By Ola Ajayi
MASQUERADE festival is widely marked by adherents of traditional religion in the South West zone of the country. The worshippers believe that their ancestors who died several years ago reincarnate, pay them regular visits to bless them. So, it is a yearly festival in states like Osun, Ogun, Lagos, Ekiti, Oyo states and other parts of the country. It is marked with pomp and pageantry in other cities and towns like Ibadan, Otan-ile, Ilare, Imesi ile, Ilesha, Adubi Elere, Ijebu Ijesa,Ibokun, Ipetu-Ile,Ifo and many others.
Whenever the ‘ancestors’ come, they appear in colourful pieces of cloths sewn together and speak in guttural voices to give the impression that they are not ordinary beings. They bless their believers and followers. Egungun as they are always called do bring blessings to people both men and women who are childless, sterile, barren, sick or possessed of demons are prayed for by the visiting ancestors (Egungun).
In Ibadan, the capital city of Oyo State and other places, it’s always a traumatic experience for residents. Instead of the fun that usually characterises the festival in other places, violence, looting, killing and maiming are the tales that trail the festival. There is hardly a year that Egungun festival doesn’t leave behind fear, tears and regret.
Clash between Egungun and Muslim youths: Sometimes, there is bloody clash between some Muslim youths and masquerade supporters.
As the festival began in Ibadan on Monday, unlike previous masquerade festivals which were punctuated by violence, this year’s festival started on a peaceful note. As a result of violence that characterised previous festivals, many people dread them. This may have led to the festival being banned by the state government especially in this Ramadan period.
Some years ago, there was a bloody clash between one of the oldest masquerades, Oloolu and some Muslim youths. It took the intervention of the then Olubadan, late Oba Samuel Odulana and some members of Olubadan in council to quell the simmering crisis. Also, on August 6, 2015, the custodian of Ogunmola Masquerade of Adenimodo Compound in Ayeye Area of Mapo in Ibadan, Sikiru Ojewale, was arrested by men of the Oyo State police command for allegedly causing violence and vandalism of some property at Ayeye area of Ibadan.
The Police Public Relations Officer for the command, Mr. Adekunle Ajisebutu, who paraded the suspect before newsmen accused him of being involved in vandalism during one of the festivals. But the suspect, Sikiru, denied, saying he celebrated it in a peaceful way noting that he did not know the people that purportedly vandalised vehicles and other property.
In other towns in Oyo State, especially in Kisi, Oke Ogun area of the state, they too, had their share of nightmares during egungun festival. Recently, about twenty-five were seriously injured in a bloody clash that erupted between some Muslim youths and Egungun worshippers. The clash coincided with the 20th coronation anniversary of Iba of Kisi, Oba Moshood Awada Lawal Arowoduye 11.
A Muslim cleric had warned masquerades not to pass through his street at Koso, Mapo area of the town. Seeing this as an insult and infringement on their freedom of movement, the followers and masquerades dared him claiming that Kisi town belonged to every indigene of the town irrespective of religious affiliations.
Dangerous weapons were reportedly used: Reacting to the incident, the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the International Council for Ifa religion , Oyo state chapter, Baba Awo Awogbemiga Bogunmbe, called on the police and other security agencies to ensure that justice was done. While condemning the attack on the Egungun worshippers, Bogunmbe noted that the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria makes the country a multi-religious country in which every citizen is free to practice any religion of his or her choice.
Ajimobi, Olubadan restrict movement of Egungun during Ramadan: Based on this, Governor Abiola Ajimobi and the Olubadan of Ibadanland, Oba Saliu Adetunji had called the head of masquerade to convince him why they should put the festival on hold. It coincided with the yearly Ramadan fast of the muslims.
Masquerade leaders unhappy: Leader of the masquerade, Chief Ojetunde Akinleye Asoleke, did not hide his feelings about the suspension of Egungun festival in the city. Ojetunde said, “We had written to the commissioner, governor as we usually do every year in order to forestall any breach of peace. We use masquerades to appease the gods of the land; not to cause any trouble. But the governor also called us to appeal to us in order to ensure that things remain calm in the state.
He said: “I told them this had not happened before. He cited the ongoing Ramadan fast and we let them realise that last year that we celebrated Egungun festival nothing went wrong, and there was no breach of peace”. Also corroborating the stance of Ojetunde, his woman counterpart, Oloye Olawunmi Ojefunke, said, “We have a calendar that we follow and it usually runs through the sixth month. We must not start the festival in the seventh month. At the end, both parties agreed that the masquerades should not come to major streets but should be restricted to their compounds.”
Any woman that sees Oloolu will die — Adepoju
Warning residents of Ibadan especially women, he said the most dreaded masquerade, Oloolu will storm major streets in the city. He warned women to stay away from the routes that the senior masquerade will take. “No woman must set her eyes on Oloolu. It is forbidden. Any woman that sees Oloolu will die eventually,” he warned.
Catholic women stay indoors: He further explained that Catholic Church has been co-operating and donot flout the restriction order. “Whenever Oloolu would come out, it would be announced so that no woman meets him suddenly. Even, the Catholic women along the route already know this. They comply and you won’t see any of them outside. They will remain indoor pending the time that the masquerade will pass. Oloolu will moove on 17, 18 and 19 of this month”, he hinted.
Olubadan sues for peace: As the festival began on Monday, the Olubadan of Ibadanland, Oba Saliu Akanmu Adetunji, again called for peaceful conduct from all sets of masquerades and their followers in the course of the 3-week long festival.
Speaking with Vanguard on this year’s festival, the General Secretary of the Egungun Committee, Mr Ojegboyega Adepoju said leaders of Egungun worshipers had a meeting with the police and they agreed that at 6pm, all masquerades must leave the public glare and retire to their shrines.
“Egungun festival does not breed hoodlums. It is to make sacrifices to appease to the gods. We started on a peaceful note. There was no violence or intimidation of any type. Everything went as planned. Before Ramadan, we were instructed not to go to major streets and we complied. Now, that Ramadan fast is over, we are free to go anywhere in the city. There is no restriction of any sort. We actually started on a low key on June 4, 2017 and we have been very orderly,” he stated.
He said, on Tuesday, Alapansanpa, one of the prominent masquerades paid homage to the Olubadan of Ibadanland where some prayers for peace in the city were offered.
South West Voice gathered that just on Tuesday, some leaders of Egungun visited the state Criminal Investigation Department, Iyaganku to inform them formally that it was time for the festival asking for security beafed up so that hoodlums would not hijack the festival.