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Abridged History of Dagbon

The following is an abridged version of the history of Dagbon. We have tried as much as possible to present this write-up without commentary. The facts are laid bare for the reader. Some of the points raised might be disputed by one gate or another of the feuding parties to the skins of Yani. It is our objective to present the fact as we have found them. All inconsistencies and errors are those of the author. The page will continually be updated in an effort to make this write-up as impartial and as accurate as possible. All this within the limited amount of written and verifiable information on the origins and history of Dagbamba.


Abridged History of Dagbon

The following is an abridged version of the history of Dagbon. We have tried as much as possible to present this write-up without commentary. The facts are laid bare for the reader. Some of the points raised might be disputed by one gate or another of the feuding parties to the skins of Yani. It is our objective to present the fact as we have found them. All inconsistencies and errors are those of the author. The page will continually be updated in an effort to make this write-up as impartial and as accurate as possible. All this within the limited amount of written and verifiable information on the origins and history of Dagbamba.


The Origins

The origins of Dagbon can be traced to Tohadzie, the red hunter. Tohadzie hailed from Zamfara (somewhere in present day Northern Nigeria) and travelled to the Mali Empire. He was a very brave hunter who mastered archery (the art of hunting with the bow and arrow) and on arrival in the Mali Empire, he settled in a village in the middle of a drought. The villagers’ only source of water was a river taken over by a wild buffalo. The buffalo was believed to be an evil spirit, and killed anyone who ventured to the river to draw water. Tohadzie led the villagers to kill the wild beast making the river accessible. He then organised the people and made war on rival villages, who had constantly raided his newfound home, thus establishing himself as a successful warrior and leader. For his bravery and assistance to the people, Tohadzie was rewarded with a Malian princess, Pagawubga, for a wife. The Malian princess gave birth to a son, Kpognambo, who grew up and exhibited bravery and warrior acuity similar to his father's.

After the death of his parents Kpognambo travelled westwards from the Mali Empire to Biun (in Fadan Grumah) where after defeating the Tendana  he installed himself the chief of Biun, thus establishing the chieftainship of Biun. Kpognambo ruled the kingdom of Biun until his death. He married two women: Sihisabiga (daughter of the Tendana of Biun) and Suhuyini (daughter of the King of Fadan Grumah). Suhuyini gave birth to Gbewaah while Sihisabiga gave birth to Malgimsim, Nyelgili, and Namzisheli. After the death of Kpognambo there was constant war among his sons for the chieftainship of Biun. This, in the thirteenth century, led to the migration of Gbewaah with a large following to Pusiga (in the Upper East region of present day Ghana). Na Gbewaah established the Kingdom of Greater Dagbon, which he ruled until his death. Other sons of Kpognambo; Nyeligili founded the chieftainship of Nangodi and Namzisheli founded the chieftainship of Tongo. Thus the Nabdam (in Nangodi) and Talensi (in Tongo) are kin to the people of Greater Dagbon. In Pusiga the chieftainship of the Kingdom of Greater Dagbon became known as NAM which was the preserve of the male children of Na Gbewaah. After the death of Na Gbewaah, there was once again power struggle among his sons for the nam. In the heat of the struggle, Zirli murdered his brother Kufogu and became chief of Biun, much to the displeasure of his siblings. This led to war among the brothers and finally the break-up of the Greater Dagbon Kingdom. Sitobu, Tohagu, and Mantambo all children of Na Gbewaah moved southwards from Pusiga with their followers.

Tohagu founded the Mamprusi Kingdom, Mantambo the Nanun Kingdom and Sitobu the modern Dagbon Kingdom. This is the reason the peoples of Nanun, Mamprugu, and Dagbon consider each other brothers. They share the same ancestry in Na Gbewaah. A daughter of Na Gbewaah, Yentuagri, married a Grumah and they established the Kingdom of the Moshi.

Na Nyagse (1416 to 1432)

After Sitobu founded the Dagbon Kingdom the kingship became known as Yaa Na, literally meaning King of strength (power). After the death of Sitobu he was succeeded by his son Na Nyagse who spread the Kingdom of Dagbon in all four directions. Upon ascension to the skins of Yani, Na Nyagse made war on the Dagbon Sablisi (Black Dagbamba) and founded YANI DABARI as the new seat (capital) of the Kingdom. On his way Na Nyagse killed the TENDANA of Disega and then of Piugu and appointed his son Zakpabo as chief of Piugu. He then proceeded to Diare, Depale, Sena, Dalon, Tibun, Lunbuna, Vogu, Gbulun, Kumbungu, and Zugu, all in today’s Western Dagbon. The Tendamba (plural of Tendana) were killed and he appointed his sons Sheno, Danaa, Lareyogu, Kpalaga, Tuntie, Suzable, Legu, Binbien, and Waa respectively as chiefs of the conquered villages. The success of Na Nyagse is attributed primarily to a well structured military organization and a cavalry division that overwhelmed their opponents. The Dagbon Kingdom was surrounded by peoples of the African savannah, who lacked a sophisticated political or military organization and therefore fell easy prey to the “mounted warriors”. The cavalry were very instrumental in the spread of the Dagbon Kingdom. They could travel long distances across the flat open countryside of the north taking villages and establishing authority by appointing chiefdoms and chiefs in the conquered villages. Na Nyagse and subsequent kings of Dagbon, after conquering new villages, established themselves as rulers of the people. They appointed chiefs to preserve order and hardly influenced the way of life of the indigenes. The new rulers married from the conquered thus successfully assimilating the new villages into the Dagbon Empire. At Zangbalun Na Nyagse appointed his uncle, Burzambo, chief and at Didoge he appointed one of his followers, Bolega, as chief. Na Nyagse continued on his conquest taking Kunkon, Zakole, and Nane. He installed his sons Tulibi, Bimbaliga, and Koledgenle as chiefs. At Karaga his uncle, brother of Sitobu became Karaga Na while other uncles, Biyunkomba and Bogyelgu, were appointed to the chiefdoms of Mion and Sunson, respectively. After the conquest in Western Dagbon, Na Nyagse crossed the Oti River into Eastern Dagbon were he conquered Zabzugu installing his son Yalem chief and then proceeded to Nakpali and enskinned Yembageya. Next came Salenkogu, where his grandson, Nguhuriba was appointed chief and Tagnemo, went to another grandson, Kabiun. Na Nyagse then returned to Yogu and killed the Tendana of Namogu. It was while at Yogu that Na Nyagse built Yani Dabari where he died in 1432.

Na Zulandi ( 1432 to 1442)

Na Bierigudeera (1442 to 1454)

Na Darigudeera (1454 to 1469)

Na Zolgu (1469 to 1486)

Na Zongma (1486 to 1506)

Na Ningmitooni (1506 to 1514)

Na Dimani (1514 to1527)

Na Yanzoe (1527 to 1543)

Na Darizegu (1543 to 1554)

Na Luro (1554 to 1570)

Na Titugri (1570 to 1589)

Na Zagli (1589 to 1608)

Na Zokuli (1609 to 1627)

Na Gungobili (1627 to 1648)

Naa Zangina (1648 to 1677)

The ascention of Na Zangina to Yani is a very important milestone in the history of Nam in Dagbon. Since the foundation of the kingdom of Greater Dagbon through the conquest of Na Nyagse, the skin of Yani was preserved for YANABIHI. Since the Yaa Na traditionally had several wives, the number of aspirants and eligible candidates for the Nam grew with every Yaa Na. On the death of Na Gungobli there were nine contestants for the skins of Yani. All the contestants were sons of Na Titugri, except for Andani Sigli, who was the son of Na Zagli. The contest was so fierce that the elders feared for a civil war. The elders not able to reach a consensus as to which of the contestants would become Yaa Na referred the selection to the Nayiri (the paramount chief of Mamprugu). The Nayiri asked each of the contestants to prove his wisdom and show that he is best suited to ascend the skins of Yani by choosing a proverb. As it is in Dagbon, every Na upon ascension to the skins chooses a proverb to guide his reign. After the choice of proverbs by the contestants and consideration of the Nayiri, Na Zangina, the youngest of the sons of Na Titugri and the wealthiest of the contestants, received the nod of the Nayiri. Prior to his ascension to the skins of Yani, Na Zangina was a very successful and wealthy trader. Some contend that Na Zangina bought his way to the skins of Yani. Second on Mamprugu Nayiri’s list was Andani Sigli. Nayiri decreed that he would be Na after the death of Na Zangina. After the ascention of Na Zangina, the constitution of Dagbon, which hitheto preserved the skins of Yani to all sons of a Yaa Na, was amended. The amendment limited eligibility to the skins of Yani to those Yanabihi occupying the "gate skins" of Karaga, Savelugu and Mion. This amendment was to eradicate the bitter, and sometimes bloody, contests amongst Yanabihi to the skins of Yani.

Na Andani I - Sigli (1677 to 1687)

Na Binbiegu (1687 to 1700)

Naa Gariba (1700 to 1720)

Na Gariba's reign was during the time of Osei Tutu. During the reign of Na Gariba there was division in the ranks of Dagbon chiefs. This led to the invitation of the Ashanti by Kpatin Lana Ziblim, a son of Na Andani Sigli (Na Andani I), to attack Yaa Na Gariba. Abondoned by all the chiefs of Western Dagbon, Yaa Na Gariba was captured by the Ashanti army. On their way back to Kumasi with Na Gariba, a group of nabihi led by Nasalan Ziblim appealed to the Ashanti army at Yeji for the release of Na Gariba. In return, Dagbon was to send slaves, cattle, sheep and some clothes to Kumasi every year. This payment continued, albeit irregularly, until the decline of the Ashanti Kingdom in 1874. As part of the negotiation for the release of Na Gariba, an Ashanti representative was stationed at Yendi. This led to the establishment of the musketeer wing of the Dagbon army. The musketeers, Kambonse, increased the military might of the kingdom. For orchestrating the release of Na Gariba, Nasalan Ziblim told all other nabihi that payment for his services to Dagbon would be his enskinment as Yaa Na after Na Gariba.

Na Nasalan Ziblim (1720 to 1735)

Na Ziblim (1735 to 1740)

Na Ziblim Kulunku (1740 to 1760)

Na Andani II –Jangbariga (1760 to 1778)

The Emergence of Yani Gates

The emergence of the Yani gates is a pivotal era in the history of Dagbon. It is the genesis and birthplace of the current crisis and Yani struggles in Dagbon. From the era of Na Gbewaa, the Nam remained the preserve of Yanabihi and it was common for aspirants to use brutal machinations to ascend the skins of Yani. Brother rose against brother in war to reach the ultimate destination of all Yanabihi. The last of the Yanabihi to ascend the skins of Yani by use of force and murder was Yaa Na Yakubu I.

Ya Naa Yakubu I (1799 to 1839)

During the reign of Yaa Na Suman Zoli (1778 to 1799), Yelizoli Lana Lagfu became very powerful and was feared among his peers. Yelizoli Lana Lagfu was committed to assisting his uncle (his mother’s brother), then Mion Lana Yakubu to ascend the skins of Yani. Yelizoli Lana Lagfu and Na Yakubu launched a surprise attack on Yaa Na Suman Zoli, defeating his army and killing him. Thus paving the way for Mion Lana Yakubu to ascend the skin of Yani under the skin name Yaa Na Yakubu I. Yaa Na Yakubu I was the father of Na Abdulai (Abudu) and Na Andani, the founders of Abudu Yili and Andani Yili respectively. During the kingship of Yaa Na Yakubu I, his nephew Yelizoli Lana Lagfu continued to grow in strength and in the process acquired for himself nine different skins; including Zabzugu, Gbungbaliga, Tagnamo, Nakpachia, Korli, Kunkon, Demon, and Chim. The son’s of Yaa Na Yakubu I led by Abdulai, Andani, and Mahami feared that Yelizoli Lana Lagfu was getting too powerful and would eventually capture Yani upon their father’s death; even though Yelizoli Lana Lagfu was a PAGABIA and under Dagbon tradition had no claim to Yani.

The opportunity for the princes to eliminate the threat posed by Yelizoli Lana Lagfu came when Yaa Na Yakubu I became mentally ill (senile). Yelizoli Lana Lagfu, hearing about his uncle’s ailment moved to Yendi and put Yaa Na Yakubu I in shackles to prevent him from causing mischief in town. This action made it easier for the princes to convince other yanabihi that Yelizoli Lana Lagfu wanted to usurp Yani. The princes organized an army of Yanabihi and made war on Yelizoli Lana Lagfu in a battle at Demon. Yelizoli Lana Lagfu was killed in the ensuing battle. The princes were not yet done with their machinations, since they were not occupants of Yani gate skins and could not ascend Yani upon the death of Yaa Na Yakubu I; Na Abdulai (Abudu) was chief of Tampion, Na Andani-chief of Nyon and Na Mahami chief of Nakpali. The perfect opportunity for the princes came when the chief of Karaga, Na Mahami, died. They conspired to acquire Karaga for one of them. Unfortunately for them, Yaa Na Yakubu I appointed then Sunson Na Yahaya (his brother) to Karaga. The princes would not have any of that. Firstly, Na Mahami fought on the side of Yelizoli Lana Lagfu at the battle of Demon. Secondly, a soothsayer had warned them that if he was enskinned Karaga Lana, a Yani gate skin, he would succeed to Yani upon their father’s death. The third reason and probably the most important of all was to have one of them on a gate skin before the death of their father. The princes once again organized an army and ambushed the new Karaga Lana on his way to Karaga and killed him. The action of the princes angered Yaa Na Yakubu I and he made war on them. The princes and their supporters once again triumphed in pivotal battles at Vitin and Banvim Dohini, near Tamale. They, however, spared their father’s life and he continued to rule until his death.

The princes captured the skins of Savelugu and Mion and Na Abdulai (Abudu) became Mion lana, Na Andani became Yo Na while one of their supporters Sakpe Na Adama was promoted to the vacant skin of Karaga. On the death of Yaa Na Yakubu I, his son, Mion Lana Abdulai (Abudu), became Gbon Lana and later enskined Yaa Na Abdulai I. His brother Korli Na Mahami never lived to occupy a gate skin and never ascended the skins of Yani. Thus the third gate that would have been formed became extinct. Since his children could not rise above their father they were limited to skins at par with Korli.

Naa Abdulai I (1839 – 1858)

Yaa Na Abdulai I ruled for 19 year. Upon his death his brother Na Andani succeeded him, under the skin name of Yaa Na Andani II.

Naa Andani II (1858 – 1896)

Na Andani II ruled for 38 years. His ascention to the skins of Yani marks the beginning of the current rotation between the two royal houses, Abdulai (Abudu) Yili and Andani Yili. Yaa Na Abdulai I and Yaa Na Andani II were of different mothers. According to Dagbon custom and tradition no two princes of the same woman can ascend Yani. The slogan goes that “no woman can bring forth two lions”. Na Abdulai’s mother was Gbanzalun Lamisi while Na Andani’s mother was Galibang Budaali. It was under the reign of Yaa Na Andani II that the Europeans begun excursions into Dagbon. The Europeans came bearing flags, treaties and promise of protection. Dagbon under Yaa Na Andani II resisted the advancement of the Germans into the kingdom. On December 04, 1886 an army of about 7,000 strong, armed with bow and arrows clashed with the German army with their guns at Adiboo, near Yendi. The bravery of the Dagbon warriors is eulogised in a song of praise to Kambon Nakpema Ziblim.

Yaa Na Andani II, before his death, recommended that upon his death Karaga Na Alasani, a son of Yaa Na Abdulai (Abudu) I, would become Yaa Na and his (Yaa Na Andani II) eldest son Tugu Na Yiri would become Karaga Na; a Yaa Na in waiting. This was to establish the “unwritten” rotational system of ascention to Yani. But this was not to be. Upon the death of Yaa Na Andani II, the struggle for Yani once again flared up. After the death of Yaa Na Andani II, Karaga Na Alasani failed to go to Yendi to mourn with the children of Yaa Na Andani II. According to Dagbon custom and tradition, upon the death of a Yaa Na all divisional chiefs must go to Yendi and offer their burial kits to the bereaved family. The only exception to this is Gushie Na. After presenting their burial kits, the chiefs may choose to stay in Yendi until the funeral rites are performed and the new Yaa Na is outdoored or go back to their respective chiefdoms. For the occupants of the gate skins, the presentation of the burial kit is deemed an unofficial application for consideration for Yani.

The failure of Karaga Na Alasani to mourn the death of Yaa Na Andani II angered his children. So when Karaga Na Alasani went to Yendi during the final funeral rites of Yaa Na Andani II and presented his donation towards the funeral of Yaa Na Andani II, the family refused the donation and returned it to Karaga Na Alasani. Karaga Na Alasani left Yendi. After the funeral of Yaa Na Andani II, contrary to his recommendation, Yoo Na Darimani (a.k.a. Kukra Adjei or kukal Djei) was enskinded Yaa Na. Yaa Na Darimani, was son of Yaa Na Yakubu I. In the sense of the word was not from Abudu Yili and in all likelihood an Andani Yili sympathizer. This was the first upset in the instituted rotational system between Abudu Yili and Andani Yili. The reign of Yaa Na Darimani was, however, short-lived. In fact he was on the skins of Yani for seven weeks. In the heat of the dispute surrounding the funeral of Yaa Na Andani II and the enskinment of Yaa Na Darimani, Korli Na Bukari Narkaw went to Sansanne Mango, in Togoland, and invited the Germans to attacked Yendi. The Germans had earlier failed to capture Dagbon in the famed Battle of Adiboo and held this grudge against Yaa Na Andani II. The Germans led by Dr. Rigler saw this invitation, and the state of disarray in the Dagbon State, as a golden opportunity to impose German domination on Dagbon. The Germans moved into Dagbon meeting the entourage from Western Dagbon at Sang on their way back home after the enskinment of Yaa Na Darimani. They attacked and killed Tugu Na Yiri, who had been enskinned Yo Na. Yaa Na Darimani abdicated Yani and fled from Yendi. The Germans helped enskin Karaga Na Alasani as the new Yaa Na.

The Partition of Dagbon

Upon his ascension to Yaani, Yaa Na Alasani enskinned his uncle Korli Na Bukari Narkaw to the now vacant skin of Karaga. Yaa Na Alassani also appointed his brother Kalim to Mion, deskining Mion Lana Salifu, and his uncle Bukari to Savelugu. When Yo Na Bukari died in the early 1900, Yaa Na Alassani appointed his brother Mahama to Savelugu. These appointments are important because at that point there was no one from Andani yili on a gate skin. Therefore Andani yili could not get to Yani as the rotation system demanded. It must be noted that the appointment of chiefs to the divisional chiefdoms is at the sole discretion of the Yaa Na and his elders. Whoever earns his favour is appointed without question. After the ascension of Yaa Na Alasani to the skins of Yani, Dagbon was partitioned into Togoland Dagbon and British Dagbon. On November 14, 1899, the colonial powers of Britain and Germany signed a convention to establish boundaries to their colonial territories. The British Dagbon consisted of Western Dagbon, stretching from around Mion (Sambu) to Tamale. Whereas Yendi, Mion (Sambu) and most of Eastern Dagbon made up Togoland Dagbon, under German administration. The partition of Dagbon created intense friction between Yaa Na Alasani on the one hand and Yani gate skins in Western Dagbon on the other. Especially, his uncle Karaga Na Bukari Narkaw. After the partition of Dagbon the British administration instructed all Western Dagbon chiefs to sever all links and communication with Yani. In fact when Yo Na Mahama (chief of Savelugu and brother of Yaa Na Alasani) was found to be communicating with Yaa Na Alasani he was removed as chief of Savelugu and thrown into British jail. Karaga Na Bukari Narkaw heeded the instruction of the British and severed all communication with Yendi. Karaga Na Bukari was so cooperative with the British administration that he was described as one of the most loyal chiefs in Dagbon.

The partition of Dagbon saw various chiefs in Western Dagbon take advantage of the situation to advance and grow their chiefdoms. Upon the death of Mion Lana Kalim in 1911, Karaga Na Bukari Narkaw assumed the capacity of “British Dagbon Yaa Na” and enskinned son of Yaa Na Andani II as British Mion Lana. At the same time Yaa Na Alasani appointed his son Na Abdulai as German Mion Lana. Thus there were two chiefs for Mion. The British Mion Lana made Kpabia the seat of Mion whiles the German Mion Lana remained in Sambu which had fallen under Germany jurisdiction. It is narrated that just before the partition of Dagbon Gulkpe Na (chief of Tamale) was traveling in Yendi. He could therefore not return to Tamale for the duration of the partition. Dakpema of Tamale thus made claim as the chief of Tamale. Under this claim Dakpema was able to convince the British to move the capital of the Northern Territories to Tamale from Gambaga.

After the removal of Yo Na Mahama, a second son of Yaa Na Andani II, Na Bukari, was enskinned chief of Savelugu. Other son’s of Yaa Na Andani II had also taken the skins of Sagnarigu, Tampion, Zangbalun, and Kpatinga. Thus, the Andani gate grew very powerful in Western Dagbon under the British. Yaa Na Alasani died on January 17, 1917 during the First World War and the partition of Dagbon. In 1917, however, Togoland Dagbon was under British control. Three years earlier, in 1914, the British invaded and took Yendi without much resistance from the Germans. There was, however, uncertainty regarding the outcome of the war. The British did not, therefore, allow the enskinment of a successor to Yaa Na Alasani. The Gbon Lana of Yaa Na Alasani, Mion Lana Abdulai, served in the role of Yaa Na.

Yaa Naa Bukari and Ya Naa Abdulai II

Yaa Na Abdulai II (1920-1938)

AbdulaiIIIn 1920, after the defeat of Germany, the British administration allowed the reunification of Dagbon and the enskinment of a successor to Yaa Na Alasani. On November 20, 1920 the Chief Commissioner of the Northern Territories (CCNT), Captain C. A. Armitage, formally invited 35 Dagbon chiefs to Tamale to reunite Dagbon and request them to select a new Yaa Na. In a speech to the gathering, the CCNT outlined the history of Dagbon under the British administration and asked them to set aside their differences and all misunderstandings of the past. He asked that personal considerations and vendettas be set aside and that a chief who is most suited to carry out the duties of Yaa Na in the best interest of the people of Dagbon be chosen. The candidates for consideration were Mion Lana Abdulai, son of Yaa Na Alasani, he had served as Gbon Lana after the death of Yaa Na Alasani; Yo Na Bukari, son of Yaa Na Andani II, he was at this time advanced in age, blind and partially paralysed; Karaga Na Ziblim, a great grandson of Yaa Na Yakubu, though occupant of a gate skin he was not eligible for selection; British “Mion Lana” Abdulai, also son of Yaa Na Andani II, he was appointed to British Mion by Karaga Na Bukari Narkaw. This appointment was disputed by many especially the chiefs and elders of Togoland (German) Dagbon.

On November 22, 1920 the CCNT summoned the chiefs and asked if they had arrived at a decision as to who would be successor to Yaa Na Alasani. The chiefs informed him that Yo Na Bukari was chosen as new Yaa Na. Yo Na Bukari was unable to relocate to Yendi from Savelugu to serve as Yaa Na because of his age and failing health. He abdicated, nominating Mion Lana Abdulai, Gbon Lana of Yaa Na Alasani, to be enskinned Yaa Na. Mion Lana Abdulai ascended the skins of Yani under the skin name Yaa Na Abdulai II.

Yaa Na Abdulai II appointed British “Mion Lana” Abdulai to the vacant skin of Mion. All indications are that the gathering of Dagbon chiefs of 1920 and events that followed were orchestrated by the British CCNT, Captain Armitage. He secured the unanimous nomination of Yaa Na Bukari, his abdication and nomination of Yaa Na Abdulai II. Even the enskinment of Mion Lana Abdulai (former British Mion Lana) to the skins of Mion were the wishes of Captain Armitage. The importance of the selection of both Yaa Na Bukari and Yaa Na Abdulai II is that it never followed the tradition and custom of Dagbon. They were not selected by the traditional selection committee through soothsaying and divination, but rather through a consultation of the divisional chiefs of Dagbon. The British government of the Northern Territories set out to rebuild the reputation of the Yaa Na, especially with the chiefdoms of British Dagbon who had been severed from Yendi for a long time. The government acquired a truck for the use of the Yaa Na and organized the visit of Yaa Na Abdulai II to Kumasi in 1925 after the return of Nana Prempeh from exile in Seychelles. The British however, still influenced the nomination and enskinment of chiefs in Dagbon. They secured for the chiefs of the former British Dagbon advancement skins; for fear that Yaa Na Abdulai II will deny them the skins in retaliation for their defiance of Yani under the British. One such occasion was the enskinment of successor to Yo Na Bukari (Yaa Na Bukari) who died in 1921. The British government of the Northern Territories influenced the selection of Bamvim Lana Abdulai for Savelugu. Even though the British had decreed they would not influence the selection and enskinment of chiefs in Dagbon, they still reserved the right to approve every enskinment. They instituted a probationary system for chiefs of Dagbon and could deskin any chief who was found to perform unsatisfactorily by British standards.

Dagbon Conference of 1930

The Dagbon Conference of 1930 opened on November 24. Though the primary reason for the conference, from the point of view of the colonial government, was the institution of indirect rule, the conference holds a very significant place in the history of Dagbon. The conference issued a detailed statement of the history and boundaries of Dagbon. The document listed the various classes of chieftaincy and the order of precedence within each class. The conference also specified the elders of Yendi and the constitution of the Dagbon State Council. The procedures and qualifications relating to succession to Yani were outlined. The conference reaffirmed that only chiefs occupying the gate skins of Mion, Karaga, and Savelugu were eligible for Yani. Also grandsons were categorically excluded from ascending the skins of Yani. Regarding the selection of the Yaa Na the conference agreed that the Kuga Na, Tugri Nam, Gushie Na and Gomli constituted the Yaa Na selection committee. The conference confirmed that all appointments to chieftaincy in Dagbon were to be made by the Yaa Na, and that the Yaa Na cannot be deprived of the Nam except by death. The conference also laid down plans to establish a Dagbon Native Authority.

The Dagbon Native Authority comprised of the Yaa Na and his council. Thirteen subordinate Native Authorities comprising of various divisional chiefs and their elders were also instituted. The Native Authorities had the duty to maintain order and also had the right to arrest, impose penalties, and imprisonment. The powers, so bestowed on the Yaa Na, made his office very lucrative to all Dagbon Princes. Apart from the political, administrative, and judicial powers the colonial government entrusted to the Yaa Na, he also was able to hold his own army. He drew a salary from revenue the kingdom generated from direct taxation and levies. Yaa Na Abdulai II died in February 1938.

Yaa Naa Mahama II (1938-1948)

After the death of Yaa Na Abdulai II, four chiefs announced their candidature for Yani. They were Yaa Na Abdulai’s regent - Gbon Lana Alhassan, Yo Na Yakubu, Mion Lana Mahama, and Karaga Na Ziblim. Both Yo Na Yakubu and Mion Lana Mahama were sons of Yaa Na Andani II. Karaga Na Ziblim was son of Karaga Na Bukari who never got to Yani. According to the constitution of Dagbon, the candidature of Gbon Lana Alhassan and Karaga Na Ziblim was symbolic in nature. Karaga Na Ziblim’s father never got to Yani and since no chief could rise higher than his father he was eligible for chiefdoms at par with Karaga. Gbon Lana Alhassan on the other hand was not occupying a gate skin. The Yaa Na selection committee, on September 23, 1938, announced that Mion Lana Mahama was selected Yaa Na under the skin name Yaa Na Mahama II.

Yaa Na Mahama II enskinned Gbon Lana Alhassan to the vacant skin of Mion. In 1947 Karaga Na Ziblim died. Yaa Na Mahama II appointed his son, then Sagnarigu Na Andani, to the vacant skin of Karaga amidst protest from the elders of Yendi and citizens of Karaga. In the turbulence of the moment Sunson Na Adam, younger brother of Karaga Na Ziblim, defied the Yaa Na and moved to Karaga to occupy the vacant skin before Sagnarigu Na Andani could get to Karaga. Banvim Lana Abdulai, who had been elevated to Sagnarigu had also moved to occupy the Sagnarigu skin, thus leaving Sagnarigu Na Andani without a skin. The District commissioner intervened, at this point, and suspended the enskinment of Karaga. On February 06, 1948 Yaa Na Mahama II died. At the time of his death Ya Na Mahama was about 80 years old.

After the death of Yaa Na Mahama II, at a Dagbon State Council meeting on May 12, 1948, chaired by the Gbon Lana of Yaa Na Mahama II, a unanimous decision was reached to change the Yaa Na selection committee. The new Yaa Na Selection Committee constituted the divisional chiefs and elders of Yendi: Divisional Chiefs - Gushie Na, Yelzoli Lana, Nanton Na, Gulkpe Na, Sunson Na, Tolon Na, Kumbun Na; Elders - Kuga Na, Zohe Na, Tugri Nam, and Gagbindana. The amendment to the Yaa Na selection committee also added a statement that when a unanimous decision could not be reached, a selection by secret ballot will be used and the Yaa Na will be the candidate with majority vote.

Yaa Naa Mahama III (1948 -1953)

After the funeral rites of Yaa Na Mahama II were performed four chiefs submitted their candidacy for Yani. They were Yo Na Mahamuru and (Yaa Na Mahama II) Gbon Lana Andani of Andani Yili and Sunson Na Adam and Mion Lana Mahama of Abudu Yili. (Yaa Na Mahama II’s)  Gbon Lana Andani, at this time was between the skins of Sagnarigu and Karaga. Sunson Na Adam also had usurped the skin of Karaga and was infact a great grandson. These two candidates had infact not officially occupied the gate skin of Karaga. Mion Lana Mahama was younger brother of Yaa Na Abdulai II and was enskinned Mion Lana after the death of Yaa Na Abdulai son, Mion Lana Alhassan.

The Yaa Na Selection Committee selected Mion Lana Mahama over the other candidates and he ascended the Skins of Yani under the skin name Yaa Na Mahama III. It is interesting that the old Yaa Na Selection Committee was used in the selection of Yaa Na Mahama III and not the newly constituted Yaa Na Selection Committee.

After ascending the Skins of Yani, Yaa Na Mahama II Mahama appointed the regent of Yaa Na Mahama II, Gbon Lana Andani, to the vacant skins of Mion and confirmed Sunson Na Adam to the skins of Karaga. The reign of Yaa Na Mahama III was during the tail end of colonial rule and the rise of the Dr. Kwame Nkrumah’s CPP. During this period efforts were made to define and protect chieftaincy in Ghana. Legislation was enacted to form State Councils and an instrument published to recognize Head Chiefs (paramountcies) in the Northern Territories. In Dagbon the Yaa Na was recognized as Paramount Chief and the Dagbon State Council, consisting of divisional chiefs was formed. The Dagbon State Council was responsible for inquiring and determining any matters of constitutional nature arising within the kingdom of Dagbon. The reign of Yaa Na Mahama III was reasonably calm, compared to the situation in Dagbon after his death. Yaa Na Mahama III died in 1953 after a 5-year reign.

Choosing a Successor to Yaa Na Mahama III

The events following the death of Yaa Na Mahama III, performance of his final funeral rites, and enskinning his successor probably mark the beginning of modern day chieftaincy constitutional crisis in Dagbon. The events reignited the bitter “Andani Yili – Abudu Yili” struggle that had hitherto plagued the Kingdom for the best part of a half century, albeit to a lesser degree. In the final days of the reign of Yaa Na Mahama III and immediately following his death, there were rumours in the kingdom that Mion Lana Andani was responsible for the illness and demise of the Yaa Na. The family of Yaa Na Mahama III was therefore angered by the alleged sorcery of Mion Lana Andani and banned him from attending the funeral of the Yaa Na. This accusation caused a lot of trouble in the kingdom, as Mion Lana Andani - a member of the Andani gate - was favoured to be enskinned Yaa Na to maintain the rotation of the Nam between the two gates. Yaa Na Mahama III was a member of Abudu Yili. Failure of Mion Lana Andani to attend the funeral of the Yaa Na could in fact disqualify him from presenting his candidacy for Yani (as in the case of Yaa Na Alasani in 1899). On his death bed, it is alleged that, Yaa Na Mahama III requested that his first son not be installed Gbon Lana because of his physical deformities. Yaa Na Mahama III proposed to by-pass his children and install Kpating Lana Ziblim, a son of Yaa Na Abdulai II and nephew of Yaa Na Mahama III, Gbon Lana. A petition from the eldest son of Yaa Na Mahama III, Abdulai, and his supporters to the government of the Gold Coast and protests from Andani Yili led to the intervention of government forces and Abdulai was installed Gbon Lana.

Next problem was establishing who had the right to select the successor to Yaa Na Mahama III. In Dagbon custom and tradition, the selection of the new Yaa Na fell on the old Yaa Na Selection Committee - made up of Gushie Na, Kuga Na, Tugri Nam, and Gomli. The kingmakers consulted oracles and soothsayers to determine which of the eligible candidates’ (occupants of Yani gate skins) reign as Yaa Na would bring peace and prosperity to Dagbon. Earlier in 1948 during the installation of Yaa Na Mahama III, as we have already noted, a new Ya Na Selection Committee was formed to replace the traditional committee of kingmakers, but then the selection of Yaa Na Mahama III was by the old Yaa Na Selection Committee. The reason for the new selection committee was to include other members from outside Yendi to determine which of the contestants was most suitable for Yani. The older selection committee consisted of elders of Yendi and other parts of the Kingdom had no voice in choosing of the Yaa Na. More importantly, the new Yaa Na Selection Committee was conceived under the colonial governments strive to establish a democratic system of governance in Dagbon, in the hope that it will make it easier for literate yanabihi to make it to Yani and other divisional chiefdoms. Thus making the governance of the kingdom easier from the colonial government’s point of view. They noted that the system of ascension to the Skins of Yani and to other divisional chiefdoms excluded the young and literate princes of Dagbon from reaching high positions. The new committee was also a step towards democratization of the process, as most of the chiefs appointed to the skins in Dagbon lacked the education and commitment to the system of government and taxation put in place by the colonial government.

The high ranking chiefs of Dagbon were very critical and suspicious of education and therefore did not enroll their children in schools. Most of the literate princes were therefore eligible to lower ranking chiefdoms without much impact on the chieftancy politics in the kingdom. The legitimacy of this new committee was being challenged, as most felt that the formation of the committee in 1948 was not discussed at the Dagbon State Council nor was the committee involved in the selection of Ya Na Mahama III. At an emergency session, the Dagbon State Council unanimously voted to adopt the resolution of 1948 reconstituting the Yaa Na Selection Committee. Present at this was Mion Lana Andani and other members of Andani Yili who later ratified the minutes of the meeting. After settling the issue with the legitimacy of the selection committee, came the application of Kpating Lana Ziblim for consideration for Yani. Even though Kpating Lana Ziblim was not occupying a gate skin, and thus not eligible for Yani, he made an application nonetheless, and argued thus - “although I am not occupying a high chieftainship as our constitution demands, I further want to explain that Na Zangina I was Bolun Lana and he was made Yaa Na; Na Sigli was Zolugu Na and he was made Yaa Na; Na Gungobli was Yamol-Karaga Na and he was made Yaa Na; Na Ziblim was Kpating Lana and he was made Ya Na; Therefore my present post will not debar me from being made Yaa Na”[2].

At a meeting of the Dagbon State Council, Kpating Lana’s application was rejected by a vote of 18 to 6. The council decided that only the three occupants of Yani gate skins of Karaga, Savelugu, and Mion would be considered for Yani. On December 12, 1953, one day after the vote rejecting the application of Kpating Lana, Dagbon State Council unanimously agreed that the sitting Gbon Lana Abdulai had the right to apply for Yani. With this decision the Dagbon constitution was amended to include the reigning Gbon Lana for consideration for Yani, if he applies. This makes the eligible number of candidates for Yani four, the reigning Gbon Lana and the occupants of Yani Gate Skins. On March 19, 1954, the selection committee met in Yendi to select the successor to Yaa Na Mahama III. The candidates for consideration were Mion Lana Andani, Yo Na Mahamuru, Karaga Na Adam and Gbon Lana Abdulai. Both Mion Lana Andani and Yo Na Mahamuru were from Andani Yili. Karaga Na Adam was only a great grandson and could not succeed to Yani. The Gbon Lana Abdulai at this time was not a holder of any chiefdom. After the voting was completed, Mion Lana Andani polled 2 votes and Gbon Lana Abdulai got the remaining 9 votes. Yo Na Mahamuru and Karaga Na Adam got no votes.

Yaa Naa Abdulai III (1954-1967)

 AbdulaiIIIYaa Na Mahama III's Gbon Lana Abduali ascended Yani under the skin name Yaa Na Abdulai III. His ascension to the Skins of Yani upset the rotation of the nam between Andani Yili and Abudu Yili. On March 20, 1954 Yaa Na Abdulai III exited “katin duu” and in a colourful procession amidst drumming and dancing proceeded to Zohe. Zohe is a suburb of Yendi where by custom every new Yaa Na spends the first week of his reign. While Abudu Yili was jubilating and merry-making, Andani Yili put into motion a series of machinations and protests to the ascension of Yaa Na Abdulai III. On March 27, 1954, Karaga Na Adam, Yo Na Mahamuru, and Mion Lana Andani met in Tamale to formally launch a protest with the Chief Regional Officer against the enskinment of Yaa Na Abdulai. The protest in Tamale did not bear fruit as the complainants could not answer the question of the Chief Regional Officer as to which of them would be best suited to be enskined Yaa Na if Yaa Na Abdulai III was deskined. Andani Yili, not satisfied with the outcome of their protests commenced proceedings in the Dagbon State Council against Yaa Na Abdulai III. The charges were against the Yaa Na included his conspicuous physical deformities which by custom disqualifies a person from occupying the Skins of Yani. The said physical deformities were a defective eye and toes. Also, they claimed he was not selected by the traditional four-man selection committee (old Yaa Na Seletion Committee): Kuga Na, Gushie Na, Tugri Nam, and Gomli. He was not eligible for selection because he was not an occupant of a gate skin and his selection violated the established rotation between Abudu Yili and Andani Yili.

The complainants also asserted that Yaa Na Abdulai III was not installed by the proper functionaries established to enskin a Yaa Na, i.e. the old Yaa Na Selection Committee. In fact Kuga Na and Tugri Nam were the only members of the Yaa Na Selection Committee to cast their votes for Mion Lana Andani. They were therefore against the selection of Yaa Na Abdulai III and refused to install him Yaa Na. On March 19, 1954, Kuga Na and Tugri Nam together with other Andani Yili supporters were ready to enter Katin duu with Mion Lana Andani, the same time Yaa Na Abdulai III was in Katin duu. But for the presence of security forces in Yendi, Abudu Yili and Andani Yili were ready to do battle. The Dagbon State Council convened on September 20, 1958 to hear the case against Yaa Na Abdulai III. The council tried the case and dismissed all charges against Yaa Na Abdulai III, stating that Yaa Na Abdulai III was customarily and properly enskinned with the approval of the Yaa Na Selection Committee. After the Dagbon State Council dismissed the case of Andani Yili against Yaa Na Abdulai III, various divisional and subdivisional chiefs of Dagbon who belonged to Andani Yili left their respective villages and camped in Sambu. The chiefs of Andani Yili led by then M.P and C.P.P. Minister of Health, J. H. Allassani, appealed the dismissal of their case at the State Council under the House of Chiefs Act (1958) to the government of the C.P.P. on May 04, 1959. The appeal resounded the charges made before the Dagbon State Council and added that the Dagbon State Council refused to hear their case.

To understand the urgency of Mion Lana Andani and Andani Yili, to get to Yani, you have to take a trip back to the ascensions of Ya Na Abudu I and Ya Na Andani II to establish Abudu Yili and Andani Yili. 

Yaa Na Abdulai I 1864 - 1876 (12 years) Abudy Yilu
Yaa Na Andaini II 1876 - 1899 (22 years) Andani Yili
Yaa Na Darimani 1899 (7 weeks abdicated) Andani Yili
Yaa Na Alaasani 1899 -1917 (18 years) Abudu Yili
Yaa Na Bukari 1920 (abdicated) Andani Yili
Yaa Na Abdulai II 1920 - 1938 (18 years plus was Gbon Lana for 3 years) Abudu Yili
Yaa Na Mahama II 1938 - 1948 (10 years) Andani Yili
Yaa Na Mahama III 1948 - 1953 (5 years) Abudu Yili
Yaa Na Abdulai III 1953 - 1967 (14 years) Abudu Yili


From above it can be seen that from 1899 to the ascension of Ya Na Abdulai III, a period of 54 years, Andani Yili had been on the Skins of Yani for only 10 years. During the remainder of the period, Abudu Yili ruled Dagbon and had enskinned almost every Na of the significant chiefdoms in the kingdom. The chiefs, naturally, favoured Abudu Yili, hence the ease with which the Yaa Na Selection Committee elected Yaa Na Abdulai III. This fact apart, Andani Yili had two chiefs, Yo Na Mahamuru and Mion Lana Andani, who had not yet reached Yani. Yo Na Mahamuru was over 80 years old and was not expected to live long enough to get to Yani, whereas Mion Lana Andani was now over 50 years old. Ya Na Abdulai III was in his twenties and there was therefore urgency in an Andani ascending the skins of Yani to keep the gate alive. This urgency included calls for the deskinning Yaa Na Abdulai III as he was thought to be younger and would outlive the two Andani Yili chiefs on the gate skins of Savelugu and Mion.

The government of the C.P.P. at this time needed support in the Northern Territories badly as the Northern Peaples Party (N.P.P.) was winning most of the seats in the Dagbon Electoral Areas. The Yaa Na would not also lend his support to the C.P.P. and his association with the de facto leader of the N.P.P. in Dagbon – Tolon Na Yakubu Tali, did not help matters. The government of the C.P.P. appointed a committee of enquiry under S.D. Opoku Afari, a barrister of law. The committee of inquiry listened to the case and witnesses from both Andani Yili and Abudu Yili made and a recommendations to the Minister of Local Government of the CPP Government, A.E.A Ofori Atta, who in turn took the report to cabinet. The report found that; Yaa Na Abdulai III was indeed physically deformed; that the rotation between Abudu Yili and Andani Yili was upset by the ascension of Yaa Na Abdulai III; that ascention to the Skins of Yani was limited to the gate skins of Karaga, Savelugu and Mion. At the cabinet meeting, the findings of the commission of enquiry were overturned. The government submitted that Yaa Na Abdulai III was customarily and constitutionally elected and enskinned. It is alleged that this measure was taken because of fear of suffering a set back in the Northern Territories if the government indeed deskinned the Yaa Na. The set back that was being considered here was that prior to the S. D. Opoku Afari report most of the educated in Dagbon, notably Tolon Na Yakubu Tali and Salifu Yakubu – MP for Savelugu, had abandoned the N.P.P. and joined the C.P.P. In fact Yaa Na Abdulai III and most of the chiefs in Dagbon converted to the C.P.P. enbloc. The government then invited Mion Lana Andani and Yaa Na Abdulai III to Accra. On June 17, 1960, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Prime Minister of Ghana, asked the parties to bury their differences and work together for the betterment of Dagbon and Ghana as a whole. Back to Sambu, Mion Lana Andani did not give up the fight to get to Yani. He continued to lobby government to take another look at the constitutionality of Yaa Na Abdulai III ascension to Yani. He sent a letter to Dr. Kwame Nkrumah explaining that he had understood the political arguments behind the government’s decision not to deskin Yaa Na Abdulai III but asked Nkrumah to understand that if he died without ascending the Skins of Yani all his children and infact the Andani gate would be excluded from Yani forever.

On August 25, 1960, the government made a declaration of customary law which became known as Legislative Instrument 59 (L.I. 59). The declaration was as follows [2];

The ascension to the Yendi Skin shall be in rotation among the Abudu and Andani families. Persons who are eligible to occupy the skins shall be the sons of deceased or previous Yaa Nanima occupying one of the gate skins of Karaga, Savelugu, and Mion. Sons of deceased or former Yaa Na occupying skins other than the gate skins are not eligible for appointment to the Skins of Yani. On the death of the Yaa Na Abdulai III the next Yaa Na shall be Mion Lana Andani of Andani Yili. In the event of Mion Lana Andani pre-deceasing Yaa Na Abdulai III, the next Mion Lana, who shall be from Andani Yili, should occupy the Skins of Yani. Since candidates from Abudu Yili have twice in succession occupied the Skins of Yani, candidates from Andani Yili should be given the opportunity to occupy the Skins twice in succession before the customary law of succession by rotation proceeds in the normal way. In order to facilitate the application of the rule of alternation between the two ruling families of Abudu and Andani, there shall at any one time be at lease one member from either family on one or two of the three gate skins of Karaga, Savelugu, and Mion. Where two candidates from either family become eligible for appointment to the Skins of Yani, the senior (i.e. the one who first occupied the gate skin) shall be nominated for the Skins. Since Mion Lana Andani should have ordinarily been the occupant of Yani, it should be laid down that in the event of his pre-deceasing Yaa Na Abdulai III, his sons should be regarded as sons of a former Yaa Na and qualified for Yani.

Legislative Instrument 59 was a victory of sort for Andani Yili. It displeased Abudu Yili in that it recognized the fact that Mion Lana Andani was the legitimate successor to Yaa Na Mahama III. When the government of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah (Convention Peoples Party) was ousted in a military coup d’etat on February 24, 1966, Abudu Yili saw an opportunity to have L. I. 59 revoked. Abudu Yili put their political gurus to work. They lobbied the government of the National Libration Council (NLC) for the revocation of L. I. 59. On May 25, 1967, the Dagbon State Council presented a petition for the revocation of L.I. 59 to the NLC. The petition among other things argued that L.I. 59 violated the norm of Dagbon custom that no successor to any Na should be known or determined during the reign of the incumbent, that there was no customary rotation between the two gates in Dagbon custom and constitution and that the Gbon Lana of a Yaa Na has an equal right to ascend the skins of Yani as the occupants of the three gate skins.

Yaa Na Abdulai III died on September 14, 1967 before any action on Dagbon State Council’s petition. Yaa Na Abdulai III Gbon Lana, Mahamadu, then 19 years of age and a student of the Government Secondary School in Tamale, continued the fight for revocation of L.I. 59. On October 21, 1967 Dagbon State Council met to discuss the funeral of Yaa Na Abdulai III. Then Gbon Lana Mahamadu announced that he wished to postpone the final funeral rites of his father and that Karaga Na Adam should be responsible for the funeral. Mion Lana Andani and other members of the Dagbon State Council were against this request, stating that it is the Mion Lana who is responsible for the funeral of the Yaa Na. They also wanted a speedy performance of the final funeral rites of the late Yaa Na and the enskinment of a new Yaa Na, Mion Lana Andani, in accordance with L.I. 59. Abudu Yili on the other hand was content with postponing the final funeral rites and the enskinment of the new Yaa Na to give them time to fight for the revocation of L.I. 59.

Meanwhile the government of the NLC had returned the petition of Dagbon State Council for consideration in the House of Chiefs. The House of Chiefs rejected the petition requesting that Mion Lana Andani be enskinned Yaa Na. Members of the House of Chiefs, including the Nayiri of Mamprugu and Yebunwura of Gonja, argued that L.I. 59 was the only formula to solve the Dagbon chieftaincy crisis. Dagbon State Council returned to the government with the charge that L.I. 59 was the work of J. H. Allassani and Nkrumah’s C.P.P. and that the instrument seriously undermined the custom and tradition of Dagbon. Meanwhile a new breed of Dagbon politicians was entering the political scene and into the circus of the Yendi Chieftaincy dispute. Among them was B. A. Yakubu, a member of the N.L.C. and Deputy Commissioner of Police and Ibrahim Mahama a commissioner under the N.L.C. government. B.A. Yakubu hailed from Gushiegu and was the son of Gushie Na. His brother was appointed to the skins of Gushiegu by Yaa Na Abdulai III and his father before him was appointed by Abudu Yili. B. A. Yakubu was regarded as an Abudu Yili sympathizer. Ibrahim Mahama on the other hand had become the spokesman of Andani Yili. He had earlier in 1966 graduated from the University of Ghana and was a leading member of the Northern Youth Association. In the drama leading to the performance of the funeral of Yaa Na Abdulai III, the N.L.C. government published legislative instrument 596 (L.I. 596) revoking L.I. 59 only to reverse its decision in N.L.C. Decree 281 reinstating L.I. 59. The NLC government advised the Chieftaincy Secretariat to carryout an investigation into the enactment of L.I. 59.The chairman of the Chieftaincy Secretariate, Justice J. B. Siriboe, led a three member committee to Yendi in September 1968 to begin their investigation.

After their investigation, the Siriboe Committee recommended to the government to revoke L.I. 59. On October 15, 1968, the NLC government revoked Legislative Instrument 59 (L.I. 59) in NLC Decree 296. NLC Decree 296 also requested that a new Yaa Na be elected in accordance with Dagbon Custom and Constitution. This threw Dagbon into a state of disarray. Of the occupants of Yani gate skins, only Mion Lana Andani was qualified to ascend the Skins of Yani. Karaga Na Adam and Yo Na (Savelugu Na) Abdulai were both Yanse (grand sons) and thus not eligible for Yani. The struggle for Yani was now between Mion Lana Andani and Gbon Lana Mahamadu, who was eligible with the revocation of L.I. 59. Mion Lana was supported by the traditional kingmakers of Kuga Na, Tugri Nam, Gomli, and Kpati Na, whereas Gbon Lana Mahamadu had the support of the modern selection committee. It was therefore no surprise that after the performance of the final funeral rites of Yaa Na Abdulai III on November 07, 1968, the two candidates were presented for enskinment. The traditional kingmakers selected Mion Lana Andani while the modern selection committee selected Gbon Lana Mahamadu.

The meeting of the selection committee was not attended by Kuga Na, Tugri Nam and Kumbun Na who were supporters of Mion Lana Andani. The District Administration of Yendi, receiving news that both Abudu Yili and Andani Yili were preparing to enskin their selections, prevented them from entering Katin duu for the enskinment. An armed guard was posted at Katin duu. Meanwhile the following morning Radio Ghana news bulletin in Dagbanli announced that Mion Lana Andani had been enskinned Yaa Na while the Daily Graphic on its front page announced that Mion Lana Andani had been selected by the kingmakers. It was later alledged that Ibrahim Mahama, then Commissioner for Information, had used his office to get information of Mion Lana Andani’ selection broadcast. Yaa

Yaa Na Andani III (1968-1969)

The District Administrative Officer, J. E. Nsaful, began an examination of the facts as presented by both sides. On November 21, 1968, after completing his examination of the facts, summoned the chiefs and informed them that the rightful successor to Yaa Na Abdulai III was Mion Lana Andani. He asked them to proceed with preparations to enskin him Yaa Na. That evening, Mion Lana Andani was enskined Yaa Na Andani III. In fact the enskinment of Yaa Na Andani III was not without protest. The Zohe Na and Kpati Na absented themselves from Katin Duu in protest. On November 22, 1968 Yaa Na Andani III exited Katin Duu and in a colourful parade amid drumming and dancing proceeded to Zohe where he spent the first days of his reign as Yaa Na. Once again, as was the case in 1954, while Andani Yili was merry-making Abudu Yili begun their machinations and protest against the enskinment of Yaa Na Andani III.

On November 24, 1968 they presented a petition to the NLC government against the enskinment of Yaa Na Andani III. The petition declared that Yaa Na Andani III was not properly and customarily selected and enskinned Yaa Na. Both Kpati Na and Gomli protested that they had not participated in the divination of soothsayers to select the Yaa Na. They also contended that several important rituals had not been performed on Yaa Na Andani III. The NLC government appointed a three-member committee (Mate Kole Committee) on December 14, 1968 to hear the petition. The committee was chaired by Nene Azzu Mate Kole and had Nana Obiri Yeboah and Jatoe Kaleo as members. The Mate Kole Committee commenced sitting on December 17, 1968 in Tamale. The committee was to determine:

  1. The custom and customary procedure for the nomination and/or selection of the new Yaa Na.
  2. Whether Yaa Na Andani III was properly nominated and enskined in accordance with the said Dagbon traditional custom.
  3. Whether or not the said installation was unduly influenced by the presence of armed soldiers and policemen and of the district administrative office of Yendi.

While the Mate Kole committee was still sitting, Yaa Na Andani III died on March 14, 1969 at (age 70?). He had been Yaa Na for a little less than four months. The Mate Kole committee continued its investigation after the death of Yaa Na Andani III and concluded its report in August 1969. In the interim, General J.A. Ankrah resigned as chairman of N.L.C. and Ibrahim Mahama was removed as Commissioner for Information. Brigadier A.A. Afrifa, the new chairman of N.L.C., announced plans to return the country to civilian rule and lifted the ban on party politics. In Dagbon, party politics and membership to the parties were strongly chieftaincy aligned. Abudu Yili voted massively for the Progress Party (P.P.) of Dr. K.A. Busia while Andani Yili voted for the National Alliance of Liberals (N.A.L.) of K.A. Gbedemah. Ibrahim Mahama was the candidate for N.A.L. in Tamale. After the general elections, N.A.L. polled about 49% of the votes and 4 of the 7 seats in Dagbon while the P.P. polled about 46% of the votes and the remaining 3 seats. Against their successes in the rest of the Northern Region and the country as a whole. This result was a defeat to the P.P. and Abudu Yili and a big victory for Andani yili.

On September 03, 1969 Dr. K.A. Busia became Prime Minister of Ghana and on September 04, 1969, bearly one day in office, the P.P. government disclosed the findings of the Mate Kole committee in a white paper stating that the enskinment of Yaa Na Andani III was against Dagbon custom and therefore null-and-void. It also accepted the findings that Gbon Lana Mahamadu was properly selected and directed that he be enskinned Yaa Na.

The principal findings of the Mate Kole Committee of enquiry were as follows:

  1. That those eligible for paramountcy are the occupants of the skins of Karaga, Savelugu, or Mion if they were sons of a Ya Na and the Gbon Lana of Yani; these are the four persons from among whom a Yaa Na could be selected
  2. That the body traditionally authorized to select a Yaa Na is that body agreed upon by the Dagbon State Council in 1948 and accepted by the Government that the Mion Lana was not selected by the recognized body of Selection Committee, his alleged selection by soothsayers consisting of Kuga Na, Tugri Nam, Amadu Gomle, and Mahama Kpatia is not the custom as at present recognized
  3. That the Mion Lana’s alleged installation on 21 September 1968 was not performed by the Gomli, Malle, Kpahigu, Gagbindana, the Kpati Na and the Gulkpe Na.
  4. That he did not undergo ceremonies at Zohe Na’s house, Mba Buga’s house, or Mbadugu’s house and that the Gbolon or “Gbewa Ceremony” was not performed on him. His alleged enskinment cannot therefore be in accordance with Dagbon traditional custom and procedure
  5. The Mate Kole committee also found that District Administrative Officer of Yendi had interfered with the selection process by preventing Gbon Lana Mahamadu from entering Katin duu. That the District and Regional Authorities had exceeded their legal power by directing that Yaa Na Andani be installed Yaa Na.

This ruling was of course not favourable to Andani Yili. On September 07, 1969 Andani Yili sent a letter of protest to the government stating that the act of enskinment of a Yaa Na and the accompanying rites performed on a qualified candidate are irrevocable. These rites were performed on Yaa Na Andani III and he lived out his life as a Yaa Na.

The period from September 04 – 08, 1969 was grim for Yendi and Dagbon. The government after ruling in favour of Abudu Yili directed that Gbon Lana Mahamadu be enskinned Yaa Na. The government directive also indicated that Andani Yili vacate the Gbewaa Palace to enable the enskinment of Gbon Lana Mahamadu. Andani Yili at this time was protesting the deskinment of Yaa Na Andani III. A curfew was imposed on Yendi but was constantly violated by the citizenry. In the midst of the chaos that prevailed in Yendi, the District Police Officer for Yendi was transferred and Police Superintendant Imoro Alhassan appointed in his place. On September 09, 1969 the security forces in Yendi opened fire on members of Andani Yili who were still in the Gbewaa Palace. About 23 men, women, and children were massacred and about 40 more wounded. Some 700 people were arrested and a large quantity of guns confiscated. The cause of the shooting in Yendi are not clear and accounts of what happened are clamoured in rumours that are often mutually exclusive. Suffice to say that even the official Government reports on the events leading to the Yendi massacre are conflicting.

No commission of enquiry was ever set up to investigate the shootings at Yendi.

Yaa Na Mahama IV(1969-1974)

MahamaduGbon Lana Mahamadu Abdulai was enskinned under the skin name Ya Na Mahama IV (Mahamadu). On September 13, 1969 Yaa Na Mahamadu exited Katin duu amidst heavy military and police presence. Upon ascension to the skins of Yani Yaa Na Mahamadu appointed B.A. Yakubu to the vacant skin of Gushiegu. His brother the Gushie Na had died after the ascension of Yaa Na Andani III. Yaa Na Mahamadu also appointed his uncle, Sang Lana, to the vacant skin of Mion. On the national scene, Yaa Na Mahamadu gained some prominence. He became a member of the Council of State of Ghana in September 1969 and in May 1970 he was elected the President of the Northern Region House of Chiefs.

On February 13, 1972 the Progress Party Government of Dr. Busia was overthrown in a coup d’etat led by General I. K. Acheampong’s National Redemption Council. On February 26, 1972 Andani Yili sent a petition to the new military government to appoint a committee of inquiry into the Yendi Chieftaincy Dispute. This petition gave birth to the Ollenu Committee of Inquiry - headed by Justice Nii Amaa Ollennu with Sir Tsibu Darki IX, Nana Atakora Amaniampong II and Togbe Adja Tekpor VI as members. The Ollennu committee of inquiry, among other things, was to:

  1. Ascertain the customary law (procedure) for nomination, selection, and enskinment of the Yaa Na
  2. Inquire about the circumstances leading to the abrogation of Legislative Instrument 59 (L.I. 59)
  3. Inquire into the deskinment of Yaa Na Andani III
  4. Inquire whether the nomination, selection, and enskinment of Yaa Na Mahama IV (Mahamadu) was according to Dagbon custom and constitution

On April 23, 1974 the government of the NRC published the Ollennu Committee report together with a white paper. The Ollennu committee reversed the findings of the Mate Korle Committee. Specifically, the Ollennu Committee found that the nomination, selection, and enskinment of Yaa Na Andani III was in accordance with the custom and constitution of Dagbon and therefore his deskinment was unjustified. On the nomination, selection and enskinment of Yaa Na Mahama IV (Mahamadu), the committee was of the view that he was not customarily nominated, selected and enskinned. As a result the enskinment of Yaa Na Mahama IV was declared null-and-void. The Ollennu committee also ruled that since no eligible member of Andani Yili occupied any of the gate skins of Yani, Yaa Na Andani III’s Gbon Lana Yakubu Andani be enskinned Yaa Na.

Ya Na Yakubu Andani II (1974-2002)

yana002On May 31, 1974, Gbon Lana Yakubu Andani (Kampakuya Na) ascended the skins of Yani as Yaa Na Yakubu II. The ascension of Yaa Na Yakubu did not put an end to the aspirations of Abudu Yili to get back to Yani. On July 5, 1978, the government of General Acheampong was ousted in a palace coup led by Lieutenant General F. W. K. Akuffo. Almost one year later, on May 09, 1979 Abudu Yili presented a petition to the government of the Supreme Military Council II. The government granted Abudu Yili the right to appeal the findings of the Ollennu Committee of Inquiry. On June 04, 1978, however, the government of Lieutenant General F. W. K. Akuffo was toppled in a military coup led by Flight Lieutenant Jerry J. Rawlings.

On September 08, 1979, Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings visited Yendi and in a durbar held in his honour and attended by both Yaa Na Yakubu II and deskinned Yaa Na Mahama IV.  Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings made Yaa Na Yakubu II and deskinned Yaa Na Mahama IV shake hands, reminding them they were brothers, and asked them to burry their differences in the interest of peace and development of Dagbon. On September 24, 1979 the government of People’s National Party (PNP) led by Dr. Hilla Limann was inaugurated. In 1981, Abudu Yili won the right to appeal the findings of the Ollennu Committee and won the appeal in the Appeal Court of Ghana. The P.N.P. government of Dr. Hilla Liman was ousted in a coup d’etat on December 31, 1981 by the Provisional National Defence Council (P.N.D.C.) led by Jerry Rawlings. The court case on the Yendi Skin Dispute, however, continued in the courts.

The appellate court had found that:

  1. The legitimate body for selecting a Yaa Na was the selection committee formed in 1948
  2. The selection of Yaa Na Mahama IV (Mahamadu Abdulai) by the selection committee was valid and according to the constitution and tradition of Dagbon
  3. The selection of Yaa Na Andani III was unconstitutional and thus his enskinment was null-and-void, thus Yaa Na Andani III never became Yaa Na.
  4. Yaa Na Yakubu II (Yaa Na Yakubu Andani) could not have been selected and enskinned since his father was never a legitimate Yaa Na.
  5. The findings of the Ollennu Committee of enquiry which recommended the deskinment of Yaa Na Mahama IV (Mahamadu Abdulai) be abrogated.

Andani Yili then, appealed the decision of the Appellate Court in the Supreme Court of Ghana on February 25, 1985. On December 17, 1986 the Supreme Court of Ghana ruled, by a vote of six to one, in favour of Andani Yili setting aside the ruling of the Court of Appeal. The ruling of the Supreme Court of Ghana brought the twists and turns involving the Yendi Skins to an end (or so we thought). On December 21, 1986, Yaa Na Yakubu II returned to Tamale amid drumming and dancing and proceeded to Yendi and was met by an equally large jubilant group of supporters. The former Yaa Na Mahamadu also returned to Tamale and had to postpone his return to Yendi because of reports of sporadic violence between Abudu Yili and Andani Yili supporters.

At the end of the disturbance, six people were killed and many more wounded. Former Yaa Na Mahamadu returned to Yendi unannounced on the January 03, 1987. He lived in Yendi as the Bolin Lana until his death. Yaa Na Yakubu II ruled Dagbon until March 27, 2002, when in clashes between Abudu Yili and Andani Yili he was murdered together with over thirty people in the Gbewaa Palace in Yendi.

Tendana: In the earlier days the area of present day Burkina Faso and most parts of the northern region of Ghana was inhabited by acephalous tribes. These indigenous people had no structured kingdom or political system. The Tendana was the "owner of the land". He was the gateway to the ancestral or spiritual world and was responsible for offering sacrifices to the ancestors for prosperity and peace in the land.

Yanabihi: The male children of a Ya Na. Gbon Lana: The eldest son of the Ya Na (or any chief) who is of age.

Gbolon: Royal stool used in enskinment of Ya Na. The Ya Na sits on the royal stool three times in the katin duu.

Death of Ya Na: When a sitting Ya Na dies, all divisional, and sub-divisional chiefs are officially informed of the death by the family. All chiefs must travel to Yendi and perform some prescribed rites. These include firing of the musketry by the chiefs soldiers; visit to the Ya Na’s grave; presentation of the burial kit to the bereaved family. The presentation of the burial kit by the Karaga Na, Savelugu Lana, and Mion Lana – occupants of the gate skins to Yani, constitutes a preliminary application for the vacant Yani Skins. The chiefs then have the option to either go back to their respective chiefdom or stay in Yendi until the performance of the final funeral rites and the selection of a new Ya Na. The exception to this tradition is that the Kumbun Na and the Gushie Na, who are not to enter Yendi until the Ya Na selection committee have selected a successor to the Ya Na.

Zong Titali: Main palace hall

Katin Duu: Room in the Ya Na palace where the Ya Na select adorns the regalia of the Ya Na.

Yani: The Skins of Yendi or the kingship of Yendi

Selection of Ya Na: The selection of the Ya Na, until the early 1950s, was the responsibility of the traditional selection committee consisting of Kuga Na, Gushie Na, Gomli, and Tugri Nam. Kuga Na is the official Baga of the Ya Na. The post of the Kuga Na was created during the reign of Na Sitobu and his brother Sibie was the first Kuga Na. The selection committee consults the spirits of the departed Yananima and soothsayer to establish the most eligible candidate for the nam. The most eligible candidate is one whose reign as Ya Na will bring peace and prosperity to the kingdom. In 1948 the traditional selection committee was replaced by the modern selection committee consisting of divisional chief and elders (this new committee is a subject of dispute in the kingdom).

When the Kuga Na and his committee have decided on the next Ya Na the meet the Gushie Na at the outskirts of Yendi. It is, by custom, a taboo for the Gushie Na to enter Yendi after the death of the Ya Na. The Kuga Na informs the Gushie Na who the choice of the selection committee is. Gushie Na then enters Yendi with his entourage amidst drumming and dancing and rides to the Ya Na palace where he pulls a piece of thatch from the roof of “Zon titali”. Gushie Na hands the piece of thatch to Kuga Na who later in the day sends it to the Ya Na elect. This signifies official election of the Ya Na.

Enskinment of Ya Na: In the evening the Ya Na select is led to katin duu where he is adorned with the royal insignia. The insignia includes a smock and hat belonging to Tohadzie, beads, calabash, a gourd, and a set of spears. He then sits on the royal stool, Gbolon, three times. In the early morning the newly enskineed Ya Na is led to Zohe in a colourful procession amidst drumming and dancing to the house of the Zohe Na where spends the first days of his reign. The Ya Na also stays at the house of Mbadugu for a couple of days.


  1.   “The Lions of Dagbon: Political Change in Northern Ghana”, Martin Staniland, Cambridge University Press. 1975
  2.  “Ya-Na: The African King of Power”, Ibrahim Mahama, Ghana Publishing Corporation?

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