- What the Kwara Police Command did with that press release is a disgrace to democracy. The police are saying that they are tools in the hands of Muslims in Kwara State and they are being used by Muslims in Kwara State
Ifa priest, Osuniyi Olosunde (Jogbodo Orunmila), talks to FATTEH HAMID about the recent celebration of Isese Day by some South-West states and its importance, amid the lingering controversy it generated in Kwara State
What are your educational qualifications, and your position in the African traditional religion?
I’m Oloye Jogbodo Orunmila, Oluwo in Ifa and Ogboni fraternity. I don’t like speaking about my Western education because it undermines the wisdom in Yoruba’s rich culture and tradition. It is these rich ways and knowledge of the Yoruba that we use as handiwork and it is what we have sworn to promote on all fronts. I’m from Oyan in Osun State.
Isese Day was widely celebrated across some Yoruba states on Sunday and Monday. How would you describe the celebration?
We thank Olodumare (God) that Isese Day happened and we celebrated it. The government gave us the break and it was a beautiful celebration across the land. It was a joyous and remarkable one at that. We traditionalists are happy and we are grateful for this. For our children, this will be the first of its kind and we can see the joy and happiness on their faces that the government is now in support of what we do and we pray that Olodumare will grant us many more years to celebrate here on earth.
Do you see the recognition given to Isese by some state governments as a step in the right direction and one that gives traditionalists a sense of belonging and upholds their rights to worship under any denomination?
Giving us a day to mark Isese Day by some of the governors of Yoruba states is completely in line with the laws of the country. It is also a means for our people to know that we are not marginalised. When we have people of different religions, ethnicities, and beliefs in a society, we all have an equal right to have a day to commemorate (our religion) just as the other religions have theirs. This will make it known to us that the government is also our government.
Will you say that the declaration of Isese Day by some of the South-West states was an expected move following the crisis in Kwara State?
Giving us the break to celebrate Isese Day, following the crisis in Kwara, is an important step because Isese is to the Yoruba and it is what we have. It is what makes us stand out as Yoruba. If the people of Kwara are now behaving like the northerners, then the step taken by some of the governors in the South-West to give us a break is a message to other governors, Kwara inclusive. The message this is sending to them is that Isese is for the Yoruba and I believe that those that the message is meant for would have heard. The Kwara State Government will also see the steps taken by others and they’ll have to make a choice if they want to stand with the Yoruba as descendants of Oodua or not.
Do you think that the decision of some of the state governors to announce Isese Day was done to spite the governor of the Kwara State who?
Some of the governors who made this declaration did not just do it. We have written letters upon letters and some underground works have been going on to get this. So, I think giving us this break is more of a message rather than to spite. It is not to make the Kwara State Government feel bad; it is just to deliver a message that the Yoruba are for Isese and we must not lose our culture and tradition. They sent this message to allow the Kwara State Government to take a position if they want to stay with fellow Yoruba or follow the ways of the northerners. It is not to spite but to send a strong message that this is how it is done. It is now left to the government in Kwara State to speak up on the crisis that is going on in relation to the celebration of Isese Day. Now, we are waiting for their response and I’m sure that it is what the remaining governors will be expecting by now.
For many years, traditional worshippers have claimed to have been marginalised in Nigeria by the Muslim and Christian faithful. However, there are still adherents. What do you think has helped to protect African traditional religion from going into extinction?
I think what has helped traditionalists, over the years, to keep the sanity and sanctity of our religion from becoming moribund is that we teach our children the culture and tradition of the Yoruba. Also, if you look at Ifa (oracle), it is a power that can never become extinct. Despite how the colonists enslaved our forefathers, our forebears carried their Ifa with them as they journeyed with the colonists to their countries like Brazil, Cuba, etc., to teach Ifa to people over there. So, Ifa can never go extinct, people can only try. In the voice of Ifa itself, it stated that people said that it’ll become moribund and it said clearly that Ifa cannot. The reason why this is how it is going to be is because everything in the world revolves around Ifa, even if all Ifa priests are killed today, the plants, water, etcetera, have the words of Ifa on them. It is only the priests that can be killed and not Ifa itself. With this, traditionalists can never become extinct.
What is your view about the crisis in Ilorin and what happened recently?
My view about this is that the governor of Kwara State has not done well. When you’re a leader of a state and you want peace in the state, you won’t stand with some people against the other. In Ilorin, there are Christians, Muslims and traditionalists. We all have equal rights under the law. If Christians are celebrating Christmas, will they stop them from their celebration? Will they ask them not to do their activities for Easter? When they have public vigils, is there anyone that stops them from doing that? Has there been a time when Muslims were stopped from celebrating Eid Al-Adha? We can see all of them doing these. Why is it that they draw the line when it comes to Isese Day? What is the reason why traditionalists are being picked out and being fought against? The Kwara State Police Command, the Kwara State Government and the traditional rulers in that state have not done well. Ifa said that we shouldn’t say that someone doesn’t exist; we are all in existence. If we want peace in a state, we will be tolerant of everyone. We have to do things together and accept ourselves. Love is the most important thing that brings a state together and that should be what we should all push for. We should not start segregating some people; it is not meant to be that way.
Last Monday, the Kwara State Police Command issued a statement, advising traditional worshippers to relocate their celebration to another state pending a favourable security situation in the state. What do you have to say about this?
What the Kwara Police Command did with that press release is a disgrace to democracy. The police are saying that they are tools in the hands of Muslims in Kwara State and they are being used by Muslims in Kwara State. The Christians in the state would have also seen it by now that if something goes wrong, the Kwara State Police Command will support the Muslims against them even if the Muslims are wrong. I think what the police were established for is to ensure orderliness when there is disorder. What the police were meant to do was to provide security on the day of Isese celebration to protect the lives of traditionalists. When we had an almost similar case in Ile-Ife, that was what the police over there did. They (police) didn’t only release a press statement, what they did was a threat and it just shows to us that they are mere tools in the hand of a religion and they are not to be trusted in the state for truth.
Do you think the adherents of other religions who are against your religion are judgmental?
You see, the adherents of other religions who are speaking against traditionalists are judgmental because someone who doesn’t hurt you shouldn’t be discriminated against. If, as a traditionalist, I haven’t let any hurt come to you, what have I done to you then? Why have you decided not to allow me to practise my own religion? Under the law in this democratic setting of ours, I have every right to practice my religion the same way you have right. Olodumare gave us the right, the government permitted us and even the laws of the land aren’t exempted. Why then should we be condemned? Truly, they are judgemental.
The faithful of some major religions believe that traditionalists are idol worshippers and won’t go to heaven. What is your view on that?
On this, what do we call heaven? In Isese, we call heaven orun (paradise or heaven). If we aren’t going to go to heaven, why do we have it stated by Ifa that there is heaven? Ifa made us know what Olodumare is and that is why we know that He is God. For example, pizza isn’t indigenous to the Yoruba, thus, there is no name for it. Whatever has a name in our culture, it means that we have it. If anyone now comes to say that we don’t have it, they are mere liars. Ifa clearly stated to us that this life is a journey and heaven is our home. Then for those calling us idol worshippers, there’s nothing like that. They are only using English to call themselves thieves. Traditionalists have their belief in Olodumare because Ifa has rightly stated that Olodumare is the only one that we can depend on. These are some of the knowledge and wisdom of Ifa but the ignorant ones will be saying what is not.
Do you think the Yoruba who renounced their belief in African traditional religion will regret their decisions?
Every Yoruba child who renounced traditionalism and Isese is still coming back. Already, we have started seeing many occurrences of such where people who have long forgotten tradition embraced it again. A child that says that his father is not good, there’ll be a day that the turbulence of the outside world will chase him back home. Every single one of them is coming back to their origin. That is why you’ll see that traditionalists aren’t troublemakers because we know that all our lost children are coming back home when turbulence of the outside world pursues them. We are waiting for their return, the house is big enough for them and we are certain that they are all coming back.
There are claims that many adherents of other religions still consult traditionalists on certain issues. Is this true and do you see this as hypocrisy?
Muslims, Christians, pagans, politicians, leaders, and all kinds of people meet with us, as traditionalists, to make consultations and we help them. This is something we are happy about and we are happy to do because one of the knowledge of Ifa is that humans are one and we must help all humans who are in trouble or need our help in any form, no matter what the religion of the person is and no matter their ethnicity. Everyone one of them consult us. In fact, when they condemn and desecrate us out there, we still help them because we have done ours for Olodumare and not for humans because it is part of the teaching that Olodumare bestowed on us through Ifa which doesn’t allow us not to help people even if they have offended us. It is that person that is bad and not us. If we met the corpse of an evil man on the road and we kick it, we have become two evils. We don’t contribute to more evils.
Do you think that there should be a national law mandating everyone to respect traditional worship in all non-Muslim states in Nigeria?
I think there should be a law that will permit everyone to be able to practise their religion across all states in Nigeria. Everyone who has a belief in something should be allowed to practise without being chastised, be it in the North, the South-East, South-South, or the South-West. Everyone should have freedom to worship. That is what the government should be concerned about. A platform where everyone can worship without fear is what we should have.
In Nigeria, the Constitution does not forbid traditionalists from practising their religion. How can the law be implemented to create a safe environment for traditionalists?
I think what we can do now since we have established laws that respect the freedom of religion and worship, is to mandate our security agents to ensure that everyone can worship without any hassles. The security agents we have in the country, primarily, the Nigeria Police, should ensure that the rights of traditionalists to worship are protected at all times. In fact, we have the police to blame for the victimisation of traditionalists across the country because they are meant to be law enforcers and they have failed in discharging their duties. There is already a law established and as an enforcer, their duties should be to ensure that this law is respected and not to be mere tools in the hands of some people. It is not meant to be so that a group will use the police as a mere tool the way a shepherd uses a rod to control herds. What we have on the ground is not a difficult issue. The Constitution of Nigeria respects every religion and their worship and practices. What is left is that law enforcement agencies should ensure that when it is time for each religion to be celebrated, there is a smooth-running process for each without any hassles.
Are you concerned that the Ondo and Ekiti state governments did not officially mark Isese Day?
As I earlier stated, before the announcements made by the governors of states that announced holiday for Isese Day, we had already written to them and there were considerations before they made the declarations. I strongly believe that Ondo, Ekiti, and other states will also follow suit in due time. After the declaration of Ondo and Ekiti states, I believe Kwara State will follow suit, and other states across the country will also do the same.