Despite certain fear of security breach, 2016 edition of Osun festival successfully held with thousands of culture lovers converging on the ancient town of Osogbo. TUNDE BUSARI reports.
Twenty-four hours before the grand finale of the annual Osun festival last Friday, human and vehicular traffic had risen in the ancient town of Osogbo, the state capital, shedding pressure on the traffic patrol personnel at the popular Olaiya junction, Oke-fia roundabout and Oja-Oba.
Osun festival is a synonym of Osogbo because of its historical connection with the emergence of the town in the 17th century.
It is a culture heritage which annually draws a large number of people to the town founded by Larooye and Timehin, two sojourners who migrated from an anonymous Ijesa community known as Ipole to the present Osun grove.
Regardless of low sale, lately complained by traders in the town, commercial activities too felt the impact as intra-city public transport operators and their commercial motorcycle operators counterparts worked late in the night.
While the atmosphere was in the festive mood and hotels as well as restaurants playing host to guests, a rumour indicating a plan to kidnap the Osun votary maid (Arugba) filtered in and understandably there was apprehension.
Nigerian Tribune gathered that the palace of the Ataoja of Osogbo did not underrate the odd news as it swiftly responded and made useful contacts to the security agencies for necessary action aimed at nipping the plot in the bud.
The response informed the visibility of many law enforcement agents from the palace through Isale-Osun, Jameegbo and down to the grove. Nigeria Police, Department of State Security, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, Vigilance Group and other voluntary organisations deployed their operatives and ensured an hitch-free festival.
Police patrol vehicles and Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) were also stationed at some strategic points as a kind of deterrence.
Members of Gani Adams-led Oodua Peoples’ Congress (OPC) were said to have equally responded to the security need as they deployed themselves into the midst of the crowd and kept an eagle eye on them.
Criminals, particularly pickpockets, usually looked forward to the festival where they feast on unsuspecting culture enthusiasts and dispossess them of their valuables.
In 2014 edition, two journalists from Newswatch Times, Lagos and NTA, Abuja fell victim while struggling to take good shots of the events.
It was learnt that the light fingers stole a mobile phone of the Newswatch Times man while the Abuja woman lost a whole bag. Such incident is said to be a regular occurrence and indeed the flip side of the entertaining cultural convergence.
But on Friday, it was a different ball game. The arrival of Arugba to Osun grove literally electrified the atmosphere followed by the entrance of the Ataoja of Osogbo, Oba Jimoh Oyetunji in company with his wives to the grove.
National and Osogbo anthems were respectively sung after which chiefs, traditionalists and groups of women took turn to pay homage to the Ataoja, who appeared in a heavily embroidered native ofi fabric.
Oba Oyetunji prayed for the entire people of Osogbo, Osun State and the nation at large while extending same to the Ataoja-In-Council, a group of traditional chiefs with whom he administers the town.
Osun State Governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola who was represented by his former Commissioner of Culture, Tourism and Home Affairs, Sikiru Ayedun, and admonished the federal government to explore the potential of Osun festival to improve the sick economy caused by the fall of oil price in the international market.
The Director General of National Commission for Museum and Monuments, Mr Yusuf patted the organisers in the back and gave the federal government the assurance of continued support for Osun festival and others.
Chairman of the event, Dr Michael Omotosho also explained the need why the grove should be properly maintained and upgraded to be more attractive to the tourists.
The Araba Awo of Osogbo, Ifayemi Elebubon also led Ifa priests to the grove, describing Osun festival as the heritage and pride of Osogbo.
Similarly, the Founder of Nike Art Gallery, Chief Nike Okundaye, whose successful art career took root in Osogbo in the 60s, maintained that the prowess of Osun goddess was unquantifiable, hence the large turnout of people from all walks of life at the festival.
The National Coordinator of OPC, Otunba Gani Adams said he was always sad to read post-festival reports of criminal activities at the festival.
Against that background, he said, he challenged his members to ensure crime rate was reduced at the just concluded edition, adding that such achievement was the only means not to scare local and foreign tourists from attending the festival.
“We can still do better and I am sure we are going to make this very popular festival unattractive to criminals. Of course, wherever we have this number of people, crime must be there, but we should not allow it to increase if we cannot reduce it.
“But with what we have achieved this year, we are going to rid the grove of criminals who come from different places to operate here,” he said.
At the OPC carnival held at Laro Middle School, Adams affirmed that Osun Osogbo festival is the heritage of Yoruba race which must not be allowed to be rubbished by criminal elements.
OPC and Olokun Festival Foundation, he assured, would stop at nothing to make the festival more attractive, especially to the foreign tourists and more corporate bodies.