An epic royal fete that embodies a tribe’s culture and character
By MUSA JIBRIL and OMONIYI AYEDUN
Anyone making his way to the city of Ijebu Ode in the wee hours of Sunday, September 3, 2017, could smell the festivity in the air from a long mile. On that day, Sabbath gaiety with eddies of the Eid, culminated in a classic Ojude Oba, the town’s flagship annual fiesta. After an early morning downpour, the festivity kicked off, fast and feisty with its trademark pomp and parade, and as usual, blossomed into an extraordinary cultural grandeur.
The Yoruba are fabled as a people of a thousand-and-one festival. Some tribes, even cities, have festivals of their own. The Ojude Oba fiesta is patented and exclusive to the Ijebu-speaking people of Ogun State of Southwest Nigeria. Etymologically, Ojude Oba is intertwine with royalty. Verbatim, it means “the king’s forecourt.” Really, it is a “majestic outing” at the king’s court, in honour of the king.
The over hundred-year-old event brings the Ijebus together, on the third day of the Muslim’s Eid-el-Kabir. Muslims and non-Muslims, finely-clad and categorised into age grades, alongside horse-riding principal chiefs, throng the palace of the town’s traditional ruler to pay homage to the Awujale of Ijebuland.
For its genesis, the festival is traceable to two accounts of two protagonists, but one plot. The kernel of the narrative is about a leading personality in the community (either a chief who converted to Islam, or an influential imam) who led friends and family members to pay homage to the Awujale during eid-l-adha in a show of gratitude to the monarch, whose liberal and friendly attitude gave the umma the freedom to practise their faith in a peaceful atmosphere. For the Awujale, the budding Muslim community prayed for long life and good health, and for Ijebuland, progress and prosperity. It was from this inauspicious beginning that Ojude Oba grew to become the emblematic cultural fiesta it is today.
Till this day, the king’s courtyard––now, the Oba Sikiru Adetona Golden Jubilee Centre, a 5,000-capacity royal pavilion annex of the palace––remains the epicenter of the festival. The amphitheatre is spacious enough to accommodate all age grades and guests, with ample space for parades and the horsemen display. Outside, the streets are crammed with canopies two kilometers in every direction, with all roads leading to the palace clogged by traffic.
The early morning downpour did not deter indigenes and invitees from trooping to the centre. The dignitaries, as usual, are the cream of the society, including the governor of the state, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, his state executive cabinet, his predecessor, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, and an illustrious son of Ijebuland, Otunba Olasubomi Balogun, founder, First City Monument Bank.
The 2017 fiesta, themed: “Our Culture, Our Pride,” kicked-off by 10 am with the customary opening prayer by the Chief Imam of Ijebu Ode, followed in succession by the national anthem, Ogun State anthem, the Awujale anthem, and finally the lineage praise of the Ijebus.
The heart of the ceremony is the march past by the age grade societies, called Regberegbe, with names––such as Obafuwaji, Bobagbimo, Bobakeye, Gbobaniyi and Gbobalaye––that bear kingly prefixes.
Each group––double-faced with male and female counterparts––is distinct, if not in the manner of appearance and style of dressing, then in the dance pattern. Most groups’ members are heads of industries, top managers, and chief executive officers, and prominent traditional title holders. To each group, there is a recognisable face. For instance, the Gbobaniyi, a group of middle-age men, that dress in rich traditional Aso-Oke, wield walking sticks and dance like conquerors, has former Ogun State Governor Gbenga Daniel as its patron, while the female Gbobaleye are noted for gaiety and dance and has as member the popular Waka music star, Queen Salawa Abeni.
Garbed in the latest fashion, the groups file past in turn with their drummers to pay homage to the king. They dance. They present gifts at the feet of the king. They renew their allegiance. They pledge their support. They wish him peaceful tenure. The splendour of these displays makes the festival an inspiring experience.
As cultural fiestas go, Ojude Oba embodies artistic beauty. Fashion aesthetic and sartorial creativity are richly manifested in the dressing of the different age groups, the designs on the horses of the Balogun families and the patterns of banners and fans used in the ceremony. Such finery turns the parade to a picturesque panorama of contrasting and coagulating hues and patterns.
At the Ojude Oba, age grades compete for the best dressed. That is why groups go all out for the season’s most expensive raiment. It is a faux pas to wear attire from a previous festival in a new Ojude Oba. An entirely different dress is worn for each festival, and from year to year, a group’s apparel differs in colour and in style, more as a show of economic status and wealth and a statement the age grade is doing well.
Arguably, nowhere else is the Yoruba flair for traditional attire better demonstrated than in the flamboyance at Ojude Oba. Clothes worn by the over 35 age groups are typically what the Yorubas wear for social activities––Gbariye, agbada, and dansiki for men; iro,buba, iborun, and ipele for women. Occasionally, the manner of dressing may have political undertones, such a particular celebration in the past where the Regberegebe all wore the same pattern of dress––with Ijebu State printed all over it––and only distinguished themselves with varying colours of caps and headgears in a show of solidarity for the agitation for the creation of an Ijebu State.
The royal fete rounds off with prizes for winners. This year’s million naira prize (split between the male and female groups winners) and trophies, both awarded by Globacom was won by the female Arobayo Akile and the male Bobamaiyegun group.
The day’s exhibition came to a heart-quickening climax when different horse-riding families, led by the Baloguns, descendants of Ijebu war heroes, stormed the arena amid intermittent gunshots and rich equestrian display. The mock war they staged with gaiety and gusto sent the crowd agog.
The last dozen of years have seen the Ojude Oba gain momentum, metamorphosed and mature into a world-class event. In this, one can clearly see the hand of Globacom, whose imprint on the festival is infinite and indelible. The telecom giant’s 10-year sponsorship is the sinew of the festival. From providing prizes and trophies to branded chairs and sundry benefits, the Glo leverage in the elevation of Ojude Oba is immeasurable. Indeed, the festival is not lacking in sponsors––First City Monument Bank [FCMB], UAC of Nigeria, Fan Milk, The Seven-Up Bottling Company and MultiChoice, you name it––but Glo has been its backbone.
The flamboyance of Ojude Oba is astounding––but one shouldn’t be amazed. The Ijebus love for merriment is legendary. And, in that, they are classy––and Ojude Oba is a testament. Abosede Atoyede, a member of the winning Arobayo Akile, gushes: “Our leader, Otunba Afolasade Adesoye, designed a winning appearance.”
A winning appearance. Indeed, they were outstandingly resplendent in Jawu (a native fabric of the highest grade that cost each member N50, 000) and high-prized beads (of N25, 000) and a uniform hairstyle of Suku adimole (which, on cue, they unveiled to give the king an eyeful).
The group’s members from the Diaspora, such as Toyin Oyewoja, and Olayinka Sanni (respectively from Virginia and Maryland in America) keenly followed the development in their whatsapp group and arrived three weeks ahead of the D-Day. “It is inconceivable that I will not be here every year,” Oyewoja says.
“We are bound to come home to support our heritage,” Sanni adds.
The triumphant male group sourced their Ofi, from Iseyin, Oyo State, at a cost of N70, 000 per head, but subsidised for members at N40, 000. According to a member of the group, Oladipupo Ogunlana, “Every Saturday, for three hours, all members are online in the whatsapp group for meeting and once a month, we meet in Ijebu Ode.”
Victory for both groups was a product of long planning, commitment and careful choice of accoutrement, attributes the average Ijebu displays towards an everyday social outing.
In its totality, the extravagance of Ojude Oba speaks volume about the Ijebu enterprise and affluence; the symbolism of the epic festival is clear and convincing––a de facto “Ijebu National Day.”