• A devotee chats with an Ifa priest in the grove.
The blissful relationship between Osun goddess and the people of Osogbo has been celebrated for centuries unbroken. It is a bond deep in love, peace and procreation, second to none on planet earth. But like a thief in the night, Ebola virus crept into Nigeria to steal the joy of the devotees and tourists and almost marred the just concluded edition. But Commissioner for Tourism and Culture, Hon. Adetona Sikiru Ayedun admitted that although the festival was low-keyed, the health of the people was greater than wealth, and speaks of template already in place to grow the sector in the state of Osun. Excerpts…
How much has Ebola watered down this year’s festival?
We know and it has been established that it is a very serious and contagious disease, and we care much about the welfare of our people. Yes, we know it is a celebration period and part of tourism is for people to move into the city en mass, to come and celebrate with us and because of that to create wealth within the state and amongst our people but at the same time health is wealth.
We don’t even know the level or how fast the disease spreads so what we need to do is limit at least for the period this thing can be contained, the number of tourists or influx of people to the State of Osun.
Because one, if we don’t do that, it will spread the disease and what is even important is that for us to even determine who has what and that means all the vehicles coming into the state has to be stopped and all passengers disembarked and checked one by one which will take a toll on our health service delivery and that means we have to move all our doctors into the border towns of the state but we don’t want to do this. Coupled with that the federal government is trying to limit the spreading of the disease. Overnight yesterday, at the Federal Executive Council meeting, they said all festivals should be put on hold for the moment so that we know how best to eradicate this disease. It has seriously taken a toll because we are looking at a situation every year we grow the attendance of people coming to all our festivals. Last year we had close to 15,000 participants apart from tourists, even celebrants that came into the state and we know the effect on the economy, not just on the economy of the state, the hospitality industry, our cuisine providers, artists and memorabilia, artisans and others. But we know they have to bear with us for it is better for us to be healthy than create a wealth that would not be enough to cure the disease.
Beyond Ebola, what’s your plan to make tourism rebound. Is the budget for the sector alright?
On the issue of Ebola, immediately we had information about this disease, we put together an inter-ministerial meeting between our Tourism Ministry, Health, Environment and Information to create awareness and also to let people know why we needed to close our doors to tourists during the festival period. The Ministry of Health has started a total screening of people coming in and out of the state. On the issue of the state being a tourist destination, we all know that with what we have, which is over a thousand tourist sites; Osun remains a choice destination for tourists. Today, the identified significant ones are over 100. To develop these hundred sites to world standard level we need a huge amount of money and there is no how the government will spearhead this alone. It is either we decide to stop all other developmental projects, in the educational sector, health sector, and infrastructural development for tourism or share our resources even. But developing all these sites will not be the achievement of government alone and since it is even meant for wealth creation, what we intend doing is to bring in investors. We’ve been working on this. We have done some little interventions in all these sites. We want to bring in investors. We have started having people who are interested in joining the state in developing the sites for wealth and job creation and when this is done we know it will relieve the government of the debt of the budget burden because the private investor would definitely bring in his funds to come and work, we will only partner with them because we are the custodian.
What’s the significance of the grove since it became a World Heritage Site and the socio-cultural importance of the festival?
Since it was designated a World Heritage Site, it has given more exposure to Osogbo who is the custodian of the grove, then globally, it has exposed the State of Osun as a tourist destination every August. The socio- cultural impact of this event is that it runs for eleven to twelve days, during this period, we have different organizations bringing in their products into the state. We have different brands coming into the state bringing in different items and also it gives room for felicitations among the people in the state both inhabitants of Osogbo and the state in general. This period is a period that people have full-fledged, unlimited fun. These are the things we intend to achieve with the type of exposure we have received.
Can you quantify the extent of loss engendered by Ebola Viral Disease?
It has caused us a lot not just the state, what we are trying to achieve is to create wealth for our people, the hospitality industry will loose, cuisine providers will loose, brands business people will loose and also our artisans, art and craft, sculptors, at least people that would produce memorabilia. But it is even better for us. There is no amount of money you make this period, if we have this disease imported into the state that we would not have lamentation afterwards. It is better we don’t talk about the loss; we should better talk about our health first.
Let me say this, what we had yesterday was World Traditional Festival recognized by UNESCO. Every 28 August, is celebrated as World Traditional Day by traditionalists all over the world. And when you are talking about the significance of this, this is the cradle of Yoruba Civilization. We had people inhabiting Ife before the advent of Christians and Moslems who were basically traditional worshippers, Ogun, Shango, Obatala and the rest. Part of these traditional institutions is what we celebrate today as Osun Osogbo cultural festival. The Osun Osogbo was about the creation of what we call Osogbo today. It is a blissful relationship between Yeye Osun and a hunter who established a place called ‘Osoigbo,’ now known as Osogbo. The hunter we are talking about was the first traditional ruler of Osogbo town. It is a period of homage, obeisance and propitiation.
Like what you said, what is important to us is getting the best for the state and its people, and today what we had planned for this year’s celebration, if not for Ebola, we had a lot of things, which we had to scuttle. The only thing visible we can do this year is the developmental project we’ve done in the grove like the podium where we used to have exhibitions but today you can seat down conveniently and monitor the events as it unfolds. Unlike where we used to have issues with security and people moving out and devotees moving around, it is just the face-lifting of the grove and its entire surroundings that is an addition to what we are doing this year.
May I use this opportunity to congratulate the number 1 citizen of this state, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola on his reelection and also to congratulate all the indigenes and inhabitants of Osogbo including those who helped us reclaim our mandate, and wish them joyous celebrations during the festival.