I’m helping to build mosque in Ilorin – Isese advocate

Yeye Ajesikemi Olatunji, a traditional religion adherent and devotee of Aje Olokun, speaks to TUNDE OYEKOLA on the cancellation of the Aje festival in Ilorin, Kwara State, and the opposition from an Islamic group, among other issues

What festival do you want to celebrate in Ilorin that has set you on a collision course with an Islamic group in the town?

Well, I planned to celebrate the annual Aje Olokun festival. I’m a member of the Kwara State Association of Traditional Religion, also known as Isese. This is an association of people practising traditional religion. We are not members of the Christian group or the Muslim group; we practise traditional religion, which is allowed by the Nigerian constitution. We planned a three-day event to celebrate the traditional religious festival from July 22 to 24. It is not a secret thing that we wanted to do. It is a get-together party in which we want to give recognition to some people who live within and outside the country. That was why we wanted to do it at an event centre. We printed an invitation and paid for a hall in an event centre, which is a popular area in the town. That is to show that what we want to do is not a secret thing.

 Is this the first time that you are celebrating the festival in Ilorin?

This is not the first time that I am celebrating the festival. I have been holding the festival since I came to Ilorin five years ago, but I celebrate it within the confines of my home. However, this year’s festival is planned to be more elaborate and we want to give recognition to some of our friends who have been supporting us.

 But why is this year’s celebration causing problems?

 This year, I planned to invite people to be part of the festival and I want to appreciate and recognise some people who are my friends on the final day of the festival. But there was misinformation caused by social media. The social media went out with false information. They started a publication on what we did not plan to do during the festival. They said that we wanted to worship a river and that we wanted to celebrate the Osun goddess as it was being done in Osogbo. The social media published that we wanted to celebrate the Ogun festival and that we wanted to bring idol worship to Ilorin, which I know as a place of Islam. I have been living in Ilorin, which is a peaceful town, and I have enjoyed the peace of the town since I came to settle here. I am a peaceful person and nobody has gone to report to anyone that I have disturbed him or her, and no one can accuse me of carrying any sacrifice or littering the area with sacrifice. I have been living peacefully in the community.

However, social media continued to dish out false information, which did not emanate from me. Up till now, none of the social media operators have come to me to seek information or clarify things from me. The wrong information that the social media published made the people who came to my house to react the way they did. The social media, through their various publications, made people misinterpret the programme. It is not my intention to bring idol worship to Ilorin because I know what the town stands for as the centre of Islam.

Those people who are circulating false information about me and peddling unsubstantiated rumours want to set the people against me. They want to set me on a collision course with the people of Ilorin, who have accommodated me and have been very friendly with me; I don’t know why they are doing it or what they want to gain from it.

It was alleged that you were circulating invitations about the festival and that you printed fliers that you distributed around the town. How true are these allegations?

That is one of the lies they were circulating. I didn’t print fliers and I didn’t distribute fliers. Anyone who has the fliers should produce them. Although I printed invitation cards, I had not even distributed the cards before the problem started. I don’t know how the invitation cards got out because when the printer finished his work, he delivered the invitation cards to me. I only posted it on my Facebook and informed members of the Kwara State branch of the Traditional Religion Worshipers Association, also known as the Isese group. I have not distributed it to any of the invitees. So, how it got out (to the public), I don’t know.

How long have you been in Ilorin?

I came here (Ilorin) from Lagos. What brought me to this town is a long story that I don’t want to share here. I have been in the town for over five years and I found this place peaceful and the people are very accommodating. With the time I have spent here, I have lived in peace and I have recorded some progress.

 People claimed that you wanted to worship the Osun deity, which is not acceptable in Ilorin. What is your take on this?

I’m a traditional religion adherent but not an Osun devotee; I don’t worship the Osun deity. I’m a devotee of Aje Olokun, which belongs to the Obatala deity.

 Were you born into African Traditional Religion?

 No, I was not born into traditional religious practice, but every family, especially in Yoruba land, has a trait of traditional practice. My foray into traditional religion is self-indoctrination. My conversion to traditional religion was through personal experience; nobody converted me to embrace traditional religion but I got the inspiration from dreams and other self-motivated factors. You should not be surprised if I tell you that I was a prophetess in a spiritual church before I became a traditional religious adherent and my conversion has paid off.

 Are you married?

 Yes, I’m married and have children; I live with my husband.

 What is your means of livelihood?

 I am a traditional religion adherent but I have my own business from which I source my daily bread. I engaged in some businesses. I deal in soft or non-alcoholic drinks, which I sell in cartons and I have a store where I sell cooking utensils. I also deal in foodstuffs such as garri, rice, beans, yam flour and other types of food. That is what I do to keep body and soul together.

There are claims that residents of the Oke Adini area have started moving out of the place as a result of the threat by some Muslim groups to burn down your house. How true is this?

That is one of the wild rumours going round the town, which has no iota of truth. You can see that this area is peaceful and no one has vacated his building or is planning to move out of this area. This is a blatant lie. Indeed, some Alfas (clerics) came here to tell us that we should stop the celebration of the festival, but they didn’t destroy our property or threaten my life. It is not true.

What happened was that the Chief Imam of this area had come here earlier before those people that you saw in the video came. The chief imam came here and said he learnt that we were planning to hold a festival, which we admitted; he advised that we should stop it and not hold it. The Alangua (community leader) invited me to a meeting. I explained to him that though we were planning to celebrate a festival, we were not planning to go to a river or take people to a river or celebrate the worship of idols.

When the Muslim group came, they didn’t meet me at home because I was on my way to the Kulende Police Station, where I was invited because of the same complaint that I was planning to hold a festival. I was on my way when my sister called on the phone that some people came to look for me. I told them that I was on my way to the police station and that they should wait for me to finish at the police station. It was on the same issue that the DPO invited me for. I was told that they said they could not wait. I respect them but I had to report at the police station because the invitation came before the group arrived. I did not belittle them and did not run away from them. I respect all the Islamic leaders in Ilorin and I have respect for their tradition.

 It was learnt that you have cancelled the festival. Is it true?

 Yes, I have stopped the festival, but I have not spoken with any journalists about it. Since the problem started, none of those publishing false information has come to me to get the right information. You are the first to come and ask me about the issue. They said that the Muslim group threatened me that they would burn my property and that people had been deserting and moving away from this area; all these claims are not true, they are unfounded. Nobody is running away from this area and you can see that this area is peaceful and calm.

It is not because of what they are saying that I cancelled the programme. I cancelled it because of wise counsel from the elders, religious leaders and the police, who advised that the programme should be stopped. I cancelled the celebration because I don’t want any crisis; I don’t want people to see me as a troublemaker and I don’t want people to label me as having caused a religious crisis in Ilorin. Most of the people expected at the festival are not from this community or even the state. Foreigners, who are my partners, were supposed to be here, but I don’t want any life or property lost because of me. Ilorin is an Islamic town and it is peaceful; I don’t want the peace of the town to be disrupted because of me.

I cancelled the programme for peace to reign. I don’t want my name to be linked with evil. Omoluwabi etiquettes don’t allow it because some miscreants may exploit the situation to foment trouble and engage in the destruction and stealing of property. I want my name to be associated with good things and not bad things. I don’t want to cause a religious war in Ilorin; I don’t want to cause any loss of life.

 How much have you spent on preparation for the festival before it was cancelled?

 I have spent a colossal sum of money in preparation for the festival. I have paid close to N300,000 to hire the hall; we have booked Aso Ebi (uniform attire) and customised T-shirts and other things, but what I spent is not equivalent to life.

Has any Islamic preacher tried to preach to you to convert to Islam?

 No one has ever done that because they don’t know what I’m practising.

With what happened now, if they come, are you ready to be converted?

No, God has shown each individual what they will do to succeed and enter paradise. What I’m doing presently as a traditional religion adherent doesn’t mean that I’m being directed by the devil. God knows why he directed individuals to certain places and it depends on the character of such an individual. God knows the heart of every human being and it depends on your mind and communication with your Creator. I know that God answers prayers; it depends on how you pray to Him.

Some have said that they don’t want my type in the Islamic religion, but I cannot because of what they did to me on this issue be converted to Islam. Even when Prophet Muhammad started to expand Islam, the people he met were not Muslims, but they were converted because of his character. If God wants the whole people on earth to practice one religion, He has the power to do it because it is He who can guide people to be in the right way.

 I learnt that you are a philanthropist and you are constructing a mosque. How true is this?

 Yes, I’m involved in some philanthropic gestures. I help those who approach me for it. But I have provided a borehole for the people of this area and we are also embarking on the construction of a mosque, which we want to be a model. We want to build it to taste. I embarked on the construction of a mosque in this area because I realised that there is no place where the Muslims hold Jumat prayer in this area. Although the fund for the mosque is not from me, it is from a philanthropist, who wants to build a mosque in the Islamic city of Ilorin. The philanthropist had gone through some Alfas (clerics) and for more than two years could not see the results of the funds given for the construction before I came in and since then, the construction had been progressing.

The person expressed surprise that he could entrust someone with funds for the project when he saw what we were doing about the construction of the mosque. I’m not doing it to please people, but I’m doing it to please my creator because everyone has a way of worshipping their God. I know that there is no place where you cannot pray to God before He answers your prayer in all the places; whether you are a Christian, Muslim or traditional religion adherent. I’m not doing it to please human beings. I’m doing it for humanity; I’m not doing it for people to worship in the building. Even during the recent crisis, some of those that I have assisted also spoke against me and have condemned me because of the Aje festival.

 What advice do you have for the people?

 I want to advise that people should not listen to only one side of the case; they should listen to both sides before passing their judgment. We should not promote a crisis. Secondly, people should exhibit love. We should love one another. Love for humanity should come first before any religious consideration; we should not lose our Omoluwabi etiquette.

 What advice do you have for the government?

The government should maintain equality among the three recognised religions in the country; Christianity, Islam and traditional religion. The government should treat them equally so that peace will reign. There should be no preferential treatment for one religion at the detriment of another. The government should accord traditional religions public holidays. The government should grant public holidays for the Ifa festival (Odun Ifa) or Oke Itase. It should accord recognition to traditional religious worship.

(Punch)

Nigerian Newspapers: 10 things major events today

Good morning! Here is today’s summary from Nigerian Newspapers:

1. The organised private sector on Thursday welcomed the tax suspensions announced by President Bola Tinubu, noting that they showed the Federal Government was sensitive to the challenges facing businesses and citizens. The private sector operators however pointed out that the tax suspensions were inadequate to curb rising inflation.

2. The president of Nigeria, Bola Tinubu, and former vice president, Yemi Osinbajo have joined 30 million others on Meta’s (owner of Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp) new platform, Threads. This is as Meta’s Chief Executive Officer, Mark Zuckerberg, noted that the company is setting its sight on one billion users soon.

3. President Bola Tinubu has approved that plans for the 2023 national census be sustained. Tinubu is however expected to fix a new date for the national population and housing census.

4. Troops of the Nigerian Military attached to Operation HADIN KAI in the North East have neutralised members of Boko Haram and Islamic State of West African Province (ISWAP) terrorists attempting to cross the Nigerian territory from the Cameroon border. The terrorists numbering five, according to the Military High Command, were gunned down following an intelligence report.

5. The All Progressives Congress (APC) in Kano State has asked the immediate past governor of the state, Dr. Abdullahi Umar Ganduje not to honour the invitation extended to him by the state Public Complaints and Anti-Corruption Commission (PCACC) over the controversial dollar video.

6. To boost manufacturing and ease of doing business, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu on Thursday signed four executive orders (EOs). The motive of the EOs, which suspended some key taxes, is to boost economic activities and reduce hardship, the presidency said.

7. A pro-democracy group, Coalition of Civil Society Organisation and Political Parties for Good Governance (CCSOPPGG), on Thursday urged the European Union (EU) to immediately withdraw its report on this year’s presidential election. Members of the group made the demand when they stormed the EU Office in Abuja in protest against the union’s report.

8. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has revealed that it would commence the prosecution of the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) Adamawa State, Hudu Yunusa Ari, in line with the Electoral Act 2022 next week. The commission rose from its regular weekly meeting, yesterday, and resolved to file a six-count charge against him at the Adamawa State High Court sitting in Yola.

9. Former governor of Ekiti State, Ayo Fayose, has declared he will be the first to blast President Bola Tinubu if he goes back on campaign promises. He expressed his intention to actively monitor the government’s activities and provide constructive criticism when deemed necessary.

10. The Decoy Squad of the Edo State Police Command has arrested the suspect, Meshach Sinuphro, who stole a Mercedes Benz worth N55m from a car dealer in the Federal Capital Territory last Wednesday. The Delta State Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Bright Edafe, in a post on Twitter on Thursday, said Sinuphro was apprehended in Benin City, Edo State.

10th NASS: Imposition unconstitutional, APC professionals tell Tinubu

A socio-political organisation within the All Progressives Congress under the aegis of Renewed Hope Professionals on Wednesday faulted the National Working Committee of the party and President-elect, Bola Tinubu, for anointing candidates for the 10th National Assembly leadership.

The NWC had announced Tajudeen Abass and Godswill Akpabio as consensus candidates for Speaker of the House of Representatives and Senate President.

But the RHP in a statement by its Coordinator, Kinu Kabirwa, said the announcement of both lawmakers as leaders of the 10th National Assembly was a clear violation of Section 50 Sub-section 1b of the constitution of the Federal Republic as amended.

He said, “Democracy is now under serious threat with this imposition concocted by the outgoing Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila and the NWC to further compound the grave political situation in Nigeria.

“As a group of professionals with the interest of APC at heart, we plead with the President-elect to immediately nullify this organized crime imposed on lawmakers and allow a free level playing ground for the legislators to pick their leaders.

“It’s an aberration that must be quickly checkmated before it develops into an hydra-headed monster capable of turning the legislature into an unwarranted war zone over the personal interests of few disgruntled elements in the party.

“The question bothering us now is how did the NWC and their cohorts carried out the selection process and what yardstick was used to arrive at an Abass that his state delivered just four Reps?

“Was competence, equity, fairness and fairness considered in the scheme of things or it was just an outright imposition to further truncate our shaky democracy?

“The above questions are begging for answers and we want our leaders to truly look into this as the position of Deputy Senate President too has been zoned to North West.

“Automatically, the North West is going to control two powerful positions in the next political dispensation.”

(Punch)

How late President Yar’Adua died while I went to break fast – Ex-first lady Turai

•’My politics also died when Umaru died’  

On the 13th memorial of the death of former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, his wife Hajiya Turai, has stated that her husband lived a simple and corrupt-free life.

Turai spoke in an interview with the BBC Hausa Service monitored in Kaduna, yesterday, by our reporters.

“He was simple. He was not carried away by worldly things. For example, he could be using a wristwatch continuously until the strap gets broken into two. Unless I see it, he would continue to use it like that,” she stated.

“My husband was not taking alcohol, he would not go after women and he was not corrupt. He was a very simple person who did not attach importance to worldly things. Even leadership, Allah destined he would be but he wasn’t that ambitious about it”.

Speaking on life without her husband, the former First Lady said: “I think about him everyday. Every day seems like any other day. The only difference is that today, people gathered to pray for him, eulogize him and I’m happy. I thank them.”

Recalling the last moments with the late President, Turai regretted leaving him to break her fast. “I was fasting on that day. In fact, I had been fasting non-stop from when he took ill and even after he died, I did not stop. So when it was time for me to break my fast, he was lying down looking at me. I felt he did not want me to leave, so I told him I was going to break my fast. He then shook his head and I left. I was later called and I met him struggling with his breath. That moment still lingers in my mind. I even quarrelled with myself on why I left to break my fast, I should’ve stayed.”

Continuing, Turai noted that her interest in politics died with her husband, even as she disclosed that she was still in a good relationship with YaÁdua’s political associates including former President Goodluck Jonathan.

She said: “I don’t will be involved in partisan politics. I knew what’s politics, I was in politics during my school days. When my husband was President of the Katsina Students Union, I was an executive member. But when Umaru died, my politics also died. But the children and grandchildren, I will continue to pray for them, for whichever pathway Allah has chosen for them.”

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On what she missed most about her late husband, Turai added: “Our marriage was full of happiness. People were saying they had never seen our kind of relationship. I was like a new bride every day. That was why he always returned home straight from the office. So, even if I travelled, once I reached my destination, he would be the first person I would call. That was what I really missed. The first time I travelled and no one called me to say; ‘Turai how was your trip?’ That was the first time I cried over his death.”

The former First Lady urged Nigerians to continue to pray for the country. “Looking at how this country has become, they should continue to pray. Only prayers can heal Nigeria. The way things happened, only Allah will remedy the situation. We’ve no other country but Nigeria. May Allah uplift Nigeria and bring an end to these myriad problems in an easy way,” she said.

(Vanguard)

Things fall apart in Warri as Olu, kingdom’s prime minister lock horns

DELE OGUNYEMI writes on the fresh twist in the prolonged crisis between the Olu of Warri, Ogiamé Atuwatse III and the ‘disrobed’ Ologbotsere of Warri Kingdom, Ayirimi Emami

The Olu of Warri, His Majesty, Ogiamé Atuwatse III, appears to have crossed the Rubicon in his long-drawn disagreement with the Ologbotsere of Warri Kingdom, Ayiri Emami, when on Sunday, April 16, 2023, he installed Chief Oma Eyewuoma, as the new holder of the highest Itsekiri traditional title.

Prior to his installation as Ologbotsere, the traditional prime minister of Warri Kingdom, Eyewuoma was the Aboludero of Warri.

The immediate past holder of the title, Emami, a businessman and political activist, was deposed by the Olu of Warri on October 5, 2021 at a ceremony held at the palace.

Emami as the Ologbotsere challenged the process that led to the emergence of Ogiame Atuwatse III as the Olu of Warri, insisting that there were some violations.

As the controversy raged, two crowns of the ancient kingdom were allegedly stolen from the palace and a police investigation indicted Emami and other individuals, including two princes who were declared wanted. Emami was arraigned.

The court case and missing crowns notwithstanding, the Olu of Warri, upon ascending the throne, has been carrying on his traditional and social duties with his reconstituted council of chiefs without an Ologbotsere.

Palace sources however hinted that there had been interventions from several quarters to settle the dispute among the parties involved and ensure unity among natives of the Itsekiri nation.

However, the latest in the peace and reconciliatory moves between the Olu of Warri and the Ologbotsere descendants led by Chief Ayirimi Emami, hit a brick wall last Sunday as the scheduled meeting at the Aghofen,  the palace, witnessed the installation of a new Ologbotsere.

The development surfaced after Emami rejected the monarch’s offer to install him as the “Eyeku” of Warri; a title held by his late father, Chief Akonu Emami.

The reconciliatory meeting was witnessed by the immediate past Governor of Delta State, Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan; ex-president, Christian Association of Nigeria and Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, notable palace chiefs, as well several Itsekiris who thronged the Aghófen Hall for the meeting.

Prior to the meeting, the Olu had invited Warri chiefs to report at the palace with their insignias of office, beads and swords, for a revalidation exercise.

Addressing the gathering, the Olu of Warri, who prior to the installation of the new Ologbotsere, had collected symbols of the Ologbotsere title (beads and ‘Uda’ sword) from Emami, reminded his subjects that the conferment of chieftaincy titles on anyone was solely the prerogative of the Olu.

The monarch noted that as a father to all, he was using the occasion to offer forgiveness to erring subjects, noting that “forgiveness and reconciliation are virtues that have the potential of making us stronger as people and as a kingdom.’’

In a long speech, the Olu of Warri stressed his superiority as king over Iwereland, disclosing that he understood from the dreams he had that Emami should bear his late father’s title.

The monarch added, “Today is a very unusual day. But we will do something unusual. I won’t do this publicly again, but there is a reason why today is public. An opportunity for us to come together and reconcile. The outcome is for the good and betterment of Itsekiri, irrespective of anybody’s reaction.

“God does not have an opposite. Ogiame does not have an enemy. In this kingdom, there is no rival. The beads on the neck of our chiefs are personal property of the Ogiame. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.

“True reconciliation will not be forced on Ogiame. The terms will be determined by Ogiame. We have a divine reason to do this publicly. It is not an easy thing for me to do this. I had to humble myself. Itsekiris want Ogiame to be proud at all times because we are a proud people. As directed and determined by God, pride is actually not one of the ways of God.

“I had been battling for almost two years on how I could come down to address this Ologbotsere issue. I was covering Ayiri Emami even when I was in Idaneken. I authored an apology for him to read. As it happened, the apology didn’t surface. God wants this matter to be resolved. I understand the fears some of you might have. Every human being deserves a second chance. Monarchy is a reflection of how God operates.

“Ikenwoli told me, “What I did privately with Ayiri, do it publicly for all to see.’’ This was after O.N. Rewane, Chief Mayuku and Chief Akonu Emami appeared to me in a dream. None of you here is better than this man (Chief Ayiri). I am tired of fighting. I will not humiliate the Ologbotsere family. The Ologbotsere title remains the most senior title. Ikenwoli like Atuwatse II knew what they saw in this man (Chief Ayirimi Emami). Let everyone stand up and celebrate this man (referring to Chief Emami).

“I do not want Itsekiri to fight. I have given him a chance for redemption, to work for the interest of Itsekiri. He has conceded he will not accept his father’s title.”

It was gathered that the stalled peace initiative was brokered by Pastor Oritsejafor who is also a prominent Itsekiri.

Earlier, the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi, Ojaja II, was in Warri a few months ago, during which he met with the Olu of Warri and Chief Ayiri Emami separately.

In a dramatic twist, Emami, who left the Olu of Warri palace after rejecting the king’s offer, said he remained the Ologbotsere of Warri. He noted that the traditional beads and sword he submitted on Sunday to the king during the meeting at the palace where he was deposed were fake.

He claimed that he still had the original traditional beads and sword presented to him by (former kings) Ogiame Atuwaste II and Ogiame Ikenwoli and the Uda.

Emami said he did that because he had a dream about what would happen during the reconciliation meeting and he was prepared.

Addressing Ologbotsere descendants and supporters, who accompanied him to his residence, Emami disclosed that the original beads and sword, authenticating him as the Ologbotsere of Warri Kingdom were still intact.

He displayed the traditional beads and the sword to buttress his claim, saying, “These three beads; the bead of Atuwatse II, my late father and that of Ikenwoli, are my inheritance. I did not buy them. Have you seen me with one bead before?

“What happened at the palace today was not what we agreed on during Ologbotsere descendants and myself with the Olu of Warri. I was open for genuine reconciliation but suspected that the king and some of his chiefs were not sincere, hence, I have to go there with another set of beads and sword. You can see the original beads and sword right in my house (displaying the beads and sword to the Ologbotsere descendants and his followers at his home)”

Also, the spokesman for the Ologbotsere descendants worldwide, Alex Eyengho, while speaking with journalists on the development, emphasised that the title of Ologbotsere is conferred on an individual “till death.”

According to him, Emami accepting the title of his father, which is a “lesser title in the name of peace,” will amount to “peace of the graveyard,” which nobody wants.

Eyengho stated, “What happened in the palace today (Sunday), was part of a script that has been written. We had a premonition of the event that would play out. Hence, the bead and sword presented at the palace were fake. It has been an ongoing script. The Ologbotsere family is not stupid. The original beads and sword are intact. Once you give a title to someone, it is till death. You don’t take it back. For the Ologbotsere title to be given, it must come from the family of Ologbotsere, on request from the king. Chief Ayirimi Emami remains the Ologbotsere of Warri Kingdom.’’

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As Emami is unyielding, the Olu of Warri is also sticking to his guns, maintaining that “the outcome is for the good and betterment of Itsekiri, irrespective of anybody’s reaction.’’

Some observers of the events emanating from the revered kingdom are of the view that the last of the matter had yet to be heard considering both parties’ rigid bearings

Contacted, a Warri-based industrialist, Chief Lucky Omonigho, said that some powerful forces had continued to frustrate the patriotic efforts of the monarch for their own selfish interests. According to him, the monarch wants to ensure that the people of the kingdom, not a few individuals, benefit from oil firms operating in the kingdom.

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Another Itsekiri indigene, Madam Veronica Ogene, however, called for a truce between the Olu of Warri and his chiefs stressing that the campaign for peaceful coexistence in the community should be sustained for the much-needed socio-economic development of the kingdom.

The Punch

Trouble in Osun’s rusting ‘goldmine’

• Farmers in high cocoa-producing Eti-Oni community lament rip-off by merchants

While the end products of cocoa have continued to attract lots of attention all over the world, Atakumosa East Local Government Area, Osun State, the birthplace of cocoa in the Southwest, continues to beg for attention, GBENGA ADERANTI, fresh from interactions with farmers in the affected communities, reports.

ti-Oni, a cosmopolitan community in Osun State, is populated by farmers from different parts of Nigeria, all bonded by cocoa, the golden seed. But while produce merchants and end users of cocoa are smiling to the bank, the farmers in this Osun community are lamenting the absence of the basic amenities their activities require to flourish.

After peaking at about 3,122 U.S. dollars per metric ton in mid-2016, the monthly price of cocoa has fluctuated between 1,900 U.S. dollars and 2,700 U.S. dollars per metric ton.

Globally, it is estimated that over 4.5 million tonnes of cocoa beans are consumed yearly, with prospects of the figure increasing; a fact acknowledged by the World Cocoa Foundation. But the price of cocoa has been fluctuating, causing farmers to record heavy losses in West Africa.

Today, a tonne of cocoa sells for between N1,150, 000 and N1,300, 000 depending on the purchase location. But the farmers at Eti-Oni sell theirs far below the standard price due to forces they have no control over.

Besides, the farmers in this community are literally cut off from the rest of the city as a result of bad roads. The medical facility available in the community is not commensurate with the wealth being generated from it. But for the annual cocoa festival which draws attention to the community, it would qualify for a ghost town.

While virtually all the ethnic groups in Nigeria are represented in the community, this has not attracted any meaningful attention from the government.

When our correspondent visited the community, the number of youths was few. “The absence of basic infrastructure is discouraging most of them from staying in Eti-Oni.

“If you were not a farmer, what would you be doing here? How many of them are interested in cocoa farming?

“Until government provides basic facilities, the youth will continue to run away from here,” one of the farmers lamented.

Indeed, there are fears in some quarters that if nothing is done urgently, it could mean the end of the cocoa community that has been in existence for more than 127 years.

The roads leading to the community are rough and bumpy, and whenever it rains, it is always a big challenge to get into the community.

 “It used to be worse before now as there was no way you could access the community. An improvement came during the 2017 Cocoa Festival when kabiyesi (the traditional ruler) facilitated the grading of the road through the state festival,” a commercial motorcyclist told our correspondent during a visit to the community.

But it is not only the Eti-Oni farmers that are losing money from the neglect it suffers. The state government, it was gathered, is also losing a lot of revenue that would have accrued from it.

Citing 2022 as an instance, the traditional ruler of Eti-Oni, Oba Dokun Thompson, said: “In 2022, Osun State cocoa production figure was less than 25,000 tons, the graded figure is less than 50 percent of that. This is a result of good access to Osun State and our proximity to Ondo State.

“So, a good number of the aggregators for the farmers along that belt will rather take their produce to Ondo State for grading, which gives Ondo State, not Osun, the tax revenues.

“At the Federal level, I can safely say that the country loses an estimated $2 billion for the lack of commitment to the cocoa industry.”

Lamenting the plights of cocoa farmers in Eti-Oni, one of the leading female farmers in the community, Mrs Taiwo Adenike, said she ventured into the cocoa business by happenstance.

According to her, she was a trader in Zamfara State when a crisis occurred and she had to relocate to Eti-Oni and had been in the cocoa business for more than 25 years. She also deals in palm oil, bitter kola, kola nuts and other tree crops.

She recalled that with her earnings from cocoa, she had been able to send all her children to different institutions. She said, however, that the business is not without its own challenges. She is particularly not happy that cocoa farmers are at the mercy of merchants.

According to her, the produce dealers dictate how much they pay for the products. But while this could be explained away in terms of demand and supply factors, the total abandonment of the community by the government is worrisome.

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She said: “The community lacks some equipment that could make farming easy. Getting good insecticide for cocoa is like the camel passing through the eye of a needle.

“The buyers determine how much they want to pay for our cocoa. We don’t have any other option but to accede to the price because there is a glut.

“As long as it is the same price in other villages, we would agree to sell on their terms. Because of the way we preserve our cocoa at Eti-Oni, it is always better in quality and weight.”

She called on the government to make its presence felt at Eti-Oni, the birthplace of cocoa.  “We are not benefitting anything from the government in Eti-Oni. We are only profiting from our sweat.

“We are hereby calling on the government to help the cocoa farmers in Eti-Oni, especially the women cocoa farmers.

“Our roads are bad. There is no clinic here. If you have any medical challenge, you have to run to the main town to seek medical attention.”

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Another female cocoa farmer, Madam Fowowe  Yinka, is also not happy with the neglect of the community by the government. According to her, the state government had made promises in the past to uplift life in the community, but that is yet to come to fruition.

She is also not happy that while the rest of Nigerians enjoy uninterrupted telecommunication services, MTN, the largest service provider, is not functioning well in Eti-Oni. According to her, subscribers using MTN in the community are finding it difficult to reach out to others.

“Let the government know that the services of the MTN here are epileptic,” she said.According to Fowowe, experts from outside occasionally come to the community to organise workshops for the farmers, teaching them how to manage their farms and get good yields. But she is not happy that farmers do not have control over the price of their products as they are always at the mercy of produce merchants.

She said: “It is the produce merchants that determine how much we sell to them. It is the amount they want to pay that we take from them.

“It is not only that. At times when we need money to pay school fees, we approach these produce merchants. After getting cocoa from us, they deduct their money and they give us the remaining.”

To worsen the plight of farmers, while cocoa farmers are based in Eti-Oni, their family members are scattered in different towns because of lack of basic amenities.

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“My family members are not in Eti-Oni, they live in Ilesha where they are schooling,” Fowowe said.

She said her children cannot school in Eti-Oni because of the low standard of the community school. “My children are attending private schools in the main town,” she said.

The absence of good clinics is also a source of worry for the farmers. Most of them have to go to Ilesha to get good medical care whenever they are indisposed. “There is a small clinic at Eti-Oni with one nurse who attends to us,” she said.

She is therefore calling on the government to help the community by providing things that would make life better.

“I was happy when I heard the news that they were going to reopen the secondary school in the community which was shut many years ago. That would put paid to the two pots we have been keeping; one in Eti-Oni and another in Ilesha. We would be able to enrol our children in this school and would have peace.

“That our hospital is too small. It is just a small dispensary. Let it be stocked with drugs. The primary school too, if they do it very well, we would bring our children back to Eti-Oni. They would be with us and we would be able to monitor them.”

Although the community is plagued with challenges, the annual Cocoa Festival has been a source of relief for residents. Mrs Fowowe told our correspondent that the community is always a beehive of activities when people come from all over the world to celebrate the festival.

She commended the traditional ruler of the community for the initiative. “During the festival, the economy of the community always picks up,” she said.

CBN Headquarters, Abuja

But for fate, Tunde Olowe would probably not have thought about cocoa farming, though as a student, he had been frequenting the community to help his father on his cocoa farm.

Narrating how he started cocoa farming, he said. “It was when I lost my father in 2001 that I decided to go into cocoa farming. I just resolved to stay in Eti-Oni to continue to manage my father’s farm.”

 He also said the fear of unemployment after graduation made him continue as a cocoa farmer.

“Cocoa business is sweet with lots of profits if the farm is well maintained,” he said, adding however that the business has its own flip side.”

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In trying to combat the challenges, Oba Thompson built a dryer for the community, “but because some of us are not used to the way they do cocoa in the developed world, the covered fermented building, where we were supposed to be drying our cocoa, collapsed because we were not use to it.”

He also acknowledged that the produce merchants determine the price of cocoa in the community.

Oba Thompson had made efforts to stop this by discouraging the farmers from selling their commodities at very cheap prices, but during the period, farmers did not have the cash they rushed to the produce buyers for support in the form of soft loans. “By the time the cocoa dries, we sell them to produce buyers and they make more money than we farmers.”

Olowe called on the government to help the farmers by making chemicals and funds available for them. Since the community is the source of raw materials for the end users of cocoa, Olowe also said it makes more economic sense for them to come and site their factories in Eti-Oni. To him, it is going to be a win-win for both the farmers and the end users who would be able to monitor the cocoa from inception while the farmers would make more money.

Just like other residents of the community, none of his children goes to school in Eti- Oni. “There is no standard school here,” he said.

The only secondary school in the cocoa community, The Nation gathered, was closed down in 1998 due to what a source described as politics. The fear now is that since most farmers have sent their children out of the community, cocoa farming, which has been in existence since 1896, will one day come to an end.

Olowe, however, disagreed with this position, saying that the community will find a way around it. “I have a brother abroad. I still send his own share of the proceeds of cocoa to him. If eventually I grow old and pass on, somebody will still be here giving my children returns.”

He lamented the state of the road leading to the community. It was gathered that the state government has started the construction of a major road leading to Eti-Oni, and in no time, the cocoa community will also benefit from the project.”If the government can maintain that and make sure it reaches Eti-Oni, the farmers here will benefit from it,” Olowe said, noting that bad roads and lack of good hospitals had led to the death of many in the past.

Lamenting, Olowe said: “In 2019, the traditional ruler of Eti-Oni built a provisional health centre. Then he brought the deputy governor, in order for the government to assist us with the road and the hospital. I don’t know what happened that they could not do it.”

He appealed to the government to renovate the health centre at Eti-Oni, bring in doctors and equip the clinic.

Clamour for Cocoa Producing Communities Development Company

With huge cocoa coming from the rural community, one would have thought that the government would replicate what is being done for oil-producing companies for cocoa- producing communities in Nigeria, but Oba Thompson said it is doubtful.

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According to him, going that route would probably not change anything because if an agency like the Niger Delta Development Commission had done very well, there would not be cries of neglect by the oil-producing communities in the region.

He said before a similar organisation can be achieved, it means almost total regulation of the cocoa sector, and from the experience in Ivory Coast or Ghana, the cocoa-producing communities and cocoa farmers are worse off.

Oba Thompson said: “The regulation framework there and the regime were created to benefit only the multinationals, and that has been the case since the 1950s after the farmers’ revolt in the 1940s in Ghana and Nigeria.

 “What the Nigerian cocoa industry requires is not regulation in the form practised in West Africa but a commercialization structure that will do Three things – work towards building the culture for local consumption to unlock the value locally, encourage investment and also incentivise increased production capacity with capacity development and proper quality monitoring and control in place, and create easy access to investments in the value add for industrial and finished products with a ready market that we are not at their mercy.”

Like every other person that had been to the community, Oba Thompson also lamented the state of roads in the community.

He said there are two routes into Eti-Oni, the main one which is a Federal road that links Osogbo – Ilesa – Eti-Oni – Oke-Igbo and Ondo both in Ondo States and was last paved in 1984.

“Out of the 23km from Ilesa to Eti-Oni, only about 5km of the road was paved about nine years ago and the rest is left in a state of disrepair with gullies and literally unmotorable.

“The other route which goes from Iwara – Igangan – Eti-Oni had part of it paved with about 9km to Eti-Oni left also in a sorry state and a daunting task to drive on with vehicles having to go for repairs each time they pass the road.”

Zuma Rock, Abuja

In addition to bad roads, the Oba said, the community also lacks all the social amenities you can think of. “From housing to the state of the schools or the health centres, Eti-Oni is not left out in this misery that faces the communities,” he said.

Not waiting for the government, the traditional rulers with other organisations have come up with a development plan that can transform the community into a sustainable model smart town.

 “What we need to achieve this is through an economic model that will fund those development activities. We have been working to create awareness, look for investments and identify partners that can collaborate with us for this purpose. Though things are tough, we are on course,” the traditional ruler said.

In getting cocoa to buyers, Oba Thompson said that in an extractive industry, the exporters or wholesalers have their buying agents or aggregators and they buy at the lowest possible price from the farmers, which always leaves the farmers with the short end.

He said the merchants are the ones who move the produce from the farms to warehouses outside the region, in which case the farmers will only collect what they are offered.

He said: “I cannot say whether they get value for their work or not. But if they had reason to travel for some of the social amenities you mentioned earlier, then we can say the value is already being lost.

“On the other hand, if the social amenities were close by within the community, then we can say their requirement for more cash will be reduced as their cost of providing or accessing a reasonable level of the decent living standard will be heavily reduced.”

Unfortunately, the challenges farmers face, according to Oba Thompson, are compounded by the fact that Eti-Oni being situated along the rainforest belt, is tucked in and quite remote, which leaves the farmers to almost think they have been abandoned and this definitely has a very negative effect on their psyche.

“The other challenges which have to do with lack of social amenities also fuel rural to urban migration with the average age of a farmer almost at 45 to 50 years when they are already getting weak with the younger generation not interested because they see only poverty, and this should not be the case.

“So cocoa farming is fast becoming a retirement vocation or something to return to after all has failed in the search for a better life in an urban community,” the monarch lamented.

He described as sad and unusable, the state health facility in the community.

Not all a tale of woes

However, the story of the community is not all about woes. While many communities are living in fear, life at Eti-Oni is peaceful.

“In truth, we are in a safe and fine environment that would be a beautiful place for those who love nature, because we are actually an agroforest.

“We have natural and wildly growing vegetables and even food crops and fruits.

“River Oni provides fish. So eating healthy, which can be expensive in the Western world, is available to us at a minimal cost. The people are generally easy-going, very pleasant, and hopeful that things will eventually turn around for the good of all,” said the monarch.

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In his own little way, the monarch has made efforts to develop the community. He has succeeded in creating awareness and letting people know what the community is all about.

“This we did through defining ourselves for the purpose of creating value. We have our land, we have our people and we have cocoa.

“We created the Cocoa Festival which is now in its 9th edition for this purpose, and since we started the Cocoa Festival, we have also added several others – Eko Chocolate Show in its 4th edition, Nigerian Cocoa Awards, Royal Cocoa International Film Festivals, Royal Cocoa Festival Dinner London.

“We have also showcased Eti-Oni in different parts of the world, speaking and participating in several conferences on cocoa and chocolate.

 “Secondly, we put together our development plan, defining where we are, where we want to be, and how to get there, and at the same time identifying what we need and who can help us achieve our objectives, which as I said earlier, is to transform into a sustainable model smart town.

“Ten years ago, if you asked anyone about Eti-Oni, no one would be able to say anything. But today, most will tell you about our history in cocoa being the oldest cocoa community in the country producing cocoa since 1896.

Funding has been hampering the plan to develop the community, but the Oba is optimistic that things will begin to take shape soon.

“Also, do not forget that we can say we lost almost two years to the COVID-19 pandemic and the world is yet to fully recover from it,” he said.

He is therefore calling on companies and industries to come to Eti-Oni in order to take advantage of the serene and beautiful environment which offers several produce and resources with opportunities for the establishment of several small-size factories.

“Although we have a public power supply, part of our development plan includes the establishment of a renewable energy plan as part of our strategy to protect our environment.

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“The main strategy for our smart town is to deploy the internet for things that can create a living lab concept for companies who are willing to partner and ready to deploy and showcase how their solutions work,” he said.

The Nation

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