As an incurable lover of Western movies which earned me the sobriquet “The Sheriff”, I have come to realise and relish a common trend in the story line of all classic “Westerns.” So early in the plot (usually at sunrise), the hero the GOOD MAN as it were, rides into town from the horizon along the main street which is often lined with salons, hardware stores, gambling parlours, liquor bars amidst a beehive of activities , usually discordant and disorderly.
Occasionally some early reveller gets flung out through the salon swing doors his body hitting the paved street with a painful thud. Further down the road, a “ High noon” situation is about to commence, and throbbing fingers are inching slowly towards the gun belt while two unblinking pairs of eyes remain fixed at each other in deceptive effort to divert attention from the respective hands reaching for the hilt, rather in the fashion of the wall gecko stalking an insect on the living room wall. Whilst the two duellers scanned each other’s mind for traces of intention to “draw”, a large crowd, mostly of outlaws, hustlers and harlots had began to gather as morbid spectators to a classic game of who- is- the- faster- draw, a game which inevitable ends in instant mortality for either of the contestants.
The Good Man rides into the town, stealing sideward glances and soaking in the environment, sometimes the Sheriff arrives in the nick of time to disperse the crowd contestant and spectator alike, thereby suspending, albeit only temporarily, that day’s event. But most times, he is not available to do so. The Good Man, usually, a public spirited drifter with no family, a Robin Hood on the saddle, instinctively identifies the pillars of rot in the system and decides to make that town his temporary domicile, to flush out the Bad Men, clean up the rot, either solely, trusting to his swash buckling skills, or acting in partnership with the local Sheriff.
Lest I become overwhelmed by my fantasy , I must return to the reality of our own modern day Wild West, right in the heartland of South West Nigeria.
In the run-up to the April 14 2007 Election, Osun State degenerated into a horrid carapace of Hobbesian proportions as terror was dispensed with maximum force & ruthless military efficacy upon the opposition by an intolerant ruling oligarchy. In the vicious war that was gratuitously foisted on the otherwise peace loving Citizens of the State, and especially Ilesa, all and every imaginable weapon of war was deployed (with one objective in mind, to silence the opposition).
Assault rifles, machetes, cudgels, even the penis. Yes, this unusual weapon was deployed for good measure as a tool of oppression in a high profile rape perpetrated against an innocent young lady by one Ilesa chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party and his band of hooligans and sex fiends following a siege to the house of her uncle who is reportedly a member of the Action Congress.
As the wind of intolerance continued to blow in Osun State the Ijesa received a very raw end of the stick. Madam Aregbesola can be described as simple ordinary folk, wife of a returnee Ijesa OSOMALO who made it big in “foreign” Akokoland. Her re-entry into her ancestral community had been smooth as it has been blissful. She related very cordially with her neighbours, frequently enjoyed the luxury of a dish of iyan with efo riro and relished the occasional visits of her children and grandchildren.
Then suddenly, one sunny day in March 2007, terror struck, in the form of an unsolicited and unprovoked “visit”to her homestead by rampaging PDP brigands . Although, she thankfully escaped with her dear life, there is absolutely nothing to be thankful about concerning the wreck that her home had become and the total destruction of a vehicle belonging to one of her sons, parked in the premises at the time of the assault. Her sin? One of her offspring, an accomplished engineer and technocrat, aspired to the position of the Governor of Osun State and in fact, later contested that position under the banner of the Action Congress party. That person is none other than Engineer Rauf Adesoji Aregbesola.
It is no longer news that ancestral home of the Aregbesolas was vandalised and destroyed and his terror-stricken aged mother despatched involuntary to Lagos to begin an indefinite exile, away from her petty trade, regular dosage of Iyan and the comfort of friendly neighbours.
The Palace of the Owa-Obokun of Ijesaland, Oba Adekunle Aromolaran was razed down by fire under mysterious circumstances sometime in July 2007 and the morale of the Ijesa hit an all-time low.
Festivals are an integral part of community life in this part of the world. They foster unity and promote cultural awareness. They provide an opportunity for home – coming indigenes to network and articulate issues related to diverse aspects of community life such as commerce, peace building and community well-being generally.
Aregbesola realised the critical importance of festivals in the promotion of Culture and tourism and he made it part of his 6-point Integral Action plan which in his characteristic wisdom, he chose to name his “Pact” with the people of Osun State. In it he pledges, if elected to the Government House in Osun State, to support, promote and upgrade festivals and community events and elevate them to the level of foreign exchange earning tourist attractions.
He did not confine himself to the realm of vacuous rhetoric or dubious political literature after the fashion of most position seekers, he choose to match his words with demonstrable action, even years before the 2007 election in which he was to contest as the flag bearer of the Action Congress party. Oranmiyan, the then emerging pan Yoruba/South West Socio-Cultural group which he founded, partnered with Root Tours. Another group which he has supported generally to sponsor a high profile tour to the Osun Osogbo Festival of 2006, which elicited remarkable testimonies from all who participated in it, who had left their Luxury automobiles in Lagos and Ibadan and other parts of the country to join a communal fun ride in coaches provided and eventually stayed in already booked hotels at Osogbo and surrounding towns.
Oroki day August 2006. Again, Rauf Aregbesola. at the invitation of the Osogbo Progressive Union the organisers of the Oroki Day Festival, attended with his retinue of friends, associates and admirers , to lend colour to the event. Needless to say, that particular outing ended in disaster as elements of destruction, who in their little minds saw Rauf’s noble gesture as one designed “Take the shine” out of their lack -lustre presence, unleashed unprecedented violence which nearly cost Aregbesola his life as he beat a hasty departure from the venue of the event amidst the ricocheting echoes of gun shots fired directly on his bullet proofed vehicle..
As his friends scampered for safety, severe casualties ensued. A footage shown on some of the TV Stations revealed a bestial vandalising of the Oranmiyan mini bus in full glare of uniformed mobile Policemen and at the supervision of one hefty Ijesa female PDP stalwart who has now been rewarded with public office by the Osun State government of retired Brigadier-General Olagunsoye Oyinlola.
Iwude festival has been dormant for years owing to lack of political will, co-ordination and financing., by those whose job it is to foster such cultural activities. Rauf Aregbesola deployed massive manual, logistic and financial support to upgrade it at the 2006 edition which marked the beginning of the public demonstration of the man’s intention in that area of policy endeavour..
However, this trend was rudely interrupted in 2007, the year of political violence, the year all opposition members were hounded and chased out of Ilesa .the year an army of occupation was posted at Ilesa to suppress angry reaction of the people to the brazen electoral larceny committed by the PDP. When this year’s Iwude festival was being contemplated, widespread apprehension was entertained by those who felt that Rauf Aregbesola, would not be able to attend, given a past history of State sponsored violence, arrests, detention and spurious allegations of complicity in a phantom bomb blast against him and his supporters and principal state executives of his political party, AC.
But how can a native be prevented from re-enacting his heritage? The tumultuous reception Rauf Aregbesola receives at anytime he visits his homeland has become a source of discomfiture to those who lay fraudulent claims to popular support. But Aregbesola would not listen to lily- livered subtle threats to deter him from participating in this year’s festival. Through the auspices of Oranmiyan, Friends Of Rauf Aregbesola and other loyalist groups, Rauf mobilised logistcs and material support to ensure the success of this year’s Iwude Festival. And so, on Saturday December 20 2007, not one hero, but two heroes “rode into town at sunup” to participate in the 2008 edition of the Iwude festival.
As they alighted from the horse(helicopter) at the Ilesha Grammar School grounds, the spontaneous frenzy of the crowd of admirers and well ushers was phenomenal. Rauf Aregbesola , together with Nobel Laureate and world renowned poet and playwright, Professor Wole Soyinka made their way into their vehicles and, hindered by the thickness of the crowd that lined the route, drove slowly toward the Palace of the Owa Obokun of Ijeshaland Oba Adekunle Aromolaran.
Thus at this year’s Iwude festival, Ijesaland was attended by two eminent defenders of the truth, of social justice, democracy and good governance amidst jubilation, dancing and cultural display showcasing the proud tradition and cultural splendour of the peace loving Ijesa people.
The dubious speculations, from predictable quarters, of Rauf Aregbesola’s presence in his homeland being a harbinger of violence and mayhem has been finally debunked. The process of upgrading the Iwude to a level that will attract eminent indigenes, friends of Ijesaland and even Corporate sponsors has reached a tipping point. A courageous son of the soil had visited his homeland once again, has added value to an ancient festival of his people, and his supporters and admirers who had long thirsted for a glimpse of this
enigmatic Nigerian, had once more, another opportunity to actualise their wish.
Never again shall the Ijesa be victim’s of the prevalent culture of impunity in Osun state which permits an arch rapist to remorselessly strut the town like a prized stud; nor shall we be intimidated by the atrocities of Eagles Squad and other uniformed predators
As in my Western Movies, having the accomplished that day’s objective, the hero rode out into the sunset
Olufemi A. Ifaturoti
Ifaturoti is a legal practitioner and an Ijesa prince.