Initially, it appeared the elements would throw this year’s celebration into a spin. Annually, for more than 100 years as its history reads, the Ojude Oba socio-cultural festival had held without fail on the third day after the Eid-el-Kabir celebration.
This year, thousands of guests from across Nigeria and, indeed, beyond on Wednesday September 14, 2016, thronged the palace of the traditional ruler of Ijebu-Ode, Oba Sikiru Adetona, as has become the norm, to grace the Ojude Oba festival.
But from about 7am, the heavens had opened up, raining heavily. Comfortably ensconced in the covered upper level of the palace pavilion, the Ojude Oba (forecourt) were dignitaries that included the Governor of Bayelsa State and the event’s special guest of honour, Mr. Seriake Dickson, his Kaduna State counterpart, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai and their chief host and the festival’s chief custodian, the traditional ruler of Ijebuland, the Awujale, Oba Sikiru Adetona.
On the open field where the rains poured unhampered till about 11am, many celebrants wouldn’t be deterred. For them, there would be no abortive spin. Many people-the young, the middle-aged and even the old, male and female-were in an ecstatic mood, many of them dancing away in the rains.
Providing music were traditional drummers, supported by others eulogising the sons and daughters of Ijebuland and their guests who had come to felicitate with them. Also there with his apala band to provide musical support was Musiliu Ishola, son of the late popular apala music maestro, Haruna Ishola.
On the spotlight was Gov. Dickson, who was more than the special guest of honour as the governor is actually an Ijebu prince by virtue of his maternal grandmother’s lineage. As has been told, Dickson is a descendant of Adebunkunola Fidipote, a princess from one of the ruling houses of the Awujale stool in Ijebu-Ode.
The Bayelsa governor told the crowd that Nigeria is a blessed country with people of diverse cultural backgrounds, saying, “our diversity should not be a weakness , but a major strength which I believe all leaders and people of goodwill should leverage on to continue to protect and use for good.”
To him, the Ojodu Oba festival has grown to become the “most comprehensive cultural, historical and traditional display” he has ever witnessed.
Dickson said: “This is a cultural festival that this country can export to the rest of the world. Ojude Oba can find a place in the world’s cultural calendar and I want to use this opportunity to urge all of us to continue to promote culture and tourism.”
The celebration mood was activated as early as 8am when boys and girls of the regberegbes (age groups), the elderly, traditional chiefs and cultural enthusiasts, mostly dressed in special costumes, defied the downpour to converge on the forecourt of the Awujale’s palace, venue of the festival, singing and dancing.
While the dancing and music performances were going on, sounds of traditional gunshots intermittently rent the air. The chief celebrant, Oba Adetona, arrived at the venue amidst rousing ovation from the mammoth crowd.
The festival began with the rendition of the national anthem, followed by the Ogun State anthem, the Awujale anthem, and finally the lineage praise of the Ijebus.
After the anthems and lineage praise, the parade of different age societies in the community began. The age grade societies were established in the 18th century. They include the Egbe Gbobaniyi (1962-1964), Egbe Bobagunte (1956-1958), Egbe Arobayo, Egbe Jagunmolu (1965-1967), Egbe Tobalase (1971- 1973) Egbe Bobakeye and Egbe Bobagbimo. All the age grades pay homage to the king as they parade.
After the age grades were done, the traditional chiefs and their families took turns to pay homage to the paramount ruler. The Balogun Kuku family, Shonye family, Aregbesola family, Balogun Alausa family, Otun Balogun and Shote family among others, riding on beautifully horses, displayed breath-taking dexterity while paying homage to the Awujale.
Also in the line-up of the traditional chiefs to pay homage to the Oba were hunters who were all armed with guns shooting intermittently into the air as a mark of honour for their king.
The host governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, commended the sons and daughters of Ijebuland for defying the heavy downpour to keep faith with the festival. Amosun observed that the Ijebus have been one people in Nigeria that have successfully married religion with culture and tradition.
“This is the way it should be. I don’t know of any state that has been able to marry religion with culture and tradition like the people of Ijebuland and Ogun State have done.
“We are celebrating Eid-el-Kabir purely for Muslims, but the way this festival has been put together, all the Christians in Ijebuland are part of it. We could see a good blend of culture with religion and tradition here today.
“One sees the love, tenacity and determination of the Ijebu people to showcase their rich cultural heritage and tradition. In Ogun State, we create the template for others to follow.
“In Nigeria, we should serve diligently. It is not where one comes from or his religion that counts, but one’s diligent service,” Amosun said.
A member of one of the regberegbe groups, Bobamayegun Dayo Rufai, said the Ojude Oba festival has become a rallying point for the sons and daughters of Ijebuland, as well as a “world- acknowledged” festival.
“People attend this festival from far and wide, from beyond the shores of Nigeria,” Rufai said.
He noted that the age grades have been playing significant roles not only in developing the Ojude Oba festival, but also in the development of Ijebuland.
“Most of the age groups have projects they have embarked upon. For example, my age grade, the Bobamayegun, has empowered many indigent students in Ijebuland. Another age grade has donated medical equipment to the General Hospital in Ijebu-Ode,” Rufai added.
Describing the Ojude Oba festival as an “incredible event”, Mallam El-Rufai quipped that he was attending the event “not as a governor, nor as guest of Gov. Amosun nor as a member of the All Progressives Congress, but I’m here because Awujale is my father, and a man of great wisdom, unparalleled courage and integrity.”
The Kaduna State Governor narrated how the monarch stood by him in his public service career and in exile. “He was a true father to me. He advised and even supported me financially.”
An estimated 25,000 Ijebu sons, daughters, friends and well-wishers participated at this year’s Ojude Oba festival. It was indeed, a festival to behold.