“When the kapok pods (fruits) hang together on the tree, none can tell which is the eldest” (Gunguma-gumdi tigsi yiliya kun bang kpema). The mere recitation of this proverb was enough to win the Namship of Yendi for Na Zangina, the youngest of several contending chiefs and princes to the throne. Following the death of Na Gungobli, all the contesting chiefs and princes were asked to proceed to Mamprugu for the chief of Mamprugu to help pick a new king to succeed the late Na. The chief of Mamprugu asked them to give the proverbial names they will adopt if they ascend to the Nam of Yendi. Zangina was enskined king of Dagbon for winning the 'proverb contest'.
Na Zangina is today credited for introducing Islam and modern civilization to the Dagbon kingdom. Another king, Na Jingli (A.K.A. Na Binbiegu) ascended to the throne by the default of a joking act. Following the death of Na Andan Sigli, the chiefs and elders gathered outside the palace to select a new Na. Jingli, a son of Na Zangina, went inside the palace to bid farewell to his aunts and cousins. Some of his cousins, as a joke (cousins are playmates in dagbon culture), put all the Royal insignia on him to see how he would look like if he were enskinned king. When all the Na's insignia were put on him, he broke away out of the house and run out into the presence of the assembled chiefs and elders. Upon seeing Jingli, they all cried out that “the ugly thing (Binbiegu) had put on the Na's insignia”. According to the Dagbon custom, once the royal insignia are put on a person he becomes a Ya-Na. Jingli was, therefore, declared the new king.
The above two instances of ascension to the Namship of Yendi are just a few of several cases in the history of the Dagbon kingdom which demonstrate the unfortunate fact that our founding fathers failed to prescribe an established system, procedure or rules of succession to the Namship of Yendi. Mr Alhassan Damba, in his article, relied heavily on history to make his case against the 'Abudus'. I applaud Mr. Damba for his research on Dagbon history and praise him for sharing the information with the Ghanaian public. However, not unlike most historical and descriptive research exercise, a reading of Mr. Damba's article by any independent and impartial individual vested with extensive knowledge of the people and history of Dagbon would undoubtedly exposed the fact that Mr. Damba formulated his hypothesis (i.e. the Abudus are a problem people in Dagbon) and proceeded looking for information that will validate his thesis. In his desperate effort to give the Abudus a bad name and hang them, Mr. Damba engaged in committing the intellectual dishonesty of stretching and twisting historical facts to support his position. In some cases, Mr. Damba, unfortunately, descended to the gutter and indulge in outright misinformation by being untruthful. I intend, in this rejoinder, to expose the fallacy in the historical narration of Mr. Damba. I will also point out specific statements and stories in Mr. Damba's article that are completely false and downright lie. The issue of “the 1948 Illegal Selection Committee; the Rotation System of Succession and its violation; the L.I. 59 of 1960 as well as the Ollenu Committee's ruling will be discuss in this article. Finally, I will explore a common ground for peace and reconciliation in my concluding section.
The 1948 Illegal Selection Committee: Mr. Damba accused the Abudus for using an illegal selection committee to usurp power for themselves and eliminate the Andani family from the line of succession in Yendi. The concept of illegality borders on a violation or disregard for an established constitutional or customary rule or law. The founding fathers of the Dagbon kingdom, unfortunately, did not design a constitution spelling out the procedure to follow for selecting a paramount chief. As narrated in the two stories above, various kings came to power through different means. The most commonly used method was consultation of soothsayers/oracles. This method was discredited when the soothsayers picked an impoverished young prince (chief of Yamokaraga) over his elderly rich brother (chief of Galway) as the next king. The selection of the poor chief was described as a “left-handed” selection. He was, therefore, given the name Na Gungobli. Until then, the Gushe-Na was the sole individual entrusted with the selection process, albeit by consulting soothsayers. After the death of Na Gungobli, the king of Mamprugu advised the Gushe-Na to start consulting the kuga-Na for the selection process. By the 1900s the selection committee expanded to include Tuguri-Nam and Gomli. From the 21st to the 29th of November 1930, a Conference of Dagbamba (Dagomba) chiefs was held to enquire into and record the Constitution of the State of Dagbon. The Dagomba State Council (DSC) was created as the indigenous institution and empowered to deliberate and execute matters relating to the Nam of Yendi and other divisional chieftainship. In 1948 the DSC made a resolution to expand the body responsible for electing a new Ya-Na when the Yani skin becomes vacant. It is significant to note here that the meeting to consider the proposed resolution was chaired by the Acting President of the DSC Gbonglana Andani, father of the late chief Ya-Na Yakubu Andani. Also present at the meeting was the Acting District Commissioner for Dagomba I. W. Bennet. The resolution was passed unanimously on May 12th 1948, and the newly constituted expanded Selecting Committee became the legal body responsible for selecting a Ya Na.
It is clear from the above that 1948 was not the first time that changes were made to the selection committee. Starting with the Gushe-Na as the sole selector, it expanded to two; then four; and eleven in 1948. Secondly, the resolution recommending the expansion of the Selection Committee was passed by a legitimate indigenous institution under the auspices of the colonial authority in the area. Most significantly, the father of the late king, Ya-Na Yakubu Andani was not only a signatory to the resolution, but was the Presiding officer at the time of passage of the resolution. With this background, it is unconscionable for anyone to declare the selection committee of 1948 as illegitimate and proceed to smear the Abudus for being the purported benefactor of an illegal act. Mr. Damba is entitled to disagree with the selection of Na-Abdulai over Na-Andani by the expanded Selection Committee in 1954, but his dissatisfaction with the Committee's verdict does not necessarily make it an illegal selection committee. The father of the late murdered king and two other chiefs from the Andani gate submitted their names to the eleven member expanded Selection Committee for nomination. They recognized and accepted the Committee as the legal and proper body for the selection of a new king. It was only after the Committee failed to nominate them that they began to question its authority and legitimacy.
The Rotation System of Succession and Its Violation: Mr. Damba has chronicled a period in the over six hundred years (600 years) history of the Dagbon kingdom to make his case that there is a rotation system of succession in the Yendi Namship. While it is true that from 1849 to 1953 the Namship rotated between the Abudu and Andani families, it is also true that there has been equally long epoch in the history of the kingdom where succession was anything but rotational. Eleven members of the Zolegu family ruled the kingdom consecutively from 1469 to 1648 as follows:
Na Zolegu 1469 – 1486
Na Zongma (son of Zolegu) 1486 – 1506
Na Ningmitoni (son of Zolegu) 1506 – 1514
Na Dimani (son of Zolegu) 1514 – 1527
Na Yanzoe (son of Zolegu) 1527 – 1543
Na Dariziegu (son of Zolegu) 1543 – 1554
Na Luro (son of Zolegu) 1554 – 1570
Na Tutugri (son of Na Luro) 1570 – 1589
Na Zagli (son of Luro) 1589 – 1608
Na Zokuli (son of Luro) 1608 – 1627
Na Gungobli (son of Luro) 1627 – 1648.
One can always go back in time and select a particular period to support a paradigm. In the case of the Yendi Namship we have two distinctive periods. On the one hand we have a hundred and four (104) years practice of rotation, and on the other hand we have a hundred and seventy nine (179) years practice of continuity. If the duration of a traditional practice alone is enough to make it a law, one can easily make a strong case for a 179 year practice over a 104 year practice. The fact of the matter is that there is no codify rule prescribing a system of rotation in any Namship in Dagbon, including the Nam of Yendi. The notion and concept of 'Rotation' is alien to Dagbon custom. The very use of soothsayers in a selection process, as widely practice in the Dagbon tradition, begs the question here. The soothsayers could pick any qualifying chief or prince regardless of which family or gate they belong to. It is unfair and disingenuous for Mr. Damba to use selective narration of history to demonize the Abudus for violating a so called “Rotation System of Succession” which has no grounding in history and tradition. If Mr. Damba is so much a believer in the sacred Rotation System of Succession, would he equally condemned the Andanis for putting pressure on President Kwame Nkrumah to include a clause in L.I.59 demanding that the Andanis be allow to rule for two consecutive terms. A strict 'Rotationist' with principles would have rejected Nkrumah's prescription of an act of violation to compensate the Andanis. What is more, it would be interesting to know where Mr. Damba stands in the current debate within the Andani family regarding the succession to the murdered Ya-Na. There are those in the Andani family who strongly believe that Mr. Damba's 'Rotation System of Succession” should be ignored and an Andani be appointed to succeed the late murdered king.
The L.I.59 of 1960 and The Ollennu Committee: Both the L.I. 59 and the Ollennu Committee ruling were politically motivated and had no basis in Dagbon custom and tradition. The same can be said of the Siriboe Committee and the Azu Mate Kole Committee. Mr. Damba stated in his article that “the genesis of the crisis we have today dates back to 1954 and 1969…” I would argue that the genesis of the crisis dates back to 1958 when Mionlana Andani, the father of the murdered king, appealed to the CPP government to intervene in the Yendi skin affairs. This marked the beginning of post independence political interference in the Yendi skin. The Mionlana's action was taken against the counsel and protest of the Dagbon State Council. From this point, the dagbon chieftaincy divide assumed a political dimension with all the negative and divisive baggage of national politics. This, undoubtedly, created the opportunity for commoners (non-royals) and even non-Dagombas (Ibrahim Mahama) to foist themselves on the most revered institution, by becoming chieftaincy contractors, power-brokers, king-makers and even godfathers. It has always been said in Dagbon that but for the hangers-on and chieftaincy contractors, the two feuding royal families would be able to resolve what is a family matter and get along just fine. Thanks to the precedent set in 1958 with the intervention of President Nkrumah in the Yendi skin affairs, all subsequent administrations, with the exception of the Limann government, have intervene in the matter in one way or the other.
It is refreshing for the readers to note that the immediate cause of the current crisis (there were remote causes) was a decision made by a private civilian (non-dagbana), acting in his capacity as a chieftaincy contractor and godfather, to return the late king back to Yendi after the king had evacuated his family to the safety of Tamale. The Dagbon kingdom has experienced diversity and tragedy before in its over 600 years history. The difference this time is that the tragedy has been politicized and transformed into a political chess-game. The politicization of chieftaincy in 1958 by the Mionlan Andani has been the curse of our once revered and noble traditional institution. The Andanis and Abudus have both been guilty since 1958 of using their political alliance with a government in power to their advantage in the Yendi chieftaincy divide.
False Statements and a big lie: Mr. Damba boldly made some statements and allegations in his article that cannot be supported by any documented evidence. I will limit my response to specific false statements made about Ya-Na Mahamadu Abdulai and the late Gushe-Na B.A. Yakubu. In the first place, Mr. Damba stated that Ya-Na Mahamadu Abdulai “… remained a common dagbana until his death in 1988”. The truth here is that the Ollennu Committee's ruling did not stripped Mahamadu Abdulai of his birth-right as the first son of a former Ya-Na. In fact Mr. Damba himself stated in his article that “the Ollennu Committee report almost adopted the L.I. 59 OF 1960…” Indeed, the L.I. 59, according to Mr. Damba allowed Na Abdulai-bila (the father of Mahamadu Abdulai) to continue as Ya Na. Therefore, when Mahamadu Abdulai was deskinned as Ya-Na, he remained a prince of the Yendi Namship. Any dagbana, the caliber of Mr. Damba, with his extensive knowledge of dagbon history, should know that in dagbon culture a prince is not a “common dagbana”. Certainly Mahamadu Abdulai was far from being a commoner anytime in his life-time. After his diskinnment in 1974, he continued to celebrate the Damba, Bugum, and Chugu festivals at his house. These celebrations often attracted more crowd than the Gbewaa palace. What is more, the tradition of receiving elders on Fridays and Mondays continue in his house. Prominent and revered elders of Yendi such as the Zohi-Liman Amadu; the Kum-Lan Yakubu; Balo-Na; Zalinkolana; and Mba-dugu remained loyal to him till his death. These elders were men of principles who had enough wisdom and knowledge of dagbon history and tradition not to associate themselves with the taboo and abomination of removing a sitting Ya-Na.
It would interest readers to know that the diskinment of Na Mahamadu Abdulai in 1974 was the first time in the over 600 years history of the dagbon kingdom. Impeachment of a ruling chief is a great taboo in dagbon tradition. It is reported that when the Colonial Authority assembled dagbon chiefs and elders in 1930 to draft a constitution, anytime the Whiteman mentioned or raised the issue of removing incompetent or corrupt chiefs from the throne, all the chiefs will respond with awe and the look of disbelieve in their faces. No amount of high crimes and misdemeanor justify removing a chief in dagbon tradition. There is the story of Na-Yakubu I who became insane on the throne. He went rampage causing havoc in the land. However, no one dare suggest that he should be replaced as a king. Na-Yakubu I ruled till his death in 1849.
Secondly, Mr. Damba stated in his article that it was made clear that the funeral of Mahamadu Abdulai was not to be performed in the Gbewaa palace as Ya-Na. This is categorically false and a big lie. There is documented evidence (Memorandum of Agreement) singed by the late murdered king, Ya-Na Yakubu Andani which state to the contrary, that Mahamadu Abdulai's funeral should be performed as a Ya-Na. This is the letter and spirit of the 1986 Supreme Court ruling. To suggest that the Abudus have been unreasonable in their request to perform the funeral of the late Na-Mahamadu Abdulai under the terms of the Supreme Court ruling is disingenuous. I hope that Mr. Damba would be able to lay hands on the 1986 Supreme Court ruling on Yendi Skin Affairs and the Memorandum of Agreement. If he does, I hope that he would encourage his Andani brethren to return to the peace table at Manhyia Palace with the documents. The Committee of Eminent Chiefs is still waiting for both sides to produce documentary evidence supporting their entrenched positions.
Moreover, Mr. Damba made reference to the fact that B.A. Yakubu and others were beneficiaries of the generous benevolence of the late murdered king in the late 1980s. According to Mr. Damba, they were reinstated as chiefs of their various villages as a peace and reconciliation gesture by the late king. This cannot be further from the truth. In the first place, there was no vacancy in the Gushegu Namship in the 1980s. Secondly, when the first opportunity came for the late Ya-Na to demonstrate a spirit of reconciliation by reinstating B.A. Yakubu to the vacant seat at Gushegu in 1991, the late king made a conscious decision to humiliate B.A. Yakubu. He invited him to Yendi and set him up for disappointment by selecting a different person as the new Gushe-Na. When the good people of Gushegu resisted and succeeded in preventing the new chief from entering Gushegu, Ya-Na Yakubu Andani requested the government to banished B.A. Yakubu from Gushegu. Talk about reconciliation. Contrary to Mr. Damba's dream of the late king as a man of reconciliation, at least in the case of B.A. Yakubu, the late king did everything humanly possible to ensure his disgrace, embarrassment, and humiliation. Mr. Damba should check his facts right and be generous with the truth next time he choose to write on this sensitive and volatile subject.
Finally, I hope that dagombas can move forward as one people and resist the dangerous temptation to always revenge our perceived enemies. The history of all people is the history of class, ethnic, gender, and religious struggle. This generation of dagombas would be judge according to how we come out of this diversity. It should be the strife of all honorable dagombas to see that the survival of the fittest in the future shall mean the triumph of the good, the beautiful, and the truth. Ziblim Iddi Atlanta, GA U.S.A.