In a fews weeks from now, the annual pilgrimage to Osogbo, the Osun State capital, for the Osun festival would begin. And as a prelude to the festival, INFOGEM ltd, a Lagos-based tourism consultancy firm presents a glimpse of what to expect in August.
There in the sky is already a conspicuous mark that the Osun Osogbo festival 2014 would come in a different colour to conform with the Yoruba witty maxim that sign of a beautiful Friday radiates in the preceding Thursday.
The sizeable gathering that converged on the elitist Eko Hotel and Suites on Victoria Island, Lagos last Tuesday, had a mouthful of appetizer of what to expect in Osogbo between August 7 and 22.
The press conference, as the attendees would later remark, literally did a great marketing job for the festival with the attendance cutting across different sectors of the society, especially the corporate and cultural world. The exquisite Iris Hall, which hosted the conference, indeed justified the reason the organiser of the event settled for Eko Hotel this year.
Saturday Newswatch gathered that given the tremendous success so far recorded in previous editions, “the management of the hotel, therefore, woke to the reality that a good number of tourists who would first have a stop-over in Lagos before heading to Osogbo, are involved in the festival.”
The programme was compeered by the Chief Executive Officer of the sponsor-organisation, INFOGEM, Ayo Olumoko, while the task of enumerating the programme of the festival to the media was assigned to Chief Jimoh Ibrahim, and the renowned artist did not put anyone in doubt of his full grasp of Osun Osogbo.
The Asoju Oba of Gbodofon suburb took the podium like a university don before his students, reeling out one event after the other. Ibrahim was so engrossed in the assignment that Olumoko had to tactically, but disappointingly remind him of time constraint.
Even at that, the chief made himself clear to the audience as he asserted the status of Osogbo not as only the capital of Osun State, but also as the culture city according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
“To buttress this fact, Osogbo is the only city in Nigeria with the highest assemblage of artists. We have not less than 70 artists who are doing the nation proud in the art world. These artists are known everywhere participating in one exhibition or another.
The Ataoja, Oba Jimoh Oyetunji Olanipekun, who spoke extemporal in Yoruba language, showered praises on the audience for identifying with Osun Osogbo festival. He particularly commended and prayed for the media for what he called their encouraging coverage of the festival every year.
He said the good publicity had gone a long way in projecting the festival, which according to him, is being monitored around the world through the internet. He recalled his last trip to the United States where he was warmly received even by the foreigners who claimed to have heard so much about Osun festival.
“Those white men were so interested to the extent that they showed me a river they said they wanted to name Osun. I told them Osun cannot be replicated anywhere else. All the same I acknowledged their appreciation of the festival,” the Ataoja said.
In the company of the Ataoja at the event, aside his olori, Adeola Olanipekun, were the Araba Awo of Osogboland, Chief Priest Ifayemi Elebuibon and notable members of Osogbo Progressive Union (OPU), Lagos State branch.
The Osun State governor, Rauf Aregbesola’s election campaign train which landed in Ede town on Tuesday, did not rob the event of government presence as his Special Adviser on Culture and Tourism, Ladi Soyede, held brief and delivered a speech, showing a government genuinely committed to make an enduring impact on the festival.
It would be recalled that in less than two years in office, the government gave Osun groove a facelift by constructing a befitting pavilion, which has provided the needed relief to the Ataoja who is accompanied to the groove by a large crowd of dignitaries from within and outside the state.
To demonstrate the government’s support, he said the government is introducing marathon walk, Tourism ambassadors, festival trade fair, food festival as well as festival concert in the 2014 edition.
Like his principal, who is noted for refreshing the memories of his audience with details of his achievements, Soyede said that since November, 2010, the Aregbesola administration has been in the forefront of promoting matters that have to do with the renaissance of Yoruba culture as a means of reducing poverty.
“Solid progress has been made in this regard in the past three years, which had made Osun Osogbo festival to become the biggest festival in Nigeria. From our records, the 2013 edition of the festival recorded 21,713 domestic tourists including 123 international tourists while Abuja Carnival 2013 recorded 19,015 domestic tourists which includes 113 international tourists as N147, 250 was recorded as the expenditure,” he stated.
Given the large turnout at the festival, Soyede promised a water-tight security, not forgetting a clean environment and emergency service personnel to ensure a peaceful festival.
To underscore the cultural significance of the event, Ayo Ewebiyi Cultural Group thrilled the audience with their traditional music and dance. Their performance, which clearly exceeded the time allotted to them, was worth the while as they exhibited their dance prowess to the heavy bata percussion.
The Apala maestro, Musiliu Haruna Isola, also added to the entertainment segment of the event. Besides, the late Kennery exponent, Orlando Owoh’s baritone voice rented the hall when a young musician shocked the audience with a brief performance that perfectly mimicked Owoh’s. The audience acknowledged the performance with an ovation that accompanied him back to his seat.
Of special interest was the moment the renowned female artist, Chief Nike Okundaye, was called upon to offer prayers for the success of the festival. The woman, whose blue adire batik flowing gown was the cynosure of all eyes, especially with her special head gear, showed the audience that her foray into art is not a happenstance.
She danced from her seat to the podium with the Ataoja’s olori providing a beautiful partnership alongside another female guest. Ekundaye thanked the guests and promised them a spectacular Osun festival. She was said to have introduced Osun children cultural fiesta to give the young ones equal opportunity at the festival.
“The white would say the best way to bequeath a tradition to the youth is to catch them young. What we have so far achieved in the world of art today should be exposed to the young ones to teach them that our culture is richer in content and outlook,” she said.
Corporate sponsors of the festivals had their representatives in attendance to address the audience. The platform offered them the needed opportunity to market their products and encourage the audience to be in Osogbo to evaluate their respective contribution to the festival.
Olumoko, who was in full control of the proceeding, traced the history of corporate sponsorship of Osun festival to 2002. Olumoko revealed that sponsors were approved based on merit, saying that Osogbo people don’t compromise merit.
“I have been doing business in the town for the past 15 years, and I must tell you that I always feel at home. Same goes to a lot of non-indigenes who have done wonderfully in the town. I must mention someone like KSA (King Sunny Ade) among others who passed through the town,” he said.
Chief Elebubon, in his usual calm disposition, urged the youth to know their root to appreciate their existence. He said celebration of traditional festival is an appeasement to the deities, who oversee the world.
The Ifa priest, who is also preparing for the Ifa festival coming up on July 17, said return to root is a way to find lasting solution to the social malaise plaguing the nation.
“No nation can develop without identifying with its root. This is one area where we are not getting it right. But since the constitution gives equal right to religions, nobody would force others to embrace his own. But I am happy and fulfilled that what we are doing is giving us joy on daily basis,” he said.
Light refreshment was served at the end of the programme with Olumoko urging the media to continue their partnership for the success of the festival.
“I always say it that the role my colleagues in the media play in this project is great and appreciated. We are friends and we shall always be. Let’s do it together once again. See you in Osogbo,” he concluded.