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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.

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