Udiroko: Celebrating culture, thanksgiving, allegiance to the king in Ado Ekiti

The 2016 edition of the annual Udiroko Festival of the Ado Ekiti people was the first to be celebrated after the completion of the new huge amphitheatre constructed at the palace of the Ewi of Ado Ekiti. sam nwaoko witnessed the festival. His report.

The new huge amphitheatre constructed at the palace of the Ewi of Ado Ekiti was conceived by the Ewi Ado Ekiti, Oba Rufus Adeyemo Adejugbe, Aladesanmi III, when he saw the fast growth and widening acceptability of the legendary festival and the allure of the celebration to people from far and wide and from all walks of life, as well as corporate bodies.

Thus, by May this year when the project had been completed and ready for use, not a few people looked forward to the 2016 Udiroko Festival. The  celebration expectedly was grand and had the usual panache it has come to be known in the over 25 years reign of Oba Adejugbe Aladesanmi III. To many sons and daughters of Ado Ekiti, including Mrs. Morolake Adewumi, “the present Ewi has introduced new dimensions which have made the Udiroko a national and indeed, an international festival.”

Among numerous other new innovations, the 2016 festival even had a corporate sponsor who, among other things, provided music and sundry support for the festival which has consistently grown into a huge carnival. For the hundreds of Adó Ekiti people, their friends and wellwishers who thronged the palace amphitheater for the celebration, the “Erukulèlè omo Adó dé” cognomen of the Ado people, things have changed.

According to Mr. Olufunso Adeyemi, “the fact that the palace where we normally celebrate Udiroko has been reconstructed, modernised and the floor cemented, does not make us lose our identity as a people. We of Ado Ekiti stock are known for our wartime exploits and we remain brave warriors, whose entry into the arena to report our victorious exploits in the war to the Ewi, is greeted with ‘erukulèlè omo Adó dé’ among other songs of victory.”

Adeyemi said the literal meaning of “erukulèlè omo Adó dé” could be “the Ado child has come and enough dust is raised,” and explained that “this recognition has stuck as an identity to us as a people, from way back. We will not shed it now that we have paved the Udiroko arena. After all, we all have been living in cemented homes for ages.”

Udiroko was said to have started as a seasonal gathering in which warriors would come to pay homage to, and rejoice with the Ewi. The community said “it was the duty of each war chief to regularly report his military achievements, eats to the Ewi. The Ewi in his wisdom decided to be meeting his war chiefs once a year and he picked the ‘Olorunborun’ day for such purpose. The assemblage of the people under iroko tree in Ewi’s palace on Olorunborun day for the ceremony later became “Odun Udi’roko” from which Udiroko was abbreviated.”

In the ancient times, the event was said to have celebrated by “Ado Ekiti indigenes, the returning military leaders of the Ewi’s army, other military commanders and mercenaries, emissaries from subordinate kings and chiefs, messengers carrying different gifts and food items from the rulers of Ewi’s vassal states and captured slaves.”

Now, Udiroko has grown to become a weeklong celebration with all the trappings of a modern carnival. Part of the celebration in 2016 was the Ewi football competition which was won by All Stars Football Club, a health talk, a lecture entitled: “Ado Ekiti; For our Greater Tomorrow” delivered by Dr Sikiru Tae Lawal and a number of other activities.

During the celebration of the Udiroko grand finale, some of the Ewi’s activities include his address to the people. Others are “offering of prayers at various traditional points in Ado Ekiti before evening ceremonies; appearing in most sophisticated regalia, exhibition of beaded crowns of different shapes and sizes and receiving of homage and greetings from: the Oloris (queens), the Efas (traditional policemen of Ado Ekiti); traditional chiefs; princes and processes.” Ado Ekiti indigenes in their various groups; honourary chiefs, non- indigenes and sundry groups also greet and pay homage to the Ewi.

One of the main highlights of the day is the homage to the Ewi by by Chief Bafon, the traditional leader of the Ado Ekiti war chiefs. His entry into the arena creates a different kind of buzz. First time visitors to the Udiroko festival, that usually thought that the celebration is about to be scuttled due to Chief Bafon’s entry which is war-like and as he comes in with some of his traditional war paraphernalia which, in many cases creates fears and charges the arena. He usually comes in with his lieutenants, members of his household and well wishers, who are usually in the same war mood with him.

An interesting point of note in the celebration of Udiroko is that the day is not just announced by anyone or anyhow. Udiroko day does not come like many communities announce Saturdays for the celebration of their community days. In Ado Ekiti, it is the duty of a specific chief, who counts the moon from the last celebration and arrives at the day of the next, to tell when the next Udiroko would be held. It could fall on any day of the week. Indeed, Udiroko is also the new year for the people of Ado Ekiti.

Even as the 2016 Udiroko day fell on a Tuesday, hundreds of indigenes of Ado-Ekiti from home and abroad returned home to celebrate the festival with their monarch. The palpable merriment involved one and all and they were joined by numerous dignitaries from all walks of life.

Governor Ayodele Fayose, his colleagues from Gombe State, Alhaji Ibrahim Dankwambo and Rivers State, governor, Ezenwo Nyesom Wike, represented by Mr. Kenneth Kobani, who is the Secretary to the Rivers State government, were also in attendance. The vice chancellor of Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University (ATBU) Bauchi, Professor Saminu Abdulrahman Ibrahim; the Chief Medical Director of Ekiti State University Teaching Hospital (EKSUTH), Dr Kolawole Ogundipe; vice chancellor of Federal University, Oye-Ekiti (FUOYE), Professor Kayode Soremekun, vice chancellor of Ekiti State University (EKSU), Ado Ekiti, Professor Samuel Oye Bandele were also among the dignitaries that witnessed the grand celebration.

Addressing the large gathering which covered the 2,500-seater amphitheatre and beyond, Oba Adejugbe Aladesanmi III thanked God for the peace in Ado Ekiti and also thanked the state government for the development of both the palace and the community. He noted that the growth of the town had been phenomenal and, although this came with attendant vices and sundry problems, he and the community leaders were tackling the vices while also relishing the positives.

The monarch said: “I am indeed very grateful to the government of Ekiti State led by Dr Peter Ayodele Fayose, a pragmatic, committed beacon of excellence and a hardworking governor for the massive road reconstruction work being undertaken in Ado Ekiti metropolis. Examples are The Onala/Tinuola Road, D-Head (Bawa Estate) – Adetiloye road Awedele -Secretariat road dualisation; Adunni Olayinka Women Development Centre; Oja Oba Erekesan modern market under construction, and the flyover under construction, just to mention a few, all within 18 months of assumption of office.”

He charged the young people to see agriculture as an avenue to climb out of the current economic hardship in the country, saying they should take a leaf from successful farmers. “Let us take a leaf from Aare Afe Babalola (SAN), Chief Olusegun Obasanjo GCFR, Chief Paul Alabi and others who have clearly demonstrated that agriculture is another sure and steady source of wealth as oil.

“I passionately call on our people once more to please, for God’s sake and our posterity, stop selling our families’ old houses with their historic background to strangers in the name of getting quick money. If our parents had been licentious towards materialism and did what you are doing today, you would have gotten nothing to sell to your guests today,” Ewi Adejugbe lamented.

In his speech on the occasion, Governor Fayose saw Udiroko as a festival of national importance already. Fayose, who was special guest of honour, said his administration had further raised the bar in the celebration of the annual festival. “Again, the bar has been raised. The Udiroko festival every year has been growing under my watch. It may be difficult for any other governor to continue this tempo. Udiroko is not an offering to any god, but one for the coming together of all our people to celebrate our cultural heritages with many other monarchs that are interested.

“When you do good, you get good, and when you do bad, you get bad. You reap what you sow. I have been in office in less than two years.”

On his regrets, he said “I would have loved to have Ekiti airport and I’m still nursing that ambition and waiting for the slightest opportunity. Ekiti airport will facilitate development for our state . It doesn’t matter what anybody is saying. Many years after, they would come to appreciate what we are doing.”

The 2016 Udiroko was also an avenue for the celebrants to make fashion statements. They came in colours and styles that stood them out, some weird, some creative. But the fun was for the rich, the poor, the chiefs and the commoners.