After the funeral rites of Yaa Naa Mahama II were performed four chiefs submitted their candidacy for Yani. They were Yo Naa Mahamuru and (Yaa Naa Mahama II) Gbon Lana Andani of Andani Yili and Sunson Naa Adam and Mion Lana Mahama of Abudu Yili. (Yaa Naa Mahama II’s) 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 Yaa Naa Abdulai II and was enskinned Mion Lana after the death of Yaa Naa Abdulai son, Mion Lana Alhassan.
The Yaa Naa Selection Committee selected Mion Lana Mahama over the other candidates and he ascended the Skins of Yani under the skin name Yaa Naa Mahama III. It is interesting that the old Yaa Naa Selection Committee was used in the selection of Yaa Naa Mahama III and not the newly constituted Yaa Naa Selection Committee.
After ascending the Skins of Yani, Yaa Naa Mahama II Mahama appointed the regent of Yaa Naa Mahama II, Gbon Lana Andani, to the vacant skins of Mion and confirmed Sunson Naa Adam to the skins of Karaga. The reign of Yaa 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 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 Naa 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 Naa Mahama III was reasonably calm, compared to the situation in Dagbon after his death. Yaa Naa Mahama III died in 1953 after a 5-year reign.
Choosing a Successor to Yaa Naa Mahama III
The events following the death of Yaa Naa 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 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 Yaa Naa. The family of Yaa Naa Mahama III was therefore angered by the alleged sorcery of Mion Lana Andani and banned him from attending the funeral of the Yaa 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 Yaa Naa to maintain the rotation of the Nam between the two gates. Yaa Naa Mahama III was a member of Abudu Yili. Failure of Mion Lana Andani to attend the funeral of the Yaa Naa could in fact disqualify him from presenting his candidacy for Yani (as in the case of Yaa Naa Alasani in 1899). On his death bed, it is alleged that, Yaa Naa Mahama III requested that his first son not be installed Gbon Lana because of his physical deformities. Yaa Naa Mahama III proposed to by-pass his children and install Kpating Lana Ziblim, a son of Yaa Naa Abdulai II and nephew of Yaa Naa Mahama III, Gbon Lana. A petition from the eldest son of Yaa 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 Yaa Naa Mahama III. In Dagbon custom and tradition, the selection of the new Yaa Naa fell on the old Yaa Naa Selection Committee – 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 Yaa Naa would bring peace and prosperity to Dagbon. Earlier in 1948 during the installation of Yaa Naa Mahama III, as we have already noted, a new Ya Naa Selection Committee was formed to replace the traditional committee of kingmakers, but then the selection of Yaa Naa Mahama III was by the old Yaa Naa 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 Naa. More importantly, the new Yaa Naa 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 Naa Mahama III. At an emergency session, the Dagbon State Council unanimously voted to adopt the resolution of 1948 reconstituting the Yaa Naa 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 Naa Zangina I was Bolun Lana and he was made Yaa Naa; Naa Sigli was Zolugu Naa and he was made Yaa Naa; Naa Gungobli was Yamol-Karaga Naa and he was made Yaa Naa; Naa Ziblim was Kpating Lana and he was made Ya Naa; Therefore my present post will not debar me from being made Yaa Naa”.
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 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.