The iconic and historic Isese Festival is being celebrated across many parts of Yorubaland today, 20 August, 2023.
Coincidentally, and more significantly, this year’s Isese Day celebration falls on a Sunday, coinciding with the oneness of Olodumare.
It is a truism that this is not the first time of celebrating Isese Festival across most parts of Yorubaland, encompassing the South-West Zone.
However, this year’s celebration is unique. It is the first time in history that Isese Day celebration will attract controversy, adoration and opprobrium, commendation and condemnation from different people, from different quarters.
This year’s edition of Isese Day is an eye-opener, seeping through the heart of man to reveal the various misconceptions and misrepresentations and about our attitude to fellow humans.
For some, Isese Festival or Isese Day is nothing but pure idolatry; an arrant elevation and celebration of fetishism. To this set of people, such a practice should not be allowed in a decent and civilised society.
Still belonging to that same school of thought are some religionists who believe that Isese Festival and Isese Day celebration is traditional worshipping which should be totally abhorred.
For them, the advent of Christianity and Islam represent the height of modernity and transformation of humans in their communion with God. To them, Isese Festival is a reminder of the gory old past of the devilish way of worshipping the Supreme Being. This was vociferously espoused by many Islamic faithful, as demonstrated in Kwara State.
More than ever before, the 2023 edition of Isese Day has truly exposed the pervading high level of intolerance among us.
Many people, contrary to the provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), flagrantly disregarded the rights of adherents of traditional religion to their religion and belief. They literally called for the heads of those who believe in Isese.
The unprovoked high level of intolerance was particularly displayed in Ilorin, Kwara State. Sadly, the state Police Command joined the fray to scuttled the Isese Day celebration, citing flimsy mounting tension as an excuse to cancel Isese Day celebration in the state.
It is worthy of commendation the high level of maturity displayed by the International Council for Ifa/Orisa Religions (ICIR) which took with equanimity the unconstitutional cancellation of the Isese Day billed to hold in Ilorin.
President of ICIR, Oluwo Solagbade Popoola, in a release during the week, sued for peace among adherents of Isese Festival, even as he assured that the Isese Day celebration will still hold on the state at an appropriate time.
Demonstrating that he is a lawful man of peace, the ICIR president declared that the Police will be challenged “for the discriminatory breach of our rights to hold lawful gatherings, even when both our Christians and Muslim brothers hold their mass gathering unhindered.
“We will also be seeking legal interpretation of the context of Nigeria’s secularity as enshrined in the Nigerian 1999 Constitution (as amended).”
Displaying an uncommon high level of religious tolerance, Oluwo Popoola said the organisation was not interested in dragging drag other religious groups to court. He also appealed for calm among members of ICIR, leaders and members of various Isese organisations, groups and cultural public.
Beyond the castigations and various bids to stop what has clearly come to stay, the 2023 edition of Isese Day celebration is very unique in a very special way: The celebration of Yoruba traditional religion and cultural values has gained official at the appropriate official quarters.
This year’s edition of the Isese Day is the first in which Yoruba cultural values and tradition, epitomised by the Isese Festival, will be having such an official recognition from the right quarters where the celebration matters most.
Blazing the trail, the governor of Oyo State, Engineer ‘Seyi Makinde, last Friday, declared that 20 August of every year has been officially recognised as the Annual Isese Day in the state. The governor went further by proclaiming tomorrow, Monday, 21 August, 2023, as a public holiday to commemorate the maiden edition of Isese Festival celebration.
Taking a cue from Makinde, Governors Babajide Sanwo-Olu, Dapo Abiodun and Ademola Adeleke of Lagos, Ogun and Osun states, respectively, subsequently followed suit. Manifesting the true Yoruba essence of Omoluwabi ethos, the three governors simultaneously recognised 20 August as the Annual Isese Day. Like Makinde, the trio also declared 21 August, 2023 as the day to celebrate the maiden edition of the Day.
The commendable action of the four governors were fundamentally significant. By the singular act, they have succeeded in dousing mounting tensions in their respective states over the increasing legitimate demand by adherents for official recognition of the Isese Festival.
More importantly, the official approval and recognition of Isese as a traditional religion by Makinde, Sanwo-Olu, Abiodun and Adeleke is a clear indication of the governors’ “commitment to inclusivity and respect for all religious practices in their states”.
While no official explanation has been given for the failure of the Ekiti State government to recognise Isese Festival, I am of the strong view that if the recuperating governor of Ondo State, Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, were around, he would not have hesitated to do what his counterparts did in Oyo, Lagos, Ogun and Osun states.
It has heartwarming to know that traditional religion has been given its due official recognition in the South-West, with the exemption of Ekiti and Ondo states at the moment. It is also gladdening that the governors of the aforementioned states declared tomorrow, 21 August , 2023, as public holiday to celebrate the maiden Isese Day.
I want to state it clearly here that I have never been a lover of public holidays. Frivolous public holidays are injurious to the socio-economic health of any society and we have public holidays too many in our clime. However, I am a firm believer in the aphorism: “What is sauce for the gander is sauce for the goose.”
The other two religions namely, Islam and Christianity, have been enjoying the state monopoly these past years. Islamic faithful annually enjoy their four public holidays, including the Eid-el-Fitr; Hijrah; Eid-el-Maulud and Sallah. In the same vein, followers of Christ annually observe days that fall on Easter Monday, Christmas and, by extension, the New Year Day, as public holidays.
Therefore, it will not be out of place to grant the desire of traditional worshippers, as exemplified by Isese Festival adherents, for one day in every 365 days (or 366 days as it may apply) to peacefully celebrate God in their own way, according to their belief, and in accordance with the provisions of the constitution of the land.
Indeed, and in truth, Isese Festival and Isese Day celebration has come to stay in Yorubaland, many thanks to the magnanimous hearts of Governors Makinde, Sanwo-Olu, Abiodun and Adeleke.