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Eyo Festival: Lagos celebrates life of an icon.

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Tourists who came from different parts of the world to witness this year’s Eyo Festival in Lagos, did not need further evidence or proof that Lagosians are in tune with their governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, who himself has been at the forefront of the fight to make Lagos the best state in the country.

Everyone waited patiently at the Tafawa Balewa Square, Onikan venue of the event, which was held in honour of Chief Theophilus Benson. They were already getting bored at 12.15 p.m., when the arrival of the governor was announced and immediately, like a thunderbolt, the square became charged.

Those who were close to the walkway stretched their hands as if seeking the governor’s blessings, while those far away from him only lifted their hands, exclaiming ‘F-A-S-H-O-LA!’

Clad in Eyo attire, the governor could only but smile, while he cheerfully waved back and immediately the National Anthem was rendered, the event officially began.

In procession, one after the other, the 64 groups of families, traditionally called Iga, paraded with their Eyo masquerades, beginning with Eyo Soenu. They were beautifully dressed and clad in coloured caps designed to add glamour to the festival. As they passed and danced to the rhythmic drum beats played for them, they blessed some with their staff, which is known as Opanbata, and beat others who flouted their laws. These were mostly those who had their footwear on while standing in front of the masquerades.

Other taboos of Eyo include not wearing of headgear by women, while the men should not wear any form of cap. The women are also not allowed to some hairdo, while some particular Eyo abhorred the use of camera and other forms of recorder.. These are usually called the big five Orisa, including Oniko, Agere, Ologede, Laba Ekun and the head of them all, the Adimu Orisa.

Highlife musicians, who made hit songs in the 50s and 80s in Nigeria and beyond were the cynosure of all eyes as they brought back hit tracks like Na Poor I Poor. Even journalists who were there officially, temporarily took to the stage as Pa Fatai Rolling Dollar sang Won Kere Si Number Wa, while police officers on duty also dropped their guns and danced to the highlife tunes.

Speaking with P.M. News, Fatai Rolling Dollar, who was part of the group, Faaji, said he was excited to be part of the event, especially as he was privileged to perform a second time at the TBS after a previous performance at there in 1960 during the Independence celebration.

“Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola is a very intelligent man. He renewed the Eyo festival in a way that everyone would enjoy it. Before, you could not stand here because the Eyo would beat you mercilessly,” Dollar said.

Few hours after the Faaji Agba group left the stage, King Wasiu Ayinde Marshal (K1 De Ultimate), became the centre of attraction. He is one of the musicians well rooted in the Eyo festival songs and he poured out the tunes and incantations with such a mastery that the entire square went agog. D’banj and Wande Cole also treated the crowd to some dance steps.

Tracing the history of Adimu Orisa play, the head of Eyo Ologede on Lagos Island, Alhaji Ganiyu Olugbani, stated that it has its beginning from Egun Adimu (otherwise known as Orisa Oko) and Egun Olugbani (Orisa Ologede).

He explained further that there were three deities on parade. They are Egun Adimu (Orisa Oko), Egun Oniko (Orisa Apena) and Egun Olugbani (Orisa Ologede).

They paraded at Oke-Ipa now known as Alexander Avenue, Ikoyi. It was Oba Akitoye who subsequently brought it to Lagos Island for parade.

He stated further that the siblings of Olugbani hailed from Ibefun. They are Efunyemi and two younger brothers, Ejilu and Molakun. It was the captivating beauty of Efunyemi that Oba of Lagos, King Ado, saw before he married her and then gave birth to Erelu Kuti. When Efunyemi died, her sister, Ejilu decided to honour her by celebrating her final burial rites with the Adimu Orisa play. Later, Oba Akitoye compelled some strong men to accompany the Eyo. These are called Olopa Eyo.

Commenting on this year’s festival at his Iga-Idunganran Palace, Oba Rilwan Akiolu, commended the overwhelming support by the state government, assistance from some investors and the cooperation from Lagosians.

On efforts so far to make it an annual festival, Akiolu said “we have written to the state government and we well soon discuss the modalities.”

Despite the glamour of the occasion, a handful of young ladies treating themselves to alcoholic drinks were spotted, while many people lost their valuables including money and handsets and 15 children found missing.

Governor Fashola, who spoke after the well coordinated march of the various groups belonging to prominent families in Lagos and the five deities, said, the very successful event had been largely realised.

According to Governor Fashola, the Eyo celebration was aimed at creating a family day for a very rich and proud festival and rich heritage of Lagos as well as develop opportunities to place it in its rightful order and position.

He said that entrepreneurship has also been promoted through the various fabrics and hats that have been designed for the Eyo groups, the decorations as well as the cooking and the drinks provided.

Fashola described the day as 12 hours of fanfare and a whole family day that has shown the true colours of Lagos in terms of its dressing and culture as well as the fact that it is the ancestral home of festival and theatre.

The governor added the Eyo masquerade is one of the richest and proudest statements of the colour, flamboyance and elegance of Lagos, which must not die.

He explained that the objective of the innovative provision of a central viewing place was to provide for larger viewership within a relaxed, safe and entertaining atmosphere without distracting from the delicate intricacies of the craft or elegance of the culture.

According to Governor Fashola, in this way, families will get involved in what is usually a day for fun and splendour and the children will connect with their heritage, while the guests will understand the indigenes better.

Reiterating his ultimate vision for the festival, Fashola declared: “With pride tempered with humility, I have come to appreciate the festival and the need for its upliftment for the benefit of the state and as an addition to the world map as an international tourist destination.”

The governor also said the uniqueness of the Eyo festival stems from the fact that it cannot be run by express calendar, saying, “sometimes, we have had five festivals in one year and there were times we have not had any in a number of years. But I think the most important thing is to let the people see what it portends.”

The Lagos State helmsman reiterated that Eyo is a festival of honour to celebrate great men, Lagosians, Oba of Lagos as part of their coronation rights and other Lagosians, who have rendered sterling services and deserved to be honoured.

Governor Fashola, who said he felt good about the occasion, added that the Tafawa Balewa Square has come to stay as venue for the Eyo carnival.

The festival featured a procession by several Eyo groups who were beautifully dressed in colourful hats, robes and wrapper with a staff, who danced and chanted various songs while greeting people by touching them with the tip of the staff they held.

Among the Eyo groups which featured in the procession were Asogbon, Suenu, Basua, Erelu Kuti, Egbe, Saasi, Asajon, Eletu Odibo, Aromire, Obanikoro, Oshodi-Bukku, Onisiwo, Bajulaye, Oloto, Onilado, Akogun Olofin, Olorogun Adodo and Onimole.

Others were Bajulu, Olumegbon, Eletu Iwase, Akitoye, Arobadade, Ogunmade, Onikoyi, Jakande, Etti, Osodi, Ajiwe Forisa, Onisiwo, Salawe, Faji, Kakawa, Sogunro and Taiwo Olowo, while the five traditional Eyo deity groups were Eyo Agere, Eyo Ologede, Eyo Oniko, Eyo Alakete Pupa and Eyo Adimu Orisa.

Prominent among those present at the occasion were the First Lady of Lagos State, Mrs. Abimbola Fashola’ Deputy Governor Sarah Adebisi Sosan, former governor of Ogun State, Aremo Olusegun Osoba; former governor of Cross River State, Donald Duke; former governor of Lagos State, Chief Lateef Jakande; Speaker, Lagos State House of Assembly, Adeyemi Ikuforiji; Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Akiolu; Ambassador Dehinde Fernandez, foreign diplomats and members of the State Executive Council and House of Assembly members, among others.

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