Ojude Oba Festival… Savouring rich Ijebu cultural heritage
Right from the Ijebu-Ode Flyover on the Lagos-Benin Expressway, excitement filled the air, as both locals and visitors, all dressed in colourful outfits, made their way to the palace of HRM, Oba Sikiru Kayode Adetona, the Awujale of the Ijebu Kingdom, the traditional arena for the yearly celebration.
Except for few traders, particularly those from the southeastern part of the country, who opened for business, the town was literally shut down, with all hotels fully booked. Though some major companies erected stands at the festivals where their products were sold at festival rates, the locals also made brisk money selling food items, drinks and branded souvenirs to tourists. And for the people of IJebu-Ode, who are known for their insatiable love of parties, is was an opportunity to celebrate their heritage and have a once in a year meeting with family and friends.
From the roundabout leading into the Oba’s Palace, different sounds of music rented the air in staccato rhythm, with local drummers entertaining guests for money. Even as residents had set up canopies in their various locations is readiness for the celebration, all roads led to the Oba’s Golden Jubilee Centre, where the celebration held. And with the presence of heavily armed mobile policemen on alert, security was watertight during the cerebration held under the theme, Ojude Oba, our culture, our pride.
At the main arena, different Age Grades were seated in groups, observing proceedings at the high table. Dressed in flamboyant outfits that distinguished each group from another, they created a colourful ambience, with extreme pomp and pageantry.
Notable among dignitaries present at the celebration are the Ogun State Governor, Ibikunle Amosun, who led top functionaries of the State, his counterpart from Bayelsa State, Seriake Dickson and Mallam Nasir eL-Rufai of Kaduna State. Others include the Chairman of FCMB, Otunba Subomi Balogun and a host of other illustrious sons and daughters of Ijebuland. Not even the rains could stop the Ijebus from celebrating their heritage; they voluntarily danced happily under the rain. Indeed, culture commands respect.
Amidst heavy singing, dancing and drumming, each Age Grade (Regberegbe) took turns to pay homage to the paramount ruler of Ijebu-land, by presenting him with different foodstuffs and other items. Both men and women belonging to different Regberegbe also displayed their dancing prowess.
Particularly, horse riding among the various families (Baloguns) and male/female dance groups were the highpoints of the festival. Amidst intermittent gunshots, the families, riding on beautifully dressed horses, exhibited their horsemanship to the admiration of spectators. In the end, the best-dressed regberegbe and horse-riding family were rewarded with cash prizes.
Long before the Ojude Oba festival became an all-encompassing showpiece, it used to be a small gathering of adherents and followers of the Islamic religion. Today, however, the festival has transcended religious lines and attracts people of all faiths, as well as tourists from within and outside the country.
Usually, two days before the Ojude-Oba festival is for Muslims to mark the Eid with their families, friends, and well wishers. Then, on the third day, Christians, dignitaries, tourists and visitors join them at the Awujale’s Palace to witness the glamour of the festival, which aims at celebrating the rich culture and heritage of the people of Ijebu-Ode. They celebrated via resplendent traditional attires, deft hairstyles, cuisine (ifokore) and the reenactment of rare cultural dances and spectacular horsemanship that reminds one of Durbar Festival up north.
IN the past 10 years, First City monument Bank (FCMB) has continued to play a significant role in ensuring the success of the festival. However, with founder of the bank and son of the soil, Otunba Olasubomi Balogun, deeply involved in the project, it’s only natural for the bank to throw it’s weight behind the cultural extravaganza.
“With my pedigree, from my background and my association, and what the Good Lord has endowed me with, it will be regarded as unpatriotic if I don’t play the front role in this most important cultural event of the Ijebus. So, I’m very much involved in it. I can tell you, if this event is taking place and I’m not around, many people will ask questions; whether I’m unwell, which can’t be; whether I’m disagreeing with my Royal father, which can’t be. So, I’ve always been in the forefront in the celebration,” Otunba Balogun said in a chat with The Guardian.
A very senior member of royalty in Ijebu Land, Otunba Balogun is also the Olori Ebi (Head of the Family) of one of the largest ruling houses, which automatically saddles him with responsibilities during the festival.
“First, I’m a loyal distinguished son of our monarch, the Awujale of Ijebu Land; I happen to be the Olori Omo-oba (Head of Princes and Princesses). Providence has placed me in a situation in which everybody would expect me to be close to Awujale and be supportive of whatever he’s doing, by way of our culture and tradition.”
He continued: “You may have noticed that I come from one of the prominent Balogun families, the Balogun Odunuga. One is getting a bit old now, normally, when they come in like that, I danced with them; I’m like a sort of head of family there. So, definitely, I will be interested in Ojude Oba Festival, as it highlights quite a lot of the Ijebu ethos and tradition. With all the paraphernalia of positions, which I hold in town and in the country, it will be unpatriotic of me not to be supportive of whatever our Royal father is doing,” he said.
Giving insight into the history of Ojude Oba, Otunba Balogun noted that every Ijebu person looks forward to the yearly festival that celebrates the rich culture of the Ijebus.
“I think it was about 1892, when my own ancestor Oba Adesumbo Tunwase, who actually signed the treaty of relationship with the British Queen, gave land to the Muslims to establish their Central Mosque. At the same time, he agreed with the British missionaries to preach Christianity in Ijebu Land and even went further to allow some of his children to be baptized. To cap it all, he gave the land on which the first church in Ijebu Land was built, St Saviours Italupe. When Ojude Oba started, it was the Muslims, who used it as an occasion to pay homage and give their appreciation to the reigning Monarch for all these beneficent he’s giving them,” he said.
For the Group Head, Corporate Affairs of FCMB, Mr. Diran Olojo, the festival brings together all sons and daughters of Ijebuland in Nigeria and diaspora for a carnival-like celebration of the traditional, cultural, spiritual accomplishments and other values of the Ijebu nation.
“FCMB is committed to the longevity of the Ojude Oba Festival, and was proud to be associated with it. It has become a long-standing yearly tradition we look forward to as a unifying factor and a tourist attraction. For over a century, the festival has gone a long way to showcase, amplify and promote our cultural heritage.”
Speaking at the event, Bayelsa State Governor, Seriake Dickson said the annual Ojude Oba Festival of the Ijebu people has further confirmed Nigeria’s cultural and ethnic diversity as strength and not a weakness.
Dickson, who was the special guest of honour at the occasion, expressed the growing need to showcase the nation’s rich cultural heritage to the outside world. While describing culture, as a means of identification and a unifying factor, the governor said, all hands must be on deck at ensuring the promotion of Nigeria’s rich and diverse cultural endowments.
While commending the Awujale and the entire people of Ijebuland for the preservation of their rich culture and tradition, Dickson noted that the festival has some unique qualities, which needed to be exported to the rest of the World.
In his response, the Royal Father commended Gov. Dickson for identifying with his root, adding that, the festival was a historical event of the people, adding that, he would not relent in his efforts at promoting the rich cultural heritage of the Ijebuland.
According to him, Ojude Oba, which is a festival with a long history, is an event, where sons and daughters of Ijebuland and their well-wishers gather to appreciate and pay homage to their traditional rulers and give honour to the symbol of Ijebu tradition.
On his part, the Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai described the Awujale of Ijebuland as a father that has impacted so much on his life. He also described Ojude Oba as a unique festival that must be promoted and showcased to the rest of the world.“My coming here today is an eye opener that the nation has all that it takes to compete with the rest of the World,” he said.