Odi Ogori Ba festival: Celebrating alliance of northern/southern Nigeria
When Odi community of Kolokuma/Opokuma Local Government Area of Bayelsa State is mentioned, one scared part of the people’s history of the riverine community quickly comes to mind. And that scared part was the attack carried out on November 20, 1999, by the Nigerian military on the predominantly Ijaw town on the instruction of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, then president of Nigeria.
Hundreds of armless civilians were killed during the invasion. The attack was linged on the claim that some armed bandits had reportedly murdered 12 police officers close to Odi, and that military personnel deployed to quell the attack on the police were ambushed near the community.
The outcome of the inhuman attack on the community gained more attention when Odi-born singer and songwriter, Inetimi Timaya Odon, better known by his stage name ‘Timaya’ released his solo single “Dem Mama” in 2005.
In that song, Timaya gave account of how buildings in the town were burnt to the ground, how girls and married women were raped without let or hindrance and properties belonging to the people were destroyed.
After a long legal battle between the community and the Federal Government, a Federal High Court in February 2013 ordered the Federal Government to pay N37.6 billion compensation to the people of Odi.
But the Federal Government, under the Goodluck Jonathan reportedly paid N15 billion to the community as out-of-court settlement.
Today, the people of Odi have gone beyond this harrowing past and have moved on with their lives, as they have gradually transformed the community into a modern city. Buildings with modern architectural designs have since sprung up.
In spite of all these, one significant history about the community the people of Odi have refused to forget or let go is the story of a mysterious buffalo that terrorised the community from 1952 to 1957, killing five persons while its terror lasted.
According to the history of the community, it all began when a woman named Dorun went to her farm on a fateful morning in 1952 and did not return home in the evening like every other farmer in the community.
As a result of this, her family started asking questions, and eventually they met a woman who said she heard a woman screaming for help in the bush, adding that the sound came from the direction of Dorun’s farm.
According to the woman, she was hesitant to move in the direction the screaming, was coming from because she was terrified at first, but when she finally found some nerves to find out what was happening, she met the lifeless body of Dorun.
The eyewitness story led to the assemblage of young men who volunteered to go and recover the corpse. At the scene, the team of young men found footprints that suggested that Dorun might have been killed by a buffalo. Nothing else.
The report that Dorun might have been attacked and killed by a buffalo triggered a great shock as the people wondered why a buffalo would do such; they had hunted and feasted for many years and therefore wondered why a buffalo would kill a woman that had no predetermined intention to attack it.
As days went by, the people also gradually accepted the fate that befell Dorun but when the buffalo reappeared a few months later, the people were in for a surprise, as another woman was killed. But this time, the buffalo attack had many witnesses, and they were certain about who the killer was.
At this point, the people decided to deploy every means available to hunt down and kill the buffalo. Traps were set on routes suspected to be the path of the buffalo. Hunters from the community, armed with guns, were deployed into the forest, but all their efforts yielded no result as the buffalo escaped.
As the hunt continued, the buffalo changed from attacking people in the bush to terrorising people in the town and along roads leading to their farms. It became a serious economic setback as local people were afraid to leave their homes for their farms and also fishing in the river and trade in the market.
The situation led to the invitation of hunters, including bow and arrow experts from surrounding villages to assist in hunting down the wild animal which had at that point attacked and killed three persons from Odi community.
The people at some point began to ascribe some sort of supernatural powers to the buffalo’s act. This theory became more believable because the buffalo at the time had attacked and killed only Odi indigenes, therefore evoking the fear that it could be an attack from the spirit world.
In spite of huge bounty placed on the head of the wild beast, there was a breakdown of sociocultural activities as another theory that the buffalo was a human who transformed into a buffalo to kill people and transformed back to human emerged.
It was also stated that one Mr. Gwa, a member of the community, told his people that the buffalo was a spirit and to kill it, the community would have to seek spiritual help. He then suggested that one Mallam D’Tara of Birnin Kebbi could help to put an end to the problem; the death toll had risen to five.
So a volunteer, Chief Nnengi Agedah, decided to make the trip to Mallam’s Tara’s base. On arrival, he met the mallam who gave him some prepared charms, instructing him to bury the charms at the centre of the town, and must not speak to anyone about it until the task was completed.
History has it that Agedah did exactly what he was told, and that few days later the buffalo was seen by a little girl named Finetiti grazing inside a church compound in the community.
Finetiti was said to have called her father who alerted the hunters. Several shots were fired at the buffalo, but it was a bullet from a hunter named Akara which struck it in the head, killing the wild beast which community folks believed had some supernatural powers.
The killing of the buffalo led to a huge jubilation all over Odi town. It is this jubilation that has transformed into the festivity now referred to as “Odi Ogori Ba festival”, meaning “festival of Odi killing the buffalo.”
The seven-day festival begins with the symbolic burning of a buffalo, for which women contribute fire wood to set up a bonfire. The people engage in masquerade displays, traditional dance procession, cultural dances, moonlight games and boat cruise.
The boat cruise, known as Love-Boat, travels from one end of the town to the other carrying people who celebrate as it travels through the River Nun and return to its take-off point in the evening.
On board the Love-Boat are people, most especially lovebirds who engage in different games, singing, dancing and selling food and drinks. Another interesting part of the festival is the Odi people’s survival and unity beach party.
In the ‘No big man for Road’ part of the festival in which every body irrespective of age, class, tribe or race dances, to the musical of a mobile musical band that plays across the town.
According to the paramount ruler of Odi Community, King Shine Apre, the festival has helped “to bring back sons and daughters of Odi that fled the community during and after the 1999 military invasion.
“And their return has tremendously contributed to rebuilding public facilities that were destroyed during the military invasion of our town and encouraged our younger ones to follow the path of peace.”
The governor of Bayelsa State was represented by the Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Tonye Emmanuel Isenah. Senator Douye Diri, senator representing Bayelsa Central Senatorial District, Reuben Okoya, PDP gubernatorial aspirant, Preye Aganaba, APC gubernatorial aspirant were among the dignitaries that attended the opening ceremony of the festival.