From Bamigbola Gbolagunte, Akure
One major festival that unites the people of Akure kingdom comprising Akure South, Akure North and Ifedore local lovernment areas of Ondo State is the Oyemekun festival. It is celebrated annually in remembrance of the progenitor of the ancient town founded almost a thousand years ago.
Oyemekun defies modern religious beliefs. Indigenes see the festival as their own as they come from far and near to honour their founder. It is a day set aside to offer prayers for peace and tranquility, even as the people also use the opportunity to pray for Deji of Akure, Oba Aladetoyinbo Aladelusi and themselves.
This year’s festival was not without its usual pumps and pageantries as the Deji led other traditional rulers, chiefs, priests and indigenes to some shrines where rituals were performed and prayers offered. Few days to the festival, the monarch went incommunicado, communing with the gods and his ancestors.
Prominent Nigerians at the event included the Ooni of Ife, Oba Enitan Ogunwusi Ojaja 11, former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Chief Olu Falae, Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Ifedayo Abegunde and members of the state executive council.
The Deji had earlier in the day danced round major streets with his chiefs, princess and princesses. He urged the people to unite in the interest of peace and development of the town. The monarch said Akure occupies a vital place in the history of Yoruba;
“From the very early times, Akure was part and parcel of Yoruba land. Akure people like the people in other parts of Yoruba race, actually participated in the interstate wars, which raged in Yoruba land during most of the 19th century. It is on record that Deji Ojijigogun who reigned between 1852 and 1882 sent his military forces to Ogendengbe, the Ijesa warlord, to fight the Ekiti Parapo War of 1878-1893.
“In 1897, a detachment of Hausa force was stationed in Akure by the British-Lagos Government. After many changes at the beginning of the British colonial rule in Nigeria, the Akure District was merged with the newly constituted Ekiti Division and Akure was made the headquarters of the then Ondo Province. Akure District continued to be governed as part of the Ekiti Division until 1946, when it was separated after a fierce struggle. When Ondo State was created on February 3, 1976, Akure became the state capital.
“In the Akure political structures, sacred kingship is the focal point. The king is also selected like any other king in Yoruba land. The office of the Deji is hereditary in the family, but not necessarily from a father to a son or daughter.
“The institution of the Oba monarchy in Akure was reported to have been established by Asodeboyede who was also known by his popular name of Ajapada. He was a son of Ekun. Ekun was one of the sons of Oduduwa, the progenitor of the Yoruba race. Ajapada, better still, Asodeboyede, was therefore the grandson of much-fabled Oduduwa.
“From the records, Ajapada was Ekun’s child, an appellation that has since then stuck, like a skin to all Akure indigenes. The Deji was regarded as the divine representative of God on earth, who also was often credited with various kinds of supernatural powers, including being that of the wisest men. Today, the Deji is known as Alayeluwa (the lord of the earth and life).
“Today, there are in Akure more than 350 nursery schools, 72 primary schools, 30 secondary schools, six continuing education centers, three paramedical training centers, one federal university, 15 major hotels, two television stations, three radio stations and three newspaper houses.
“The old Akure General Hospital has now become Specialist Hospital. In addition, there are 84 private hospitals located in different parts of Akure. There are 24 health centers and nine clinics as well.
“It is heartwarming to note that many industrial and commercial ventures continue to spring up in Akure. These include soft drinks bottling companies, nail manufacturing industries and drug producing pharmaceutical laboratories. In recent times, the Federal Government did set up the Engineering Material Development in the town.”
The Elemo of Akure, Chief Sola Adesipe, said the celebration was a mark of honour for the founding father of the town. He said prayers offered at the festival would gain speedy answers as the day was set aside to offer prayers and supplications to the gods of the town.
He noted that the festival was as old as the town: “This is one festival that unites the people of Akure kingdom together irrespective of religion. We put our differences aside to celebrate Oyemekun festival and that is why the festival is assuming greater dimension yearly.
“Very soon the festival will be recognized by the Federal Government and UNESCO as efforts are on top gear to ensure that the festival gets their recognition. Already, different companies are now part of those sponsoring the festival.”
A youth leader, Mr. Tope Adedeji, said the youths believe in the festival: “The festival will continue as long as Akure continue to exist.” He said the youths were part of the festival as they held series of programmes at the palace of the Deji of Akure on the night preceding the grand finale of the festival:
“We mobilized youths from both within and outside the town to participate in the festival. It is part of our cultural heritage and we need to promote it. Oyemekun is the only festival that unites us together as people of the same origin.
“We have heard different testimonies of how the gods of the land answer the prayers of people during Oyemekun festival. Many people believing God for children, good jobs and other things have their prayers answered during the festival. The rituals done by the Deji and some traditionalists during the festival were very powerful. Those who believe in the rituals and participate in all the rites of the festival will come back next year to testify.”