In Yorubaland, the Aare Ona Kakanfo is the highest military title. In times past, the Kakanfo was the Field Marshal and Supreme Generalissimo of the dreaded military of the Oyo Empire. In the modern era, the title has become largely ceremonial. The 13th and 14th holders Aare Ona Kakanfos– late Premier of the defunct Western Region, Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola and Chief MKO Abiola – were politicians.
History informs that the Aare Ona Kakanfo title was created by Alaafin Ajagbo who reigned in Oyo-Ile, then headquarters of the Yoruba Nation, sometimes between the 16th and 17th centuries. Alaafin Ajagbo was the one that built a sophisticated military system that often ensured victory for his troops in their military expeditions. He created 70 command offices (Esos) in the formation – 16 in the upper division and 54 in the lower division. Aare Ona Kakanfo was the supreme commander of the army. The first Kakanfo was Kokorogangan of Iwoye Ketu. Those that have held the title after him are Oyatope of Iwoye, Oyabi of Ajase, Adeta of Jabata, Oku of Jabata, Afonja of ilorin, Toyeye of Ogbomoso, Edun of Gbogun, Amepo of Abemo, Kurunmi of Ijaye, Ojo Aburumaku of Ogbomoso, Latosisa of Ibadan, Ladoke Akintola of Ogbomoso and MKO Abiola of Abeokuta.
In ancient times, the Aare Ona Kakanfo title was a position that symbolised the might of Oyo Empire. The generalissimo of the Yoruba army must never be defeated in battle. He either won the war or he died fighting. The Kakanfo must never be defeated. And because of the enormous powers he wielded as the Supreme Commander of the Army, the Kakanfo never lived in the capital with the Alaafin.
In the olden days, becoming the Kakanfo never came easy. Foremost Yoruba historian, Rev Samuel Johnson wrote that in the past, the Kakanfo, at his inauguration, must completely shave his head. “And 201incisions are made on his occiput, with 201 different lancets and specially prepared ingredients from 201 viols are rubbed into the cuts, one for each. This is supposed to render him fearless and courageous. They are always shaved, but the hair on the inoculated part is allowed to grow long, and when plaited, forms a tuft or a sort of pigtail.