Ojude-Oba: A Celebration of Tradition

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For indigenes of Ijebu-Ode, the capital of Ijebuland both local and in diaspora, Tuesday was a unique gathering and rare display of glamour and a grand celebration of tradition, as they marked the decade-old Ojude-Oba festival, Omolola Itayemi writes

Human and vehicular traffic around the city of Ijebu Ode, particularly near the Palace was chaotic. Everyone was making their way towards the newly built Palace extension where the event was taking place. It was obvious this was no ordinary celebration, with people dressed to the nines, music blaring from different musical sets, canopies displaying different merchandise and services, masquerades and traditional dancers on parade. Call it a fusion of tradition, culture and colour and you won’t be wrong.

The venue’s arch-way was jammed with human traffic as thousands, from within and outside Ijebuland converged on this spot. Colourful horsemen in full traditional regalia had to jostle with the crowd in a bid to find their way in. Guards at the gate tried severally to control the crowd with shots into the air from their dane guns but to no avail, as more people trooped in, defying the heavy storm.

The cacophony of noise also pointed to the fact that festivity was in the air. Although the Ileya Muslim festival was marked two days earlier, but to the Ijebu indigenes, their celebration proper was the Ojude-Oba day. Cutting across political, economic and educational divides, this celebration provides a platform for indigenes to network and hang out with friends and extended family relations. It is a homecoming of sorts, taking place amid fanfare and glamour.

Much more than that is the exultation of tradition; the celebration of culture and the acclamation of the Awujale of Ijebuland, the royal head of the Ijebu nation.

Beginning with an imposing billboard, welcoming attendees to Ojude Oba 2016, to branding across the entire Ijebu-Ode town and the exclusive Ankara worn by the First City Monument Bank (FCMB) delegates, the Bank truly added colour to this year’s festival in a unique way. FCMB has explained that it’s continuous support of the Ojude Oba festival  is borne out of its commitment to celebrate and preserve Nigeria’s cultural heritage, while also boosting the tourism sector, in line with the government’s ongoing drive to diversify the country’s economy.

The event, which attracted dignitaries from everywhere in Nigeria and in the diaspora, was graced by the Ogun State Governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun; and his counterparts from Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir Rufai; traditional rulers, former and present senators and members of the House of Representatives in attendance.

Governor Amosun, in his remark, said the festival had continued to promote oneness, unity and sense of brotherhood among the Ijebus. “There cannot be development without unity and, therefore, we must continue to do things that will bring peace and development in Ijebu and the state as a whole,” he said.

Amosun also used the opportunity to assure the people of the state that his administration would continue to embark on developmental programmes across the state.

The Awujale of Ijebuland, Oba Sikiru Adetona, in his speech, urged political leaders in the country to be sincere with the citizenry and also identified bad leadership and hypocrisy as one of the major challenges of the country

The yearly festival, though steeped in religion, has risen above that to become a time for felicitating with friends and loved ones. The festival was said to have started when the first set of Muslim converts in Ijebu-Ode decided to pay homage to the Awujale two days after their first Eid-el kabir  in the town. This version has been contested by non-muslims and even Muslims. But the story has it that they had gone to the palace to visit the Awujale, present him with festival gifts, which included part of the ram they had slaughtered for the celebration and to pray with him. The Awujale was said to have been so pleased with the gesture of the Muslims that he had asked for an encore the following year. Thus, what was meant to be a one-off event turned out to be a recurring celebration.

Another very important aspect of the festival is the role of age-group members, referred to as regbe-regbe. Dressed in similar traditional attires, these set of people, who are united in fostering a better community for the indigenes, shone like stars. Banners announcing different age-grades were a common sight near the palace grounds.

Horse riding is another thrilling aspect of the festival, with horse riders cantering to the palace to pay homage to the Awujale, and afterwards, ride round the town. Horse riding is done by designated families that are usually recognised during the celebration. They are allowed to display their skills in horse riding, which along with martial music and other logistics, never fail to keep the crowd asking for more.