Aso Ofi festival: Celebration of local fabric opens up international trade prospects
Though it started last year as one of the Oyo State government’s means of reviving and empowering local industries within its borders, YEJIDE GBENGA-OGUNDARE reports that the Aso Ofi festival has become an international event that not only increases commerce within the state, but has also opened up the scope of revenue generation and tourism potential beyond the borders of Nigeria, especially with the commencement of construction works on the Aso Ofi International Tourism Market.
The need for regions to look beyond oil is a topic that had been on for a while and agriculture, tourism and culture had been listed as the cash cows that can empower the Southwest region in the absence of oil. As a result of this, individuals, states and regional bodies and government had been exploring avenues that will aid economic diversification and empower it to exist in the absence of funds from crude oil as it has been proved that total dependence on proceeds of crude oil cannot sustain the economy again.
In its bid to look inwards, the Oyo state government through the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism, last year on the occasion of the World Tourism Day decided to revive the relevance of local produce by celebrating them not just to attract attention to such products but also to boost revenue generation, create means of earning foreign exchange and generally uplift the masses by assisting them get financial independence.
This gave birth to what is known today as the Aso Ofi festival which was held on Saturday with fanfare to give relevance to a local product that has stood the test of time in order to market it to the international community and attract visitors to the state and link local producers to sources of finance.
Indeed, the Aso Ofi is so relevant to the culture of the Yoruba people that a marriage ceremony seems incomplete in the absence of the fabric which has been in existence for centuries and it is an age long material that has not been put on the back burner in spite of civilsation. Aso Oke has for generations maintained a pride of place among the Yoruba people and has now extended to other regions in Nigeria.
When the government in a bid to be proactive and put the state on a better pedestal economically has put in place a system of reviving local produce going on extinction and celebrating those that are still relevant to garner more attention to it and open up closed businesses in local communities through such festivals last year, many believed it was a waste of money and resources while some thought it was a flash in the pan that will fizzle out.
The second edition however put such speculations to rest as it was not only bigger but had more participants and visitors from far and wide making Iseyin town, the hub of activities that weekend.
“When we started this last year, some of our people refused to participate because they dint believe in the opportunities that it can bring but today, they are here because they also can attest to how that program has helped us. We made money, got business contacts and everything happened in a lively and entertaining environment,” Abdulmumin Shehu, a weaver told Nigerian Tribune.
The seriousness of the state government was also proved beyond doubt last week as the construction of the Aso-Ofi International Tourism Market with a foundation laying ceremony during the two days event. Speaking during the foundation laying, the state governor, Senator Abiola Ajimobi represented by his deputy, Otunba Moses Adeyemo stated that the government is pleased with developments, adding that having launched the maiden edition of the festival on September 27, 2016 during the World Tourism Day which recorded a huge success as financial institutions and export promotion agencies as well as private and corporate organizations have been having serious and genuine engagements with the Aso-Ofi weavers and marketers in the state.
“It is no longer news that the realities confronting us now either as a country or state are not only visible but also serious. Our economy is badly depressed, our youths are either unemployed or under employed and most disheartening, the nation is at war against far-fetching network of violence and hatred and as such, there is crucial and urgent need for a collective effort on our part to find new ways towards prosperity and economic freedom of Nigeria in general and Oyo State in particular. One of such alternative is Tourism Development which has become a global veritable tool for economic stability. It has the capacity to positively re-engineer the overall economy of a nation.
“I must say that my administration is making frantic efforts to make Oyo State a haven for tourists to appreciate the numerous Cultural and Tourism entities that abound in the State. Since we came on board, the transformation agenda has been vigorously pursued, we have been engaging in the revitalization of all indices of development in the State,” the governor stated.
The governor explained that it is time to communicate the importance of the tourism sector and mainstream it into the economy of the state. “South Africa is not driven by tourism for nothing. She has invested in research, development and marketing of the sector. Between 1994 and 2014, the tourism growth of South Africa exceeds the pattern of the world growth; it is leading the entire African continent’s economy. Oyo state is endowed with rich diverse cultures which include wide varieties of indigenous festivals such as Sango and Oranyan in Oyo Town, Oke-Badan in Ibadan, Beere in Saki, Olele in Ogbomoso and beautiful landscapes among which are Ado-Awaye Suspended Lake, Oke-Badan Hill in Ibadan, Igbo-Oba Royal Forest in Igboho, IyaMapo Hill in Igbeti and other numerous species of flora and fauna with their scenic values. However, most of these tourist sites are yet to be fully maximized to generate revenue.
“It is therefore our duty to plan, package and market them for overall development of the state. The ideas behind Aso-Ofi festival is to celebrate Aso-Ofi, one of the state’s tourism products, towards propagating this unique indigenous textile material globally and promote youth empowerment agenda of this administration as one of the solutions to the present economic challenges facing the country. To this end, youths should be encouraged to learn this trade without waiting for white collar jobs that are not always there; farmers should be encouraged to grow the cotton trees as part of agricultural agenda in the state to boost our indigenous textile industry,” he said.
The governor stated that Saturday was a day of fulfillment of promises as he is there to fulfill the promise made by his administration during last year’s edition of the festival to the good people of Iseyin that an International Tourism Market will be established in the town known universally as the cradle of Aso-Ofi and reiterated the government’s readiness to partner with genuine investors not only to preserve the historical sites, artifacts and monuments but also to manage and develop new ones.
The celebration this year was more focused on creating employment for people in the state especially youths, strengthening the earning abilities of local businesses and opening up finance opportunities for large scale production of Aso Ofi in Iseyin thereby, taking the ancient town known as the main established producers of Aso Ofi to the international standard of operations which will consequently make it a global market.
The festival this year was not for weavers, sellers and buyers but also for end users who depend on the fabric as the major raw materials for their businesses; there were designers who use the material for couture services, there were costumiers and those that use the Aso Ofi in various forms for productions.
A designer from Lagos that identified himself as Bimbola Hassan told Nigerian Tribune that he did not attend the festival last year but a friend that attended told him he had access to various designs at cheap rates and had one on one interaction with weavers.
“I am not here just to buy materials, I want to meet weavers and have one on one conversation with them so that I can see those that we can work together on designs. My specialty is in using Aso Ofi and jeans material to design things like shoes, bags and jewelries and often, I get inspired to do some things that require specific designs, if I have someone here, I will be able to communicate my preferences and get what I want. That is a good deal for me, no more making do with common designs,’ he said.
His vision tallies with the assertions of Prince Olamide Olajuwon, the consultant and Coordinator of the festival who stated at the inception of the planning for this edition that people need to see the fabric beyond wearing for weddings as it can be improved to a level of massive revenue generation for the people and the government. “The Aso Ofi can be used to make bags, shoes, wristwatches and many more. Since I came back to Nigeria, I stopped wearing jeans, what I now wear are materials designed in unique ways with the Aso Ofi,” he stated.
And with the approval and commencement of work on the Aso-Ofi International Tourism Market in Iseyin on 13.579 hectares of land, all is set to make the market functional as a tourist haven and a business hub which the government dreams of.
Speaking on the layout of the proposed market, the Commissioner for Information, Youths and Tourism, Toye Arulogun stated that the Aso-Ofi International Tourism Market will contain 500 weaving sheds and workshops, 500 exhibition shops, a warehouse, the site of the first indigenous textile museum in Nigeria, a fire station, a clinic and a police station, to ensure that the state reaps maximally from the economic potentials of Aso-Ofi.
Arulogun noted that the Aso-Ofi festival became imperative due to the State Government’s discovery that it needed to harness tourism potentials in every local government within the state, reiterating that this would not only promote the rich culture of the state but also promote the tourism potentials in the state.
“The effective and efficient use of ‘Aso-Ofi’ is a cultural-tourism potential which should be used to develop the economy of the state and develop Iseyin town as a whole and Oyo State in general, adding that the ofi has attained a status of both national and international importance and is widely accepted as the fabric of choice for traditional occasions and majority of social events,” he stated.
According to him, the Ajimobi administration is determination to promote Iseyin’s rich cultural heritage to benefit the state and its citizenry by showcasing and celebrating the locally made fabric that is now an internationally accepted brand.
“The celebration opened our eyes wider to the potentials that abound which include trade and commercial activities, employment and job creation. Financial institutions have also been having serious and genuine engagements with the weavers and marketers while export opportunities are also being explored,” he said.
Highlights of the two day event held at the proposed site of Aso-Ofi International Tourism Market includes rallies and carnivals around Iseyin, exhibition of Aso-Ofi arts and crafts, Aso-Ofi weaving competition, colloquium, musical concerts, parade by the four zones of the Iseyin Weavers and Marketers Association and other stakeholders, Cultural Performance, Awards presentation, Aso-Ofi fashion show and foundation laying of the market.
The chairman of Aso Ofi festival local Planning Committee, Mr. Adewuyi Kazeem, could not hide his elation at the crowd that graced the festival, he stated that the landmark strides that the festival has made is encouraging and reiterated that the vision is to get international recognition for Aso Ofi
Traditional rulers, prominent sons and daughters of Oyo state especially Iseyin and Oyo town as well as culture ambassadors from various countries were part of the celebrations which the state government planned as a means of growing the economy of the state.
The second edition of the festival was a success and a validation of the state’s determination to translate into tremendous wealth, the tourism potential that abound within its borders and harness it to grow its economy and develop the state.