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 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
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. Tohadzie was a very brave hunter who mastered archery (the
art of hunting with the bow and arrow).
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
bush cow. The bush cow, believed to be an evil spirit, 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 became
chief of Biun. Kpognambo ruled the kingdom of Biun until his death. He established
the chieftainship of Biun.
Kpognambo married two women; Sihisabiga (daughter of the Fetish Priest 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 between his sons for the
chieftainship of Biun. This, in the thirteenth century, led to the migration
of Gbewaah with a large following to Pusiga. Pusiga is in the Upper East region
of present day Ghana. Naa Gbewaah established the Kingdom of Greater (Ancient)
Dagbon, which he ruled until his death. Other sons of Kpognambo; Nyeligili
founded the chieftainship of Nangodi and Namzisheli founded the chieftainship
In Pusiga the chieftainship of the Kingdom of Greater Dagbon became known as
NAM which was the preserve of the male children of Naa Gbewaah. After the death
of Naa 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 between
the brothers and finally the break-up of the Greater Dagbon Kingdom.
Sitobu, Tohagu, and Mantambo all children of Naa 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
why the peoples of Nanun, Mamprugu, and Dagbon consider each other as brothers.
They share the same ancestry in Naa Gbewaah. A daughter of Naa Gbewaah, Yentuagri,
married a Grumah and they established the Kingdom of the Moshi.
Naa Nyagse (1416 to 1432)
After Sitobu founded the Dagbon Kingdom the kingship became known as Ya
Naa, literally meaning King of strength (power). After the death of Sitobu
succeeded by his son Naa Nyagse who spread the Kingdom of Dagbon in all four
directions. Upon ascension to the skins of Yani, Naa Nyagse made war on the
Dagbon Sablisi (Black Dagbamba) and founded YANI DABARI as the new seat (capital)
of the Kingdom. On his way Naa 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 Naa 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.
Naa Nyagse and subsequent kings of Dagbon, after conquering new villages,
established themselves as rulers of the people. They appointed chiefs to
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
At Zangbalun Naa Nyagse appointed his uncle, Burzambo, chief and at Didoge
he appointed one of his followers, Bolega, as chief. Naa 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
became Karaga Naa while other uncles, Biyunkomba and Bogyelgu, were appointed
to the chiefdoms of Mion and Sunson, respectively.
After the conquest in Western Dagbon, Naa 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,
Naa Nyagse then returned to Yogu and killed the Tendana of Namogu. It was
while at Yogu that Naa Nyagse built Yani Dabari where he died in 1432.
Naa Zulandi ( 1432 to 1442)
Naa Bierigudeera (1442 to 1454)
Naa Darigudeera (1454 to 1469)
Naa Zolgu (1469 to 1486)
Naa Zongma (1486 to 1506)
Naa Ningmitooni (1506 to 1514)
Naa Dimani (1514 to1527)
Naa Yanzoe (1527 to 1543)
Naa Darizegu (1543 to 1554)
Naa Luro (1554 to 1570)
Naa Titugri (1570 to 1589)
Naa Zagli (1589 to 1608)
Naa Zokuli (1609 to 1627)
Naa Gungobili (1627 to 1648)
Naa Zangina (1648 to 1677)
The ascention of Naa Zangina to Yani is a very important milestone in the
history of Nam in Dagbon. Since the foundation of the kingdom of Greater Dagbon
the conquest of Naa Nyagse, the skin of Yani was preserved for YANABIHI. Since
the Ya Naa traditionally had several wives, the number of aspirants and eligible
candidates for the Nam grew with every Ya Naa. On the death of Naa Gungobli
there were nine contestants for the skins of Yani. All the contestants were
sons of Naa Titugri, except for Andani Sigli, who was the son of Naa 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 Ya
Naa 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 Naa 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, Naa Zangina, the youngest of the sons of Naa Titugri and the
wealthiest of the contestants, received the nod of the Nayiri. Prior to his
ascension to the skins of Yani, Naa Zangina was a very successful and wealthy
trader. Some contend that Naa Zangina bought his way to the skins of Yani.
Second on Mamprugu Nayiri’s list was Andani Sigli. Nayiri decreed that
he would be Naa after the death of Naa Zangina.
After the ascention of Naa Zangina, the constitution of Dagbon, which hitheto
preserved the skins of Yani to all sons of a Ya Naa, 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.
Naa Andani I - Sigli (1677 to 1687)
Naa Binbiegu (1687 to 1700)
Naa Gariba (1700 to 1720)
Naa Gariba's reign was during the tTime of Osei Tutu. During the reign of Naa 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 Naa Andani Sigli (Naa Andani I), to attack Ya Naa Gariba. Abondoned by all the chiefs of Western Dagbon, Ya Naa Gariba was captured by the Ashanti army. On their way back to Kumasi with Naa Gariba, a group of nabihi led by Nasalan Ziblim appealed to the Ashanti army at Yeji for the release of Naa 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 Naa 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 Naa Gariba, Nasalan Ziblim told all other nabihi aht payment for his services to Dagbon would be his enskinment as Ya Naa after Naa Gariba.
Naa Nasalan Ziblim (1720 to 1735)
Naa Ziblim (1735 to 1740)
Naa Ziblim Kulunku (1740 to 1760)
Naa Andani II –Jangbariga (1760 to 1778)
Naa Suman Zoli (1778 to 1799)
The emergence of Yani Gates
The emergence of the Yani gates is a pivotal era in the history of Dagbon. It is the beginning and the birthplace of the current crisis and Yani struggles in Dagbon. From the era of Naa 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 Ya Naa Yakubu I.
Ya Naa Yakubu I (1799 to 1839)
During the reign of Ya Naa Suman Zoli (1778 to 1799), Yelizoli Lana Lagfu became very powerful and feared among his peers. Yelizoli Lana Lagfu was committed to assisting his uncle (his mother’s brother), then Mion Lana Yakubu to acquire Yani. Yelizoli Lana Lagfu and Naa Yakubu organized their forces and launched a surprise attack on Ya Naa Suman Zoli, defeating his army and killing the Ya Naa. Mion Lana Yakubu then ascended the skin of Yani under the skin name Ya Naa Yakubu I and ruled until his death in 1839. Ya Naa Yakubu I was the father of Naa Abdulai (Abudu) and Naa Andani, the founders of Abudu Yili and Andani Yili respectively.
During the kingship of Ya Naa Yakubu I, his nephew Yelizoli Lana Lagfu grew in strength and in the process acquired for himself nine different chieftainships. The chieftainships usurped by Yelizori Lana Lagfu included Zabzugu, Gbungbaliga, Tagnamo, Nakpachia, Korli, Kunkon, Demon, and Chim. The son’s of Ya Naa 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. Eventhough, Yelizoli Lana Lagfu was a PAGABIA and under Dagbon tradition had no claim on Yani.
The opportunity for the princes to eliminate the threat posed by Yelizoli Lana Lagfu came when Ya Naa Yakubu I became mentally ill. Yelizoli Lana Lagfu, hearing about his uncle’s ailment moved to Yendi and put Ya Naa Yakubu I in shackles to prevent him from causing mischief in town. This action of Yelizoli Lana Lagfu 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 Ya Naa Yakubu I; Naa Abdulai (Abudu) was chief of Tampion, Naa Andani-chief of Nyon and Naa Mahami chief of Nakpali. The perfect opportunity for the princes came when the chief of Karaga, Naa Mahami, died. They conspired to acquire Karaga for one of them. Unfortunately, Ya Naa Yakubu I appointed then Sunson Naa Yahaya (his brother) to Karaga.
The princes would not have any of that. Firstly, Naa 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 Ya Naa Yakubu I and he made war on them. The princes and their supporters once again became victorious 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 Naa Abdulai (Abudu) became Mion lana, Naa Andani became
Yo Naa while one of their supporters Sakpe Naa Adama was promoted to the vacant skin of Karaga.
On the death of Ya Naa Yakubu I, his son, Mion Lana Abdulai (Abudu), became Gbon Lana and later enskined Ya Naa Abdulai I. His brother Korli Naa 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)
Ya Naa Abdulai I ruled for 19 year (1839 to 1858). Upon his death his brother Naa Andani succeeded him, under the skin name of Ya Naa Andani II.
Naa Andani II (1858 – 1896)
Naa Andani II ruled for 38 years (1858 to 1896). 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. Ya Naa Abdulai I and Ya Naa 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”. Naa Abdulai’s mother was Gbanzalun Lamisi while Naa Andani’s mother was Galibang Budaali.
It was under the reign of Ya Naa Andani II that the Europeans begun excursions into Dagbon. The European came bearing flags, treaties and promise of protection. Dagbon under Naa Andani 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 thus;
Ya Naa Andani II, before his death, recommended that upon his death Karaga Naa Alasani, a son of Naa Abdulai (Abudu) I, would become Ya Naa and his (Ya Naa Andani II) eldest son Tugu Naa Yiri would become Karaga Naa, a Ya Naa in waiting. This was to establish the “unwritten” rotational system of ascention to Yani. But this was not to be.
Upon the death of Ya Naa Andani II, the struggle for Yani once again flared up. After the death of Ya Naa Andani II, Karaga Naa Alasani failed to go to Yendi to mourn with the children of Ya Naa Andani II. According to Dagbon custom and tradition, upon the death of a Ya Naa all divisional chiefs must go to Yendi and offer their burial kits to the bereaved family. The only exception to this is Gushie Naa. After presenting their burial kits, the chiefs may choose to stay in Yendi until after the funeral rites are performed and the new Ya Naa 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 Naa Alasani to mourn the death of Ya Naa Andani II
angered his children. So when Karaga Naa Alasani went to Yendi during the
rites of Ya Naa Andani II and presented his donation towards the funeral
of Ya Naa Andani II, the family refused the donation and returned it to
Karaga Naa Alasani. Karaga Naa Alasani left Yendi.
After the funeral of Ya Naa Andani II, contrary to his recommendation,
Yoo Naa Darimani (a.k.a. Kukra Adjei) was enskinded Ya Naa. Ya Naa Darimani,
was son of Ya Naa Yakubu I. In the sense of the word was not from Abudu
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 Ya Naa Darimani (Kukra Adjei) was short-lived. In fact he
was on the skins of Yani for seven weeks. In the heat of the dispute
surrounding the funeral of Ya Naa Andani II and the enskinment of Ya
Naa 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 Naa Andani II. The Germans
led by Dr.
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
the enskinment of Ya Naa Darimani. They attacked and killed Tugu
Naa Yiri, who had been enskinned Yo Naa.
Ya Naa Darimani (Kukra Adjei) abdicated Yani and fled from Yendi.
The Germans helped enskin Karaga Naa Alasani as the new Ya Naa.
The Partition of Dagbon
Ya Naa Alasani (1899 to 1917)
Upon his ascension to Yani, Ya Naa Alasani enskinned his uncle Korli Naa Bukari
Narkaw to the now vacant skin of Karaga. Ya Naa Alassani also appointed his
brother Kalim to Mion, deskining Mion Lana Salifu, and his uncle Bukari to
Savelugu. When Yo Naa Bukari died in the early 1900, Ya Naa 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 left at the sole
discretion of the Ya Naa and his elders. Whoever he wills is appointed.
After the ascension of Ya Naa 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 mainly 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 Ya Naa Alasani on
the one hand and Yani gate skins in Western Dagbon on the other. Especially,
his uncle Karaga Naa 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 Naa Mahama (chief of Savelugu and brother of Ya Naa Alasani) was found to
be communicating with Ya Naa Alasani he was removed as chief of Savelugu and
thrown into British jail. Karaga Naa Bukari Narkaw heeded the instruction of
the British and severed all communication with Yendi. Karaga Naa 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 Naa Bukari Narkaw assumed the capacity of “British
Dagbon Ya Naa” and enskinned son of Ya Naa Andani II as British Mion
Lana. At the same time Ya Naa Alasani appointed his son Naa 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 Naa (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 Naa Mahama, the second son of Ya Naa Andani II, Naa
Bukari, was enskinned chief of Savelugu. Other son’s of Ya Naa 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.
Ya Naa 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 Ya Naa Alasani. The Gbon Lana of Ya Naa Alasani, Mion Lana Abdulai,
served in the role of Ya Naa.
Ascension of Ya Naa Bukari and Ya Naa Abdulai II
Ya Naa Abdulai II
In 1920, after the defeat of Germany, the British administration allowed the
reunification of Dagbon and the enskinment of a successor to Ya Naa 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 Ya Naa.
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 Ya Naa in the best interest of the people of Dagbon be chosen.
The candidates for consideration were Mion Lana Abdulai, son of Ya Naa Alasani,
he had, de facto, served as Ya Naa after the death of Ya Naa Alasani; Yo Naa
Bukari, son of Ya Naa Andani II, he was at this time advanced in age, blind
and partially paralysed; Karaga Naa Ziblim, a great grandson of Ya Naa Yakubu,
though occupant of a gate skin he was not eligible for selection; British “Mion
Lana” Abdulai, also son of Ya Naa Andani II, he was appointed to British
Mion by Karaga Naa Bukari Narkaw. This appointment was disputed by many especially
the chiefs and elders of Togoland (German) Dagbon.
On November 22, 1920 the CCNT gathered the chiefs and asked if they if they
had come to a decision as to who would be successor to Ya Naa Alasani. The
chiefs informed him that Yo Naa Bukari was chosen as new Ya Naa. Yo Naa Bukari
was unable to relocate to Yendi from Savelugu to serve as Ya Naa because of
his age and failing health. He abdicated, nominating Mion Lana Abdulai, Gbon
Lana of Ya Naa Alasani, to be enskinned Ya Naa. Mion Lana Abdulai ascended
the skins of Yani under the skin name Ya Naa Abdulai II.
Ya Naa 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 Ya Naa Bukari, his abdication
and nomination of Ya Naa Abdulai II. Even the enskinment of Mion Lana Abdulai
(former British Mion Lana) to the skins of Mion were the wishes of Captain
The importance of the selection of both Naa Bukari and Naa Abdulai II is
that it never followed the tradition and custom of Dagbon. They were not
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 Ya Naa, 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 Ya Naa and organized the visit of Ya Naa Abdulai II to Kumasi
in 1925 after the return of Nana Prempeh from exile in Seychelles. The
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 Ya Naa Abdulai II will deny them the skins in retaliation
for their defiance of Yani under the British. One such occasion was the
of successor to Yo Naa Bukari who died in 1921. The British government
Northern Territories influenced the selection of Bamvim Lana Abdulai for
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
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
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 Ya Naa the conference agreed that the Kuga Na,
Tugri Nam, Gushie Naa and Gomli constituted the Ya Naa selection committee.
The conference confirmed that the all appointments to chieftaincy in Dagbon
were to be made by the Ya Naa, and that the Ya Naa 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 Ya Naa 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 Ya Naa, made his office very lucrative to all
Dagbon Princes. Apart from the political, administrative, and judicial powers
the colonial government entrusted to the Ya Naa, he also was able to hold his
own army. He drew a salary from revenue the kingdom generated from direct taxation
Ya Naa Abdulai II, towards the end of his reign had failing health. He died
in February 1938.
Ascension of Ya Naa Mahama II
Ya Naa Mahama II
After the death of Ya Naa Abdulai II, four chiefs announced their candidature
for Yani. They were Ya Naa Abdulai’s regent - Gbon Lana Alhassan, Yo
Naa Yakubu, Mion Lana Mahama, and Karaga Naa Ziblim. Both Yo Naa Yakubu and
Mion Lana Mahama were sons of Ya Naa Andani II. Karaga Naa Ziblim was son of
Karaga Naa Bukari who never got to Yani. According to the constitution of Dagbon,
the candidature of Gbon Lana Alhassan and Karaga Naa Ziblim was symbolic in
nature. Karaga Naa 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 Ya Naa selection committee, on September 23, 1938, announced that Mion
Lana Mahama was selected Ya Naa under the skin name Ya Naa Mahama II. Ya Naa
Mahama II enskinned Gbon Lana Alhassan to the vacant skin of Mion.
In 1947 Karaga Naa Ziblim died. Ya Naa Mahama II appointed his son, then Sagnarigu
Naa 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 Naa Adam,
younger brother of Karaga Naa Ziblim, defied the Ya Naa and moved to Karaga
to occupy the vacant skin before Naa Andani could get to Karaga. Banvim Lana
Abdulai, who had been elevated to Sagnarigu had also moved to occupy the Sagnarigu
skin, thus leaving Naa Andani without a skin. The District commissioner intervened,
at this point, and suspended the enskinment of Karaga.
On February 06, 1948 Ya Naa Mahama II died. At the time of his death Ya Naa
Mahama was about 80 years old.
After the death of Ya Naa Mahama II, at a Dagbon State Council meeting on May
12, 1948, chaired by Gbon Lana of Ya Naa Mahama II, a unanimous decision was
reached to change the Ya Naa selection committee. The new selection committee
constituted the divisional chiefs and elders of Yendi. The following were member
of the committee;
- Divisional Chiefs
- Gushie Naa
- Yelzoli Lana
- Nanton Naa
- Gulkpe Naa
- Sunson Naa
- Tolon Naa
- Kumbun Naa
- Kuga Naa
- Zohe Naa
- Tugri Nam
The amendment to the traditional selection committee added that when a unanimous
decision could not be reached in the selection of a Ya Naa a secret ballot
will be cast and the winner will be the candidate with majority vote.
After the funeral rites of Ya Naa Mahama II were performed four chiefs submitted
their candidacy for Yani. They were Yo Naa Mahamuru and Ya Naa Mahama II Gbon
Lana Andani of Andani Yili and Sunson Naa Adam and Mion Lana Mahama of Abudu
Yili. Ya Naa Mahama II’s regent, Gbon Lana Andani, at this time was between
the skins of Sagnarigu and Karaga. Sunson Naa 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 Ya Naa Abdulai II and was enskinned Mion Lana after the death of
Ya Naa Abdulai son, Mion Lana Alhassan.
Mion Lana Mahama was selected over the other candidates and he ascended the
skins of Yani under the skin name Ya Naa Mahama III. In fact the selection
of Ya Naa Mahama III was carried out by the traditional selection committee
and not the newly constituted selection committee.
Ya Naa Mahama III (1948 -1953)
Ya Naa Mahama III
After the funeral rites of Ya Naa Mahama II were performed, Mion Lana Mahama of Abudu Yili ascended the skins of Yani under the skin name of Ya Naa Mahama
III. Ya Naa Mahama appointed the regent of Ya Naa Mahama II, Andani, to the
vacant skins of Mion and confirmed Sunson Naa Adam to the skins of Karaga.
The reign of Ya Naa 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. Legislation was enacted to form State
Councils and an instrument published to recognize Head Chiefs (paramountcies)
in the Northern Territories. In Dagbon the Ya Naa was recognized as Head Chief
and the Dagbon State Council, consisting of divisional chiefs was formed. The
Dagbon State Council was responsible for enquiring and determining any matters
of constitutional nature arising within the kingdom of Dagbon.
The reign of Ya Naa Mahama III was reasonably calm, compared to the situation
in Dagbon after his death. Ya Naa Mahama III died in 1953 after about 5 year
Choosing a Successor to Ya Naa Mahama III
The events following the death of Ya Naa Mahama III, performance of his final
funeral rites, and enskinning his successor probably marks the beginning of
modern day chieftaincy constitutional crisis in Dagbon. The events that followed
the death of Ya Naa Mahama III reignited the bitter “Andani Yili – Abudu
Yili” struggle that had hitherto plagued the Kingdom for the best part
of the last half century, albeit to a lesser degree.
In the final days of the reign of Ya Naa 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 Ya Naa. The family of Ya Naa Mahama III was
therefore angered by the alleged sorcery of Mion Lana Andani and banned him
from attending the funeral of the Ya Naa. 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 Ya Naa to maintain the rotation of the Nam between the two
gates. Ya Naa Mahama III was a member of Abudu Yili. Failure of Mion Lana Andani
to attend the funeral of the Ya Naa could in fact disqualify him from presenting
his candidacy for Yani (as in the case of Ya Naa Alasani).
On his death bed, it is alleged that, Ya Naa Mahama III requested that his
first son not be installed Gbon Lana because of his physical deformities. Ya
Naa Mahama III proposed to by-pass his children and install Kpating Lana Ziblim,
a son of Ya Naa Abdulai II and nephew of Ya Naa Mahama III, Gbon Lana. A petition
from the eldest son of Ya Naa 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
Ya Naa Mahama III. In Dagbon custom and tradition, the selection of the new
Ya Naa fell on a committee of kingmakers made up of Gushie Naa, Kuga Naa, Tugri
Nam, and Gomli.
The kingmakers consulted oracles and soothsayers to determine which of the
eligible candidates’ (occupants of Yani gate skins) reign as Ya Naa would
bring peace and prosperity to Dagbon.
Earlier in 1948 during the installation of Ya Naa Mahama III, as we have already
noted, a new Ya Naa selection committee was formed to replace the traditional
committee of kingmakers. 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 Ya
Naa. More importantly, the new selection committee was conceived under the
colonial governments strive to establish a democratic system of government
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 Naa Mahama III.
At an emergency session, the Dagbon State Council unanimously voted to adopt
the resolution of 1948 reconstituting the Ya Naa selection committee (kingmakers).
This meeting was attended by 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, saying;
Although I am not occupying a high chieftainship as our constitution demands,
I further want to explain that
Naa Zangina I was Bolun Lana and he was made Ya Naa;
Naa Sigli was Zolugu Naa and he was made Ya Naa;
Naa Gungobli was Yamol-Karaga Naa and he was made Ya Naa;
Naa Ziblim was Kpating Lana and he was made Ya Naa;
Therefore my present post will not debar me from being made Ya Naa”.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
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
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 Ya Naa Mahama III. The candidates for consideration were Mion Lana Andani,
Yo Naa Mahamuru, Karaga Naa Adam and Gbon Lana Abdulai. Both Mion Lana Andani
and Yo Naa Mahamuru were from Andani Yili. Karaga Naa 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 Naa
Mahamuru and Karaga Naa Adam got no votes.
Ya Naa Abdulai III (1954-1967)
Ya Naa Abdulai III
Gbon Lana Abduali ascended Yani under the skin name Ya Naa 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 Ya Naa 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 Ya Naa 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 Ya Naa Abdulai
III. On March 27, 1954, Karaga Naa Adam, Yo Naa Mahamuru, and Mion Lana
to go to Tamale to formally launch a protest with the Chief Regional Officer
against the enskinment of Ya Naa 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 Ya Naa if
Ya Naa Abdulai III was deskined.
Andani Yili, not satisfied with the outcome of their protests commenced proceedings
in the Dagbon State Council against Ya Naa Abdulai III. The charges were;
- He had conspicuous physical deformities which by custom disqualifies
a person from occupying Yani. The said physical deformities were a
defective eye and
- He was not selected by the traditional four-man selection committee
(kingmakers); Kuga Naa, Gushie Naa, Tugri Nam, and Gomli.
- He was not eligible for selection because he was not an occupant
of a gate skin
- His selection violated the established rotation between Abudu
Yili and Andani Yili
- He was not installed by the proper functionaries established
to enskin a Ya Naa; Kuga Naa, Tugri Nam, and Gomli
In fact Kuga Naa and Tugri Nam were the only members of the selection committee
to cast their votes for Mion Lana Andani. They were therefore against the selection
of Ya Naa Abdulai III and refused to install him Ya Naa.
On March 19, 1954, Kuga Naa and Tugri Nam together with other Andani Yili supporters
were ready to enter Katin duu with Mion Lana Andani, the same time Ya Naa 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
Ya Naa Abdulai III. The council tried the case and dismissed all charges against
Ya Naa Abdulai III, stating that the Ya Naa was customarily and properly enskinned
with the approval of the selection committee.
After the Dagbon State Council dismissed the case of Andani Yili against Ya
Naa 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 Naa Abudu I and Ya Naa
Andani II to establish Abudu Yili and Andani Yili.
||(Abudu Yili – 12 years)
||(Andani Yili – 22 years)
||(Andani Yili? – 7 weeks)
||(Abudu Yili - 18 years)
||(Andani Yili – abdicated)
||(Abudu Yili – 21 years; includes years of regency)
| Mahama II
||(Andani Yili – 10 years)
||(Abudu Yili – 5 years)
||(Abudu Yili – 14 years)
As can be seen from the above list, from 1899 to the ascension of Ya Naa Abdulai
III, 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 Naa of the significant chiefdoms in the kingdom. The
chiefs, naturally, favoured Abudu Yili, hence the ease with which the selection
committee elected Ya Naa Abdulai III.
This fact apart, Andani Yili had two
chiefs, Yo Naa Mahamuru and Mion Lana Andani, who had not yet reached Yani.
Yo Naa 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 Naa
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 Ya Naa Abdulai III as he was thought to be younger
outlive the two Andani 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 Ya Naa 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
Naa 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 listening to
the case and
witnesses from both Andani Yili and Abudu Yili made his recommendations to
the Minister of Local Government of the CPP Government of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah,
A.E.A Ofori Atta, who in turn took the report to cabinet.
The report found that;
- Ya Naa Abdulai III was indeed physically deformed
- The rotation between Abudu Yili and Andani Yili was upset by the ascension
of Ya Naa Abdulai III
- Succession to Yani was limited to the gate skins of Karaga, Savelugu
At the cabinet meeting, the findings of the appeals commissioner were overturned.
The government submitted that Ya Naa Abdulai 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 Ya Naa. The set back that was being considered here was
that prior to the Opoku-Afari report most of the educated in Dagbon, notablyYakubu
Tali-Tolon Naa and Salifu Yakubu – MP for Savelugu, had abandoned the
N.P.P. and joined the C.P.P. In fact Ya Naa Abdulai III and most of the chiefs
in Dagbon converted to the C.P.P. enbloc.
The government then invited Mion Lana Andani and Ya Naa Abdulai III to
Accra. On June 17, 1960, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Prime Minister of Ghana, asked
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 Ya Naa 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 Ya Naa Abdulai. He then asked Nkrumah to understand
that if he died without ascending to 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
- 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 Ya Naa’s occupying one of the gate skins of Karaga, Savelugu,
- Sons of deceased or former Ya Naa occupying skins other than the gate
skins are not eligible for appointment to the Yendi Skins
- On the death of the Ya Naa Abdulai III the next Ya Naa shall be Mion
Lana Andani of Andani Yili. In the event of Mion Lana Andani pre-deceasing Ya
III, the next Mion Lana, who shall be from Andani Yili, should occupy the
Skins of Yendi
- Since candidates from Abudu Yili have twice in succession occupied the
Yendi Skins, 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
Karaga, Savelugu, and Mion.
- Where two candidates from either family become eligible for appointment
to the Yendi Skins, 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 Ya Naa Abdulai
his sons should be regarded as sons of a former Ya Naa and qualified for
The 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 Ya Naa 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 Naa
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 Ya Naa has an equal right to ascend the skins of
Yani as the occupants of the three gate skins.
Ya Naa Abdulai III died on September 14, 1967 before any action on Dagbon
State Council’s petition. Ya Naa 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
Ya Naa Abdulai III. Gbon Lana Mahamadu announced that he wished to postpone
funeral rites of his father and that Karaga Naa Adam should be responsible
for the funeral. Mion Lana Andani was 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 Ya Naa. They also wanted a speedy performance
of the final funeral rites of the Ya Naa and the enskinment of a new Ya Naa,
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 Ya Naa 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
the petition requesting that Mion Lana Andani be enskinned Ya Naa. 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 the Gushie Naa. His brother was appointed to the
skins of Gushiegu by Ya Naa Abdulai III and his father was before him 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 Ya Naa Abdulai
III, the N.L.C. government published legislative instrument 596 (L.I.
L.I. 59 only to reverse its decision in N.L.C. Decree 281 reinstating L.I.
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 Ya Naa be elected by 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 Naa Adam and Yo Naa (Savelugu Naa) 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 Naa, Tugri
Nam, Gomli, and Kpati Naa, whereas Gbon Lana Mahamadu had the support of
selection committee. It was therefore no surprise that after the performance
of the final funeral rites of Ya Naa 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 Naa, Tugri
Nam and Kumbun Naa 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
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 Ya Naa 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
Ya Naa Andani III (1968-1969)
Ya Naa Andani III
The District Administrative Officer, J. E. Nsaful, began an examination
of the facts as presented by both sides. On November 21, 1968, after examination
of the facts J. E. Nsaful, summoned the chiefs and informed them that the
successor to Ya Naa Abdulai III was Mion Lana Andani. He asked them to proceed
with preparations to enskin him Ya Naa. That evening Mion Lana Andani was
enskined Ya Naa Andani III. In fact the enskinment of Ya Naa Andani III
was not without
protest. The Zohe Naa and Kpati Naa absented themselves from Katin Duu in
On November 22, 1968 Ya Naa 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 Ya Naa.
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 Ya Naa
Andani III. On November 24, 1968 they presented a petition to the NLC
government against the enskinment of Ya Naa Andani III. The petition declared
Ya Naa Andani III was not properly and customarily selected and enskinned
Naa. Both Kpati Naa and Gomli protested that they had not participated
in the divination
of soothsayers to select that Ya Naa. They also contended that several
important rituals had not been performed on Ya Naa 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
Mate Kole Committee commenced sitting on December 17, 1968 in Tamale.
was to determine1
- The custom and customary procedure for the nomination and/or selection
of the new Ya Naa
- Whether Ya Naa Andani III was properly nominated and enskined
in accordance with the said Dagbon traditional custom
- Whether or not the said installation was unduly influenced
by the presence of armed soldiers and policemen and of the
district administrative office
While the Mate Kole committee was still sitting, Ya Naa Andani III died on
March 14, 1969 at age 70. He had been Ya Naa for a little less than four months.
The Mate Kole committee continued its investigation after the death of Ya Naa
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.
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
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 Ya Naa 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 Ya Naa as soon as possible.
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 Naa and the
these are the four persons from among whom a Ya Naa could be selected
- that the body traditionally authorized to select a Ya Naa 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 Naa, Tugri
Nam, Amadu Gomle, and Mahama Kpatia is not the custom as at present recognized
- that the Mion Lana’s alleged installation on 21 September 1968 was
not performed by the Gomli, Malle, Kpahigu, Gagbindana, the Kpati Naa and the
Gulkpe Naa. He did not undergo ceremonies at Zohe Naa’s house, Mba Buga’s
house, or Mbadugu’s house
- 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
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 Ya Naa Andani be installed Ya Naa.
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 Ya Naa and the accompanying rites performed on a qualified
candidate are irrevocable. These rites were performed on Ya Naa Andani III
and he lived out his life as a Ya Naa.
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 Ya Naa. 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 Ya Naa
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. In all, about 23 men,
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 rumour
and 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.
Ya Naa Mahama IV(1969-1974)
Ya Naa Mahamadu Abdulai
Gbon Lana Mahamadu Abdulai was enskinned under the skin name Ya Naa Mahama
IV (Mahamadu). On September 13, 1969 Ya Naa Mahamadu exited Katin duu amidst
heavy military and police presence.
Upon ascension to the skins of Yani Ya Naa Mahamadu appointed B.A. Yakubu to
the vacant skin of Gushiegu. His brother the Gushie Naa died after the ascension
of Ya Naa Andani III. Ya Naa Mahamadu also appointed his uncle, Sang Lana,
to the vacant skin of Mion.
On the national scene, Ya Naa Mahamadu gained some prominence. He became
a member of the Council of State of Ghana in September 1969 and in May 1970
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. The Ollenu committee
of inquiry was 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;
- Ascertain the customary law (procedure) for nomination, selection,
and enskinment of the Ya Naa
- Inquire about the circumstances leading to the abrogation of Legislative
Instrument 59 (L.I. 59)
- Inquire into the deskinment of Ya Naa Andani III
- Inquire whether the nomination, selection, and enskinment of Ya
Naa 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 Ya Naa 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 Ya Naa Mahama IV
(Mahamadu) the committee was of the view that he was not customarily nominated,
selected and enskinned. As a result the enskinment of Ya Naa Mahama IV was
The Ollennu committee also ruled that since no eligible member of Andani
Yili occupied any of the gate skins of Yani, Ya Naa Andani III’s Gbon Lana
Yakubu Andani be enskinned Ya Naa.
Ya Naa Yakubu Andani II (1974-2002)
Ya Naa Yakubu Andani II
On May 31, 1974, Gbon Lana Yakubu Andani (Kampakuya Naa) ascended the skins
of Yani as Ya Naa Yakubu II. The ascension of Ya Naa 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 Ya Naa Yakubu II and
Ya Naa Mahama IV. Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings made Ya Naa Yakubu II and
deskinned Ya Naa Mahama IV shake hands, reminding then they were brothers,
and asked them to burry their differences in the interest of peace and development
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 found that;
- The legitimate body for selecting a Ya Naa was the selection committee
formed in 1948
- The selection of Ya Naa Mahama IV (Mahamadu Abdulai) by the selection
committee was valid and according to the constitution and tradition of
- The selection of Ya Naa Andani III was unconstitutional and thus
his enskinment was null-and-void, thus Ya Naa Andani III never became Ya
- Ya Naa Yakubu II (Yakubu Andani) could not have been selected and
enskinned since his father was never a legitimate Ya Naa
- the findings of the Ollennu Committee of enquiry which recommended
the deskinment of Ya Naa 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
brought the twists and turns involving the Yendi Skins to an end.
On December 21, 1986, Ya Naa Yakubu II returned to Tamale amid drumming
and dancing and proceeded to Yendi and was met by an equally large jubilant
of supporters. The former Ya Naa 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
were killed and many more wounded. Former Ya Naa Mahamadu returned to Yendi
unannounced on the January 03, 1987. He lived in Yendi as the Bolin Lana
until his death.
Ya Naa 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.
Look out for more on Dagbon History. This page will continuously be updated
to include most of the Yananima whose reign have not been included here.
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
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 Naa.
Gbon Lana: The eldest son of the Ya Naa (or any chief) who is of age.
Gbolon: royal stool used in enskinment of Ya Naa. The Ya Naa sits on the
royal stool three times in the katin duu.
Death of Ya Naa: When a sitting Ya Naa dies, all divisional, and sub-divisional
chiefs are officially informed of the death of the Ya Naa by the family.
All chiefs must travel to Yendi and perform the some prescribed rites. These
firing of the musketry by the chiefs soldiers; visit to the Ya Naa’s
grave; presentation of the burial kit to the bereaved family. The presentation
of the burial kit by the Karaga Naa, Savelugu Lana, and Mion Lana – occupants
of the gate skin to Yani, constitutes a preliminary application for the vacant
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 Naa. The exception to this tradition is that the Kumbun
the Gushie Naa, who are not to enter Yendi until the Ya Naa selection committee
have selected a successor to the Ya Naa.
Zon Titali: Main palace hall
Katin Duu : Room in the Ya Naa palace where the Ya Naa select adorns the
regalia of the Ya Naa.
Yani: The Skins of Yendi or the kingship of Yendi
Selection of Ya Naa: The selection of the Ya Naa, until the early 1950s,
was the responsibility of the traditional selection committee consisting
Naa, Gushie Naa, Gomli, and Tugri Nam. Kuga Naa is the official Baga of the
Ya Naa. The post of the Kuga Naa was created during the reign of Naa Sitobu
and his brother Sibie was the first Kuga Naa. 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
Naa 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 Naa and his committee have decided on the next Ya Naa the
meet the Gushie Naa at the outskirts of Yendi. It is, by custom, a taboo
Gushie Naa to enter Yendi after the death of the Ya Naa. The Kuga Naa informs
the Gushie Naa who the choice of the selection committee is. Gushie Naa then
enters Yendi with his entourage amidst drumming and dancing and rides to
the Ya Naa palace where he pulls a piece of thatch from the roof of “Zon
titali”. Gushie Naa hands the piece of thatch to Kuga Naa who later
in the day sends it to the Ya Naa elect. This signifies official election
Enskinment of Ya Naa: In the evening the Ya Naa select is led to katin
duu where he is adorned with the royal insignia. The insignia includes
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 Ya Naa is led to Zohe, in a colourful procession amidst drumming and
dancing, to the house of the Zohe Naa where spends the first days of his
Ya Naa 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-Naa: The African King of Power”, Ibrahim Mahama, Ghana Publishing