It is quite commendable that the Lagos State Government is considering an official public holiday set aside for traditional worshippers in the state. Commissioner for Tourism, Uzamat Akinbile-Yussuf, and the Special Adviser to the Lagos State Governor on Tourism, Arts and Culture, Solomon Bonu, hinted this while giving an account of their stewardship in the past two years.
Bonu said the bill on the proposed public holiday for traditional worshipers is currently before the State House of Assembly. He assured that it would soon be passed by the lawmakers and signed into law by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu. The Special Adviser explained that there will be a specific day or week earmarked for traditional worshippers as a public holiday or work-free day:
“On that day, which may likely be in August, the government will organise activities to celebrate with them at a venue where all worshipers will gather. It is our culture; it is the first religion and religion of our forefathers before Christianity and Islam came into being. So, the day will give us an opportunity to display our tradition and culture”.
Nigeria is a multicultural society, diverse in culture, religion and ethnicity, though it is dominated by two of the world’s major religions. However, there are a few traditional worshippers who very proud of their religion.
In every society, there are special occasions where people come together to celebrate important events. The events may be secular or religious.
These events or festivals are usually marked by public merriment or religious ceremonies. In the whole of West Africa, festivals are observed by adherents of traditional religions, marking important social and religious events in the lives of the people. There are usually series of performances, entertainment, merry-making, and special rites that accompany these festivals.
In a country of over 371 tribes and 250 ethnic groups, there exist several traditional festivals with pre-colonial origins. Some of these festivals have been in practice for hundreds of years and have stayed relevant even in the 21st century.
This shows that every state in Nigeria can emulate the centre of excellence to ensure that the country becomes a global cultural hub for tourist across the world. Depending on the time and season, every state can identify more than 4 traditional activities to build on.
In specific months and specific seasons, such as the rainy, dry, planting, and harvesting season, different religious and cultural rites can be identified. There must be adequate preparation before the main celebration, and a proper calendar must be agreed upon by all stakeholders before the dates are fixed.
The Osun-Osogbo festival in Osun State is one of the famous traditional festivals. Yearly, the festival attracts thousands of Osun worshippers, spectators and tourists from all walks of life. Putting the event on the global calendar should be a major project for the government of Osun State.
The New Yam Festival, Ofala Festival, Mmanwu Festival, Ekpe Festival and Inne Festival all venerate the cultures and traditions of Igbo Land. The New Yam Festival is an important festival for the Igbos. Yam, being a staple food in Igbo land, is often described as the “King of Crops” and it represents prominence and royalty. The festival, celebrated between August and October every year, pay tributes to the gods for a bountiful harvest.
The mode of the New Yam Festival varies from one community to the other. The festival kicks off with prayers and libation to the gods. A huge tuber of yam is roasted with palm oil, animal blood and some other ingredients before it is offered to the gods. This ritual is always done by the King of the land or any high-ranking titleholder.
After the prayers, the festival kicks off with masquerade display, cultural dance by different age grades, and most times, fashion and beauty contest by the maidens of the land. In some parts of Igbo land, the New Yam Festival symbolises the beginning of a New Year in the Igbo’s cultural calendar.
States in the Southeastern region can synchronise the New Yam festival in line with a period of the year that is acceptable to most communities. The events can then be projected to attract global attention just like Lagos is planning for festivals in the state. The template from Lagos should be handy for other states to learn from.
Another important festival is the Durbar festival which holds in the Northern states. The festival marks the end of Ramadan. It begins with prayers, followed by a parade of the Emir and his entourage on horses. Accompanied by musicians, the procession ends at the Emir’s palace.
Durbar festivals are organised in Kano, Katsina, Sokoto, Zaria and Bida, and are considered tourist attractions. In the North with little collaboration with the emirates and the state governments, Durbar festivals attract global attention.
It is commendable that cultural festivals would be given prominent attention by the government of Lagos State despite the influence of westernisation.
Even so, many Lagosians from far and wide troop to various localities at different periods of the year to celebrate some traditional festivals regardless of their Islamic or Christian faiths. Notable festivals in Lagos include Adamu Orisa (Eyo Festival) in Lagos Island; Gelede, Kori, Agere, Kareta, Eluku which is peculiar to Ikorodu; Kayo-Kayo, Eebi (Oko-ishi), Kilajolu, Eepa in Epe; Zangbeto among the Ogu in Badagry; Boat Regatta in Agbowa-Eredo and the coastal settlements of Lagos State; Odun-Efe in the Ayobo area of Alimosho, among others.
Followers of the religions live side-by-side in Nigeria. Christians, Muslims and Traditional festivals are celebrated throughout the country. Christmas and Easter festivals are celebrated widely, with a distinct West African flavour. Also, the main Muslim festivals are Eid al Fitri, Eid al Maulud and Eid al Kabir, which are all recognised as national Nigerian holidays. During these periods of celebration, there are always festivities, get-togethers and unity of purpose.
The same way Christians wine and dine with Muslims during their festive period, there should be peaceful co-existence despite religious differences. The remaining 10 per cent of the population who still hold on to traditional indigenous beliefs should be allowed to enjoy the benefit of public holidays or work-free days. It would also be quite unifying and exciting if Muslims and Christians can also join them in their celebrations.