of Yoruba Race – was nodding as he scribbled down the authorities being cited by the Legendary Advocate. His Lordship was not the only one writing. Most lawyers in court were writing furiously. One old man turned to his friend and whispered: “I don’t mind selling my house, Mufu, my son must become a lawyer like this man. Look at the way he is speaking English as if he is chanting oriki Sango!”
“There is merit in the case of the Defendants. I agree with Chief Afe Babalola, the Defendants deserve to be given the right to be heard. Case is hereby adjourned to tomorrow for arguments on the Motion on Notice.” His Lordship rose. It is doubtful if the parties involved in the case slept that night. Whilst the lawyers checked and re-checked the authorities, the litigants were in anxiety mode. Chief MKO Abiola’s invited guests had started arriving from their various bases. Musicians engaged for entertainment had begun to set up their instruments in Oyo and Ikeja. Caterers had booked all the cows in Ilorin, Oyo and Ibadan. Local drummers had cancelled all engagements. The royal poet, Lanrewaju Adepoju had finished composing his masterpiece. All roads led to Oyo Alaafin.
If the court was filled to the brim on Wednesday, it was spilling over on Thursday. Litigants, journalists, lawyers, in fact everybody was in court that day. Chief Lagunju stood up. The learned counsel knew what was at stake. He argued his application expertly. He guessed the likely issues that Chief Afe would raise. He addressed each comprehensively. It was advocacy at its best.
Then the Balogun of Mobaland stood up. Like a surgeon, Chief Afe surgically cut through the issues deftly. He was not going to take any prisoner. After cutting through the issues, the authorities followed. From Halsbury’s Law of England to Commonwealth Law Reports, from decisions of House of Lords to decisions of Court of Appeal, from WACA to White Book, and then finally to the Supreme Court. The authorities were flowing like water from Asejire Dam. There was no stopping the deluge.
“In the light of the copious authorities cited by the learned counsel for the plaintiff and the defendants, the Court will be adjourning to……” There was pin-drop silence in Court. The installation was only two days away. “…Friday” Ha! Palpable relief went through the court.
On Friday, Chief Afe Babalola’s phone began to ring from dawn. “Chief, E ma lo gba ruling yin l’Oyo loni o. Please send your junior o.” Clients, friends and well wishers who witnessed or heard of the tension soaked session in court on Thursday were justifiably apprehensive. But Chief Afe was not the Balogun of Mobaland for nothing. A General must not be afraid of the warfront. Off to Oyo.
Chief Afe had hardly left Ibadan when he started seeing policemen at strategic junctions on the road to Oyo. As they approached Fiditi, the number of policemen increased. By the time they got to Jobele, it was as if the Police College had moved its campus there. In the forest, on top of trees, in the bushes, and on top of buildings, the police were everywhere.
The Courtroom itself was no exception. More than fifty police officers joined lawyers and litigants in the courtroom. If you were not wearing a wig and you were not a party to the case, you would have to stay outside.
Justice Aderemi went straight to the business of the day. “RULING” His Lordship began. Time stood still as His Lordship went on to review the facts of the application and the authorities cited by the counsel for the parties. “In the final analysis…” Counsel and cops in the court became tense.
“This application fails and is hereby dismissed.”
As if by telepathy, the crowd outside heard the ruling immediately! Shouts of joy erupted. Drummers who must have been hiding their gangan drums under their agbada sprang out. Sekere came out. Agogo was not to be left behind. Chief Afe Babalola was pulled out of his car, The Balogun was placed squarely on the roof of the car. Women danced, men jumped. I’m not sure but one of the songs on that day must have been “Ajekun Iya ni o je”. I have to confirm this from Chief. May God preserve his life.
Alaafin was waiting in the Palace with his Council Members. For a moment, the Sango of our time, Iku Baba Yeye was close to tears. It was an emotional moment. MKO Abiola was called. The Bashorun shouted: “Allahu Akbar! Alhamdulillah.”
On Saturday, January 14, 1988, Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi III installed Bashorun Moshood Kashimawo Abiola as the 14th Aare Ona Kakanfo. The famous Yoruba Poet, Lanrewaju Moshood Adepoju was then called to the podium. In his deep and flawless Yoruba, Adepoju movingly rendered traditional poetry tracing the history of the title and the qualities of the new Aare Ona Kakanfo.
It was indeed a glorious day for the husband of Simbiat Atinuke.
In recognition of his service to the Crown and the Law, Alaafin later conferred Chief Afe Babalola with the prestigious title of Aare Bamofin of Oyo Empire.