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Brouhaha over closure of markets during traditional festivals

The Ondo State Executive Council decision that markets should not be closed during traditional festivals without government’s approval, and that such closure should be limited to the kings’ markets, has not gone down well with some people in Akure, who believe that the decision was to reduce the influence of the Deji. Babatope Okeowo reports on the uproar the decision has generated in the state capital and neighbouring communities

The Ondo State Executive Council after its weekly meeting presided over by Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu recently directed that closure of markets during traditional festivals without government’s approval would no longer be tolerated. The government also said such markets’ closure should be limited to the kings’ markets which are usually located within the premises of the palaces virtually in all Yoruba towns and villages.

The Exco decision

The Commissioner for Information, Mrs Bamidele Ademola-Olateju, who read the decision of the State Executive Council, said the State Executive Council has upgraded some Traditional Rulers across the state to different grades. She said the council also approved the elevation of some chiefs to the status of Obas in the various communities.

Few of the Obas upgraded from grade ‘B’ to ‘A’ included the Olowa of Igbara-Oke; Ojomo-Luda of Ijebu- Owo; Owa-Ale of Iyometa; Elemure of Emure; Olupele of Ipele; Alara of Ilara-Mokin; Olujare of Ijare; Olumoru of Imoru; Ogbolu of Itaogbolu; Oloba of Oba-Ile; Odogbo of Omi; Orunja of Odigbo; Okiti of Iju; among others. The government spokesperson also said the Executive Council has mandated that there shall be no closure of markets in any part of the state without the approval of the governor. Her words: “The State Exco noted the permit granted for the observance of traditional festivals in the state.

The government hereby reiterates that there shall be no closure of markets without the approval of the governor. Where approval is granted, such approval shall be limited to the Oba’s market alone, not shops in residential areas. In addition, we discussed the use of Yoruba Language in communication as government interfaces with the people and its officers. At the State Executive Council, we decided that we encourage the use of Yoruba or other native languages like Ijaw, Ikale, Ilaje, as the case may be, in our communication.”

Justification of govt’s order

Residents of Ondo State, particularly Akure, the state capital, have been complaining about the unease the closure of markets usually caused during the two traditional festivals that required such action in the state capital. Apart from paralyzing the social and economic activities, some hoodlums often used such occasions to loot the wares of traders. The last Aheregbe’s celebration led to the looting of the shop of a woman, Mrs Williams Oyinkansola in Oba-Ile in Akure North Local Government. In a viral video, the woman said her shop, which is attached to her house, was invaded by thugs under the guise of celebrating a traditional festival. She said she did not open her shop for business, yet the criminals jumped the fence and looted her shop. Another woman said she was told that her shop had been looted by some hoodlums masquerading as traditionalists. The woman, who was seen crying in the video, said that she had not opened her shop and pleaded that as a widow, with two children, she should not be made to suffer. Another set of hoodlums stopped a branded vehicle carrying food items and plundered what it was conveying along Akure/Idanre road. Such incidents of looting of shops attached to various houses during the festivals infuriated the government which led to the decision of seeking approval of government before markets closure and limiting it to Oba’s palaces.

Insecurity

The celebration of the last Aheregbe Festival almost led to breach of peace between Akure, the state capital and Isinkan, an autonomous community within Akure South Local Government.

The Deji, had in a statement issued by his Press Secretary, Mr Michael Adeyeye, said all markets and shops would be closed for business during the festival. It said “All residents are advised to please go freely and note that all markets and shops in Akure kingdom will be in total closure. Only pharmacy and medicine shops are allowed to open for business. For the sake of emphasis, only pharmacy shops and patent medicine stores will be allowed to open during the festival. We enjoin residents, market women and shop owners in Akure to comply with this directive as no markets or shops in Akure will be spared. The festival will not restrict both human and vehicular movement.” But the Iralepo of Isinkan Kingdom, Oba Oluwagbemiga Ajimokunola Olofin-Adimula, while congratulating the Deji of Akure kingdom over the Aheregbe Festival, said the directive would not extend to his domain. The Iralepo used the opportunity to invite shoppers in Akure to come to Isinkan for their business and shopping during the Aheregbe period as shops and businesses shall remain open in every part of the Isikan domain. The monarch, who said it is taboo to bring such a festival to Isinkan, said forcing such on the community would have grave consequences. While saying though Akure and Isinkan share what some may consider blurred boundaries, the monarch said indigenes of the two communities know their domains. Their boundaries are not blurred. His words: “For the purpose of emphasis, I will like to say that Isinkan shares boundary with Akure at Imogun, just before Saint Thomas’ Anglican Church, Isinkan, and Ondo at the Owena River. In all these areas markets and shops are not closed for the Aheregbe Festival. It is a taboo and has consequence on Isinkan Community as well as the priest of the festival.

Govt’s intervention

Acutely aware that a possible clash may lead to a breach of peace of the town, the government, through the Deputy Governor, Hon Lucky Aiyedatiwa, called the opposing factions to a meeting where he warned them against throwing the state capital into chaos over the Aheregbe Festival. The government directed that the traditionalists should not step into Isikan territories while celebrating the festival while Iralepo should close the markets in his domain for peace to reign. The government also deployed security agencies to the two communities to prevent law and order. Despite the government’s intervention, some hoodlums still invaded the Isinkan community in order to enforce the closure of markets and shops.

Uproar over govt’s decision

Although the government’s directive affected all towns and villages in the state, the criticisms were largely only limited to Akure as various groups and associations in the town kicked in. For instance, the Ooye Development Initiative, (ODI) described as “anti-culture” the resolve of the State Executive Council which forbade the closure of markets in the state capital, in celebration of the ancient Aheregbe Festival. A statement issued by ODI’s Secretary, a former Dean, Faculty of Science of the University of Ibadan, Professor Abiodun Ayodele, and Publicity Secretary, Dr. Festus Adedayo, said it considered the statement credited to the Commissioner for Information in the state, Mrs Bamidele Ademola-Olateju in this regard as a continuation of a perceived hostility of the current government to the people of Akure. It said: “We consider the statement a continuation of the Oluwarotimi Akeredolu government’s persistent riding roughshod over the people of Akure, hostility to their ancient practices and persistent disregard for their monarchy and the monarch.” Similarly, a youth group, under the auspices of Akure Youth Coalition (AYC), also kicked against the decision of the government. The President and Public Relations Officer Tuyi Adekanbi and Iteyemi Adegoroye respectively said it was an affront on the culture of the town to ban the celebration of traditional festivals. The group said: “The government should be fully aware that the traditional institutions predate the colonial period and mod-ern day Nigeria. Though we acknowledge the right of the government to make laws for the good of the land, however, this does not give a blanket order for the government to trample upon the traditions and culture of the people with utmost disregard. It is a fact that we have few bad eggs who might want to use the festival to commit crime. The fact is that the criminals should be apprehended and made to face the music.”

Isinkan’s position

The Ojomu of Isinkan, Chief Oluwatuyi Daisi said the Osukute of Akure left out facts about the Aheregbe Festival. His words: “Up until 1976, the Oba’s market in Isikan was located right in front of the palace of the Iralepo just like the Oba’s market in Akure was located right in front of the palace of the Deji. “Secondly, that growth in trade and commerce led to the transfer of that market to a larger piece of land by the Yeye Grove, its present location after the market had spent 90 days beside Elegboroko as part of a ritual of movement.

“Thirdly, the Osukute should have stated that for reasons he may pretend not to know, but which Isinkan chiefs cannot pretend not to know, the culture and traditions of Isinkan people are different from and independent of the culture and traditions of Akure people.” Similarly, the Aro of Isinkan, Chief James Kolawole said Asoga, who is the Chief Priest of the festival, would dare not enter Isinkan because of the taboos associated with it. He said most of the people know the truth but are afraid to say it. His words: “These current Akure leaders are wantonly violating their culture and traditions.

They have no regard for tradition. We wanted to work with them before, but they have shown in their attitude that we are not wanted. Our late Oba spent 43 years trying to be their friend. Oba Olu Ojo bent over backward and even called the Deji ‘our father’. But they were never satisfied. Look at the way they treated him. “We are not Akure people. We are Isinkan people. We are not on Akure land, we are on Isinkan land. The culture and traditions of Isinkan people are different from those of Akure people despite the proximity of the two communities.”

Elders’ position

Majority of the elderly people contacted in both Akure and Oba-Ile, the cradle of the festival, said that it is true that the Aheregbe Festival is never observed in Isikan or near Isinkan. For instance, Babatunde Adedipe explained that: “From time past, all markets would be closed in Akure during the Aheregbe Festival and our people in Akure would then go to the market in Isinkan to buy essential things during the festival. Even to pound yam, we would either go to Isinkan or Isolo in those days during the festival”. Also, the Osukute of Akure, Chief O. Ogunleye, said: “By custom and tradition, the only markets opened would be the ones in front of the Baobab tree in Iralepo’s home in Isikan and his counterpart in Isolo”. Similarly, Pa. Michael Ayejusi in Oba- Ile stated that: “There is a deity in Isinkan that forbids the presence of Aheregbe.”

He added that: “There is no Oba-Ile festival or Akure festival that ever crosses to Isinkan. That is the way we met the practice from the hands of our forefathers. I think it is also a traditional method of affirming the independence of the Isinkan people.”

 

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