At Ife Festival, Amosun extends cultural evangelism beyond Ogun borders

Ogun State governor Senator Ibikunle Amosun

…Feeds Thousands Of Students On Ofada

Dateline, Monday July 30, Oduduwa Hall, Obafemi Awolowo University: The occasion was the formal opening event of the maiden Ife Festival of Food and Identity, hosted by the Institute of Cultural Studies, Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife.A festivity of cultural expression, the occasion, indeed, turned out to be. The nexus between food and cultural identity was at the core of the celebration. It was thus easy to understand why the belly of the hall exploded in wild jubilation trailed by persistent catcalls and ululation drowned the voice of the speaker, who in the course of her address, mentioned that she had been instructed to deliver a good tiding of “stomach infrastructure” to students of the preeminent tertiary institution.

In context of theme of the feast at hand, the declaration was to affirm that food is central to cultural production, promotion, preservation and affirmation of identity.In delivering the special guest of honour address from her boss, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, the Deputy Governor of Ogun State, Chief Mrs. Yetunde Onanuga, said she had been asked to announce donation of 1000 bags of ‘Mitros Ofada’ rice to lucky students of the school.

MITROS is of course acronym for ‘Mission to Rebuild Ogun State’, the mantra for progressive initiatives by the Amosun administration, and it is a recurring anthem on the tongue and, in the consciousness of nearly all indigenes of the state; and many keen watchers of developments in the country and beyond.

At midday, in the presence of dignitaries that included, Africa’s first Nobel laureate, senior members of the academic community led by the Vice Chancellor, Professor Eyitope Ogunbodede, and his two deputies academic and administrative, cabinet members from Ogun State, and guests from outside of the campus, the Wole Soyinka Museum – a simple one-storey building located adjacent the VC’s lodge in the most serene part of the scenic OAU campus.

Realised through generous support of the Governor Amosun administration, the Museum, as at opening, had over 100 priceless antiquities representing only a section of collections of the Nobel laureate, which were loaned from the Wole Soyinka Foundation located in his A.R.I Ijegba sanctuary in Idi Aba housing Estate, Kemta quarters of Abeokuta, Ogun State capital. An avid collector of Soyinka’s portraits, Mr Remi Adetayo CEO of Moving Media, also loaned 10 rare and exquisite portraits to the opening exhibition that is expected to last three months at the first instance.

While formally commissioning the Museum, the Governor through his deputy, Mrs Onanuga, and in the presence of the man, after whom the edifice is named, stated, “we proudly identify with the Wole Soyinka Museum, OAU, Ile Ife… Anything and everything Wole Soyinka simply excites us. Although WS goes beyond our State, and indeed beyond the shores of Nigeria, nonetheless, we are pleased that he is one of those Nigerian figures that have helped to place our nation on the world map, and, for all the good reasons.”

Reminding the gathering that the museum had been repurposed from the nearly disused old one-storey building where Soyinka had lived when he was professor of Comparative Literature in the university in the 70s, Amosun promised, “…our association (with the Museum) will go beyond today’s event. Ogun State will continue to identify and support this facility in a way that will guarantee its viability, continued relevance and sustainability.”

Why Ofada For A Feast of Culture
Now at early evening to kick off the five-day feast of food and culture, Governor Amosun explained why he had sent trucks of ‘Ofada’ rice all the way from Abeokuta into Ile Ife in Osun State.He also affirmed the connection between culture and food security as enunciated in the objective of the festival, which had been rebranded from the once famous Ife Festival of Arts and culture.

He said without food security, no nation could lay claim to “true progress and meaningful development”. The governor recalled an earlier statement he had made at the launch of the ‘Mitros and parboiled rice’ in December last year, vis: “…we cannot afford to sit back and watch our people suffer unnecessarily due to food insecurity. The availability of food is synonymous with the survival of the society as a whole.

“Our past efforts at tackling poverty in all ramifications will amount to nothing if concerted efforts are not taken to ensure food security to people at all income levels. This is why today is a significant day, not just for Ogun State, but for Nigeria as well.”

And so the tons of 5kg ofada rice that created a carnivalesque scenery at the closing events on Friday, August 3, was in fulfilment of the promise made at the opening ceremony of the festival, to over 2,000 jubilant students gathered in the belly of old but still regal Oduduwa Hall.

Also at the event to receive the good tiding from Ogun, where the special guest of honour, Dr Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, represented by his Minister for Agriculture, and the country’s Ambassador to Nigeria, members of the OAU academic community led by the vice chancellor, as well as about six traditional rulers from around Osun State. Soyinka, recently made Emeritus Professor of Dramatic Arts OAU, who was Chief Adviser to the festival, superintended the colourful ceremony.

It was a palpable shock to the students to hear of the largesse from the government of Ogun State. And not a few of them questioned why the state stretched its renowned commitment to agriculture and culture beyond its borders into Osun State.The governor probably answered their inquisitions in the statement thus: “The theme of your festival, food & identity resonates with our administration’s initiatives in ‘Agriculture and Food security’.

He expatiated: Ofada Rice has rallied back with government’s renewed investment and support in today’s Ogun State. We believe Agriculture, and more appropriately, Agri-business, with its attendant value chain has the potential to change the narration of our nation’s excessive and dangerous dependent on oil. The government of Western Region under Papa Awolowo had demonstrated the huge benefits that we stand to gain in agriculture. What is more, this beautiful University is one such proof.”

‘Ofada’ Carnival As The Closing Glee
The 1000 bags of 5kg rice were dramatically schemed into the stage set that heralded the grand closing ceremony of the festival last Friday at the 3,500-seater Amphitheatre just behind the Oduduwa hall, where the initial promise had been made. On the spectacular picture of the performance stage being suffused with bags of ofada rice, Festival’s Technical Consultant and principal fundraiser, Alhaji Teju Kareem, CEO of ZMirage Multimedia Company, said the “idea is to first, firmly establish the connection between food culture and identity as enunciated in the theme of the festival, and also to remind the students, the young population and our future, that food security is an essential battle that our nation has to fight and realise.”Recalling the words of President Buhari that ”we must eat what we grow”, he reminded that this has been also been the committed vision of the festival’s main supporter, Ogun State.

Thus the performers at the closing ceremony, including the Ife-based afro-jazz act, Wole Sax, and the more popular Lagos-based Seyi Solagbade — who proclaimed on stage, “I am a proud native of Abeokuta, Ogun State and alumnus of the OAU music department”— whose scintillating performance capped the night, swam amidst tons of ofada rice as they thrilled the excited students and guests that witnessed the closing glee. It was rare spectacle indeed. Quite inspiring.

After three hours of intense performances and partying, punctuated only by a closing remark by the vice chancellor, Ogunbodede, who advised the students on the need to uphold their cultural heritage even as they study hard in pursuit of their individual dreams, a raffle draw was held in which lucky students won bags of the Mitros rice. Stretching far into the wee hours of the next day, the raffle was another festivity as the enthusiastic students participated with gusto.

The students had been advised to operate in groups, to, according to Kareem, “as a way of inculcating team work and cooperative spirit in them”. Tus they were grouped in 10s, and at the end of the competition, the Pink group emerged the first place winner with cash prize of N50,000 and a bag of rice for each member, while Alpha group won N30,000 and a bag of rice for every member. /the third place winning group got N20,000 and a bag of rice for each member.

As the students ferried the bags of rice away from the stage, Government Amosun’s words at the opening event five days earlier, must have been re-echoing in their minds: “We enjoin all of you, and, indeed all Nigerians to accept and pay greater attention to Ofada Rice. It is healthier and far more nutritious. Alongside our parboiled Nerica Mitros Rice, we have put thousands of acreage under cultivation. Ogun State is one of the Federal Government’s official contributors to the Strategic Grains Reserve. We will continue to support all initiatives on national food security.”

Earlier on July 30, shortly after the promise declared by the Deputy Governor, Mrs Onanuga, over 2000 plates of cooked ofada had been fed to the students courtesy same Ogun government. The distribution of the rice was also a carnival of sorts as the students threw themselves lavishly into the bargain, sometimes almost resulting in disorderliness, that was however tamed by the ZMirage team that supervised the operation.

At the opening, Professor Ogunbodede, stated: “The OAU-Ife Festival of Arts was a regular feature of the University’s international socio-cultural calendar in the 1970s until it suffered a long break in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000. In 2005 and 2008, the OAU-Ife Festival of Arts was revived with respective editions dedicated to the International Festival of Gelede (2005) and Masks, Masquerades and Marionettes (2008). In the spirit of revival and this eventual resuscitation, the 2018 OAU-Ife Festival is back in 2018 with the theme ‘Food and Identity’. The Festival seeks to enshrine the place and memory of our indigenous food culture in the psyche of our youths and the coming generations and to reiterate our capability to survive as a people through the adoption and preservation of relevant food and material culture”.

Why We Are Investing Heavily In Culture, By Amosun
Also at the opening ceremony, trailing the trajectory of his administration in culture promotion and preservation, Governor Amosun said: “The promotion of culture and tourism has remained one of the major planks of our administration in Ogun State. When we assumed office in Abeokuta in 2011, we immediately elevated the then relatively unknown Department of Culture into a full-fledged Ministry of Culture and Tourism. We have since brought in a number of initiatives and novel projects, including our significant work with the local Adiire manufacturers, the restoration efforts at the Olumo Rock, Bilikisu Osugbo Shrine, among others.”

Specifically, on the cultural significance of the African Drum Festival, which Ogun State hosted for the third time in April, Governor Amosun had said, “We are Africans and the African Drums Festival is to showcase the beauty of our cultures. It will also reawaken the consciousness in our people that Africa is great.”

He continued, “Africans have rich culture. We have drums that predate African civilizations and this is what makes Africans to be great. The drum is very important beyond entertainment. Indeed, I want to relate it to, or may be, situate it with what the social media is as important to us as with what drums did then. In the days of our forebears, it was the drums they used to disseminate information to talk about one another; that they used during wars; even to say something that was about to happen. They have social drums.

“Even our traditionalists, the masquerades, they have different drums because the way they will drum it will be different from others. We can use drums for so many things. These days, different kinds of drums are used for different reasons. In Ogun State, we have chosen drums to showcase our richness when we started expanding them beyond the shores of Nigeria a year ago.”

The Soyinka Intervention
Soyinka, the first black and African Nobel laureate in Literature, is the force vitale for the Ife Festival, just as he was the Consultant to the African Drum Festival that last April drew over 15,000 performers, culture activists and administrators from 21 countries of Africa, to Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital. In the concept note that motivated the Ife Festival, Soyinka, the writer, theatre director and culture philosopher had sought to link culture production and expression to the idea of food security and identity.

He had proposed a synergy between the drum festival in Ogun and the food and identity feast in Ife. This must have motivated the Ogun State government through its African culture advocate political head, Amosun to give generous backing to the Ife Festival of Food & Identity, which held from July 30 to August 4 on the expansive campus of OAU in Osun State.

In a presentation in which he canvassed, “grafting onto an alien environment the models of other places is clearly not the solution to the problem of hunger. And not just hunger but other needs of human survival, the Ife Festival guest of honour and spirit essential, Wole Soyinka, had proposed, “a yearly festival of commemoration, deservedly of a pan-African dimension, with manifestations across the continent and embracing the Diaspora… a conscious re-positioning of food not only as a fact of human existence but of spirituality, creativity and intelligence, highlighting the responsibility of political and community leadership in food planning. Its expositions will give pride of place to innovative food technologies and offer modalities of engagement for young, adventurous minds who presently feed the fishes of the Mediterranean and the vultures of the Sahara in their ironic search for – food. We are speaking here of a Festival that irradiates the soil with new youthful enthusiasm, celebrates Nature and human ingenuity, the ever advancing devices that remove food from the ‘biblical curse’, and turns it into a routine achievement of human adaptive powers.”

In its five-day duration, the festival also featured is a photo exhibition on the theme: Imaging Nigerian Food: Contemporary Advertorial Conversation ‘Stomach Infrastructure’ –referencing the infamous ‘invention’ by the Governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose, after his questionable electoral victory four years ago; a coterie of performances drawn from around Nigeria including Gelede mask parade, hunters dance, dance package by Anambra State troupe, and musical concerts including the scintillating opening night performance by the Fuji music exponent, Saheed Osupa.

From outside shires of Nigeria came Bolojo music offerings from Benin Republic, while the Festival’s specil guest of hpnpur, president Kagame of Rwanda sent his xountry’s national troupe. The international colloquium brought home the Managing Director of the Abidjan-Cote d’Ivoire-based African Development Bank, ADB, and former Nigeria Minister of Agriculture, Dr Akinwunmi Adesina as keynoter, on August 1. The spiritual father of Ife and progenitor of the Yoruba race, Ooni Ogunwusi, Ojaja II was Special Guest of Honour at the event.