Let me quickly state here that Aare Ona Kankanfo is not a Chief but a chieftain. He is the Field Marshall of all Generals in Yoruba Armies. He is a Chieftain that is addressed like a king. He plays role that is higher than a Prime Minister of a town and even protects Kings and their kingdoms against external aggression.
Generals of different grades are the Bashorun and Baloguns and their contemporaries in Yoruba culture. They were warriors and military chiefs who led the campaigns of the King and each Yoruba Kingdoms to wars in ancient times.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, the status of these categories of military chiefs changed because some of them usurped positions of Kings in their domains and some transited to the positions of Kings. Some became independent of their Obas and went ahead to found their own kingdoms. The Kunrunmi of Ijaye, the story of Afonja The Aare Ona Kankanfo and Alimi at Ilorin is still fresh in our memories.
Many of the Yoruba Obas who emerged in the period were military commanders or became one in order to survive the onslaught of these warriors and their attacks on their towns and villages. They compromised their status in the process.
Many would not know that Ogedengbe nearly became the Owa Obokun just as Aduloju often disobeyed Ewi at Ado in an attempt to become independent. In Ido Ekiti, Faboro, a General became Olojudo and even many Kings like Oore and Owa Ooye were military men.
The traditional political institution of Ibadan was militarized and it became fully a warrior lineage with promotion to offices as access to the hegemonic rights rather than the old fashion of inheritance of the throne by royal blue blood. The Ibadan hegemonic rulers as I said were a line of military men and these set of leaders assumed new status and positions in their kingdoms and as it affects Yoruba traditions.
Indeed, an Aare Ona Kankanfo as a Field Marshall became so powerful in that era that they took greater preeminence than any average Yoruba king apart from the First Class King in Oduduwa lineage and the Oba Alademerindinlogun.
The concept of the rise of Aare Ona Kankanfo was as a result of the fact that if someone is the Chief of Army Staff of Yoruba Nation and each of the King of each Yoruba Kingdoms or state contributes to his army or corroborate with him through their military chieftains to form a large army to prosecute wars and take care of Defence of the Yoruba nation, such a personality cannot be treated less than an Oba.
Aare Ona Kankanfo has a large expanse of territories to oversee and he cannot be prostrating for every Oba or taking directives from them as a Field Marshall. This is someone possess the Army and weapons of war to protect you against invasion and oversee the Defence of the entire nation. He must definitely be accorded very senior status and position in the Yoruba nation.
At best, an Aare Ona Kankanfo can only defer to the Obas depending on their status. Each senior OBA is like a Provincial Governor in his area while each autonomous OBA or Baale is like District Head or Town’s Mayor.
Definitely the Chief of Army Staff of the whole country will not be going to town’s mayor or District head to prostrate. He can only do that for the Principal Obas like Ooni and Alaafin (President and Vice President of the country) or give deference and respect to senior Obas like Ewi (Imperial Ruler and Governor of Ado Metropolitan Kingdom and districts) Ajero (Imperial Ruler and Governor of Ijero Metropolitan Kingom and districts, Elekole (Imperial Ruler and Governor of Egbe OBA Metropolitan Kingdom and Districts) etc.
The Aare Ona Kankanfo is designated as Iba which is a sign of homage next to gods and kings. Let me remind us here that in some Yoruba traditions, some chiefs don’t prostrate for Kings while some Kings do not see other Kings after the installations until the day of their funeral.
In Ado Ekiti, the Aremo Olodi does not prostrate for the Ewi. Rather, he salutes him in the traditional way. This is not a sign of disrespect. It is the tradition of the Ado kingdom just as Aare Ona Kankanfo does not prostrate for any Yoruba King.
It is not sacrilegious for Are Ona Kankanfo not to bow or prostrate for any King. As the Field Marshall of Yoruba Military and President General of all Yoruba warriors, he occupies a very high elitist status that all kings must recognize and honour and he has his own Cabinet and Army command.
Aare Ona Kankanfo is not a mere Yoruba Chief. He is a worldwide Yoruba Chieftain whose rank and status transcend across cities, towns, villages and hamlets in Yorubaland.
Let us understand the sociology and history of the Yoruba in discussing the place and role of our chieftains without bias or insensitivity.
God bless you all.
. Prof. Tai Babatola is a Professor of Political History with specialization in Yoruba Traditional Institutions.