Oro festival controversy: The way out

The heat started when His Majesty, Oba Kabir Shotobi, the Ayangbure of Ikorodu, directed the Ikorodu Town Hall Management not to book any one for any party or event on Tuesday, May 8, 2018, because it had been declared Oro Festival Day.

The Town Hall Management put out the notice on its board. The Kabiyesi also went on air as he had done in other years of his reign to announce on radio and TV that the Oro festival would hold that day, giving all the details and conditionalities.

Reactions started pouring in. It was condemnation galore, especially in the social media, by people who claimed to be defending human rights, especially female gender rights, because Oro festival forbids women from the central districts of Ikorodu community on two different days in May and June, when the event is held.

The outburst in the media soon translated into a security invitation by the Commissioner of Police (CP) for Lagos State, who held a meeting with Oba Shotobi and his traditional chiefs.

At the emergency parley, the CP was said to have blown hot and warned Ikorodu people not to restrict anyone’s movement nor harm anyone in the process of the festival, threatening severe consequences for any breach.

Oba Shotobi was said to have indicated that women were free to move about even though every discerning person in Ikorodu knew that no women dared violate the tradition of the land.

Some hard liners (hawks) attacked the Kabiyesi, arguing that he would have maintained that it was the tradition of his people, which he met and that he cannot change it in his tenure, hence, women cannot move about during the festival.

These ultra conservative traditionalists justified Oro festival as a means of spiritual atonement for cleansing the society of evil.

In the good old days of the people of this part of the country, Oro festival had the potency to fumigate communities of demons, pestilence and calamities and it was believed to be very strong so much so that the festival was dread by the people, according to the Nation Newspaper report.

Conversely, critics of this festival are legion across the south west, where it is practiced, especially in Lagos and Ogun States.

They stated that whenever this festival is on, men and women, who do not belong to the cult, are compelled to stay indoors while businesses, churches, mosques, government parastatals, schools and public places are also forced to shut down; thereby, depriving the residents of their freedom of movement and lawful assembly.

The promoters of traditional religion and Oro festival in Ikorodu believe that this cultural heritage, which is centuries old, is a legacy that must be passed on to generation to come.

For them it is even a festival of pride, of power and of supremacy. In this modern era, they may even be convinced it is a Tourism event worth publicizing globally.

But will anyone forget too soon what happened in Sagamu, Ogun State, in 1999 when a Hausa lady, who ran into the Oro festival/cult celebrants, was declared missing and later found dead. This sparked off a bloody clash between Hausas and Yorubas, which claimed several lives and properties.

When one receives visitors in this part of the country, who ignorantly became victim or innocent citizens is brutalized by those hoodlums who, under the Oro guise perpetrate  evil, it becomes obvious that this is a breach of section 41 of the Nigeria constitution, which places no religion above another and guarantees freedom of movement of all Nigerians except on emergency occasions declared by the government.

The Punch Newspaper, The Nation and other media recently highlighted the High court judgement over the illegal Oro curfew in Ipokia, Ogun State, where Muslims and Christians filed a law suit against Oro restrictions and won the case.

There is now pressure on Governor Ambode to initiate a law that will stop this Oro curfew and restrictions in Ikorodu and other parts of the State; though many people suggest a round table on the matter to find a lasting approach.

Rights activists argued that in the modern day Ikorodu and environ with mixed population of Nigerians and foreigners, indigenes and non-indigenes, the sudden imposition of curfew   and outright shuttling down of a city with violent consequences for breaches is unacceptable, unfair and unhealthy.

In one Ogun State community, Christians and Muslims challenged this festival organisation and went to court, where they obtained a favourable judgment; thereby, stopping such an unlawful restriction on the people. It was agreed that such restriction could only be acceptable between midnight and 4am so that it does not tamper with people’s rights to business and movement.

Because Ikorodu is a hard core traditional community, it is pretty difficult for the State Government, the Police or any other authority to single handedly stop Oro festival. The way out is a round table among the traditional institution drivers, government authorities, including the security arms and other stakeholders to reach a compromise.

We believe that if at one time in the past, this festival lasted for seven days but has now been shrunk to two days in a year, this controversy and deadlock could be broken.

More so, Muslims and Christians, who had for long been mounting pressure for modification of this festival will play a significant role in that round table discussion.

There is no doubt that people’s lives have been lost or tampered with, school children denied of taking their external exams, pregnant women or sick ones denied of medical care because of restrictions of movement. All these regrets will be a thing of the past if a peaceful resolution of this controversy is adopted.

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