The Osun Osogbo Festival 2014 Advisory Committee yesterday insisted that the Ebola virus does not pose any threat to the celebration. The Chief Festival Consultant, Mr Ayo Olumoko, said the federal government did not at any time contact organizers of the festival to discuss possible cancellation.
He said it was only the state government who sought the understanding of Osun devotees and the organizers on the need to put crowd-control measures in place because of the Ebola virus.
“The federal government cannot cancel or put Osun Osogbo festival on hold because of the issue of Ebola. President Goodluck Jonathan was here a few days ago to campaign for the candidate of Peoples’ Democratic Party and the Osogbo City Stadium was full of people, without anyone talking about the spread of Ebola. Similarly, the state governor who was the candidate of All Progress Congress had his own campaign at the same Osogbo City Stadium and they were not considering the spread of Ebola there, despite the massive crowd that attended the rally”, he added.
Olumoko said any attempt to tamper with celebration of Osun Osogbo festival would amount to denying the traditionalists their right to religion and freedom of association.
He insisted that the festival must hold as scheduled and that if it is stopped because of the fear of Ebola, it means that “ Sallah and Christmas will not hold in the state”
“If they cannot stop Muslims from going to mosques and they cannot stop Christians from going to church, then, they cannot stop traditionalists from holding Osun festival. We all agree that there is Ebola, but despite the outbreak, workers are going to their offices, people are going to markets and no one is stopping them. So, they cannot stop us from holding Osun Osogbo festival,” he said.
Meanwhile, some residents of Osogbo, Osun State, have expressed fear on the danger the influx of people to the state for Osun/Osogbo festival can pose in the face of the Ebola virus.
They told newsmen yesterday that the chances of contacting the virus were high because of contacts with tourists.
A resident of Dada Estate in Osogbo, Mrs Olayinka Ajibola, said the outbreak of Ebola virus in West Africa would adversely affect the Osun/ Osogbo festival and the tourism sector.
Ajibola said the annual Osun festival always attracts many tourists from far and near, especially Lagos, where the virus has been reported.
She called on the state government to put in place a robust mechanism to forestall any outbreak.
Another resident in the town, Mr Shittu Akeju, said most of those who visit the groove during the festival might have a rethink this year.
Akeju identified the heavy presence of monkeys at the groove as the main reason for this, since the animal is one of the major carriers of the virus.
“The celebration of Osun festival this year will suffer a little setback because of the menace of Ebola virus that is threatening communities in West Africa, including Nigeria. You will agree with me that aside the fear of contracting the disease from the crowd, the groove is also a thing of concern to them due to the presence of monkeys. It is common knowledge that monkey is a first class carrier of the disease,’’ Akeju said.
Dr Abiodun Ogunwale of the Department of African Languages, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, on his part, has called on the government to protect the tradition with diplomacy.