by Toni Kan
The Ojude Oba festival is a cultural and exuberant spectacle of sound, colour and joie de vivre. Sponsored by the telecom powerhouse, Globacom and other corporate bodies, it is a full day celebration of the very best of Ijebu culture and traditions.
The festival, held in the forecourt (the eponymous Ojude Oba) of the monarch, is an annual event celebrating the culture and traditions of the Ijebu people while paying homage to the King, Alaiyeluwa Oba (Dr.) Sikiru Adetona, Ogbagba II, Awujale and paramount ruler of Ijebuland.
Without doubt one of Nigeria’s longest reigning monarchs, the Awujale of Ijebuland ascended the throne of his fathers in 1960 after a short stint studying Accountancy in the United Kingdom. Oba Adetona, the 58th monarch of Ijebuland who celebrated his 62nd year on the throne and his 88th birthday on May 10, 2022 is an unapologetic champion of Ijebu culture and traditions.
This not surprising because, as the Awujale, Oba Adetona is the custodian of his people’s cultural mores and traditional ethos. Described often as ‘sagacious, courageous, charismatic and dependable,” he is a nationally revered figure who is also well regarded at home.
The Ojude Oba festival, which now takes place in a purpose-built pavilion sited across from the Awujale’s palace, is the annual commemoration of all things Ijebu and an opportunity for people drawn from across Ijebuland, Nigeria and the diaspora to pay homage to a King who has ruled with candour, objectivity and sincerity while espousing the highest ideals of the Yoruba Omoluabi ethos.
The Ojude Oba festival is celebrated every year in Ijebu Ode on the third day of the Muslim Eid-el-Kabir. A colourful and spectacular carnival, the festival brings the town to a halt with every focus at the pavilion where the festival proper takes place.
Guests and participants begin streaming through the royal archway as early as 7am in order to secure vantage positions within the pavilion. To watch the procession is to be suffused in colour and sound as the Regberegbe (the age grades who are organized around three year circles with titles reflecting significant events during the period of their birth) arrive.
For a people known for their industry and sociability, the Regberegbe represents the apogee of Ijebu harmony, conviviality and unity as a tool of social integration and cohesion.
Beginning in 1845 -1848 with the Egbe Mafowoku of Ijebu (as extant records indicate) the youngest age grade is believed to be the Egbe Obaneye Obinrin Akile Ijebu encompassing those born between 1983 and 1985, the Regberegbe is believed to have been revived and revitalized by the Awujale after suffering a fissure during the British colonial era.
Struck by the tenacity of purpose and unnerved by the spirit of cooperation engendered in Ijebuland by the Regberegbe age grades, the British sought to sunder that bond through the institution of the Native Councils which was employed to usurp the powers of the traditional Elders’ Council. The coming of Oba Adetona revived and gave renewed zest to the Regberegbe who are now a key part of the Ojude Oba festival and a springboard for Ijebu development, relevance and ascendancy.
The Ojude Oba festival experienced a two year hiatus on account of the global Covid-19 pandemic so the 2022 festival was expected to be spectacular and turbo charged and so it proved to be with the Regberegbe arriving early in their fineries and taking their place in sections reserved for them in the pavilion.
Their procession around the pavilion marked by drumming, dancing and praise singing which peaks with the paying of tributes and presentation of gifts to the Awujale marks a special highpoint of the festival and this year, the Egbe Obayori Okunrin Asiwaju came tops as the best dressed age grade and won a N500,000 cash prize donated by Globacom. Egbe Tobalase Okunrin and Egbe Bobamayegun went home with N300, 000 and N200, 000 respectively as first and second runners-up in the male category while Egbe Bobamayegun Obinrin Asiwaju came first with Egbe Arobayo Obinrin and Egbe Tobalase Obinrin emerging as runners up winning the same prizes in the female category.
But where the Regberegbe represent the social element of the festival there is also another part of the festivities that is a throwback to a time when kings went to war and conquered lands and secured heady victories. Back then a King setting out to war was backed by his Baloguns and the revered horsemen, Eleshins.
The martial procession of the Baloguns and Eleshins at the Ojude Oba festival is a symbolic and grand yet solemn affair recalling the military might of the Ijebu kingdom and the prowess of those who have sworn allegiance to protect the people and the king.
The procession of the Baloguns and Eleshins draped in their fineries atop their ornamented horses is preceded and punctuated by dane gun shots and equestrian dexterity drawing screams and cheers in equal measure from the audience.
This year’s procession featured 21 families including the Balogun Kuku, Balogun Alausa, Balogun Shote, Balogun Oyewole, Balogun Odunuga, Balogun Gamugasa families among others. Balogun Kuku was adjudged the best in skills and dexterity on their horses while Balogun Odunuga and Balogun Gamugasa came second and third winning N500,000, N300,000 and N200,000 respectively.
The Ojude Oba is enlivened by Globacom which has been collaborating with the Ojude Oba Planning Committee as main sponsor since 2006. The company has made the support of traditional institutions and cultural festivals a key brand building strategy. The company has supported the Ojude Oba festival for over a decade but it’s support is ethnic and tribe agnostic extending past Ijebuland to cover the Lisabi festival and the Ofala festival amongst others.