Ijakadi festival of Offa in Kwara state is an annual celebration which all Offa indigenes whether at home or abroad are always eager to witness .
The festival is a week long programme with various activities starting with a press conference, Jumaat service, commissioning of projects, presentation of awards, church service, traditional dances, parade by districts, wrestling bouts, horse racing. Among others to further bring together the people of the ancient town.
The word Ijakadi means wrestling which has a significant role in the history of Offa. That is why a line of the epigrammatic panegyrics of Offa ( Oriki Offa) reads thus: 'ijakadi looro offa’ meaning wrestling is Offa's custom.
Ijakadi according to some elders of the town was a duel of equity between the two illustrious sons of Offa who engaged each other in fierce wrestling over a tuber of yam in the farmyard ,where nobody was around to separate them ,and led to equal cutting of yam ,a significant moment in the history of Offa.
The celebration usually witnesses a mock wrestling bout (Ìjàkadì) between the Oloffa of Offa and his second in command (Chief Essa), while the whole town cheers them on and take sides.
It is usually the Oloffa that wins, while other people will also take part in the wrestling to determine the winners.
In this colourful and historical drama; traditional drums, various singing/dancing groups, masquerades and a display by the hunters add to the pomp and pageantry.
Oloffa usually wins the duel, and the lesson from his victory is to remind the people that Oloffa remains the indisputable authority of the town.
However, unrepentant Eesa would always find an excuse for his defeat saying suku lo y? mi meaning ‘it was the corn chaff that made me fall, not the Oloffa". This victory always attracts a thunderous ovation from the crowd, with the slogan Kabiyesi ooo praising the Oloffa.
This is therefore followed by the yam cutting exercise during the Ijakadi festival, where the Oloffa will be blindfolded and he expected to cut a tuber of yam into two equal parts.
It's really a meeting point for indigenes and their friends. The Oloffa of Offa, Oba Mufutau Muhammed-Gbadamosi, who came to the throne few years ago revived the festival in 2012 which has been abandoned for 30 years, and it has helped in bringing the people of the town together for peace and development of the ancient town.
In his speech to the people, the monarch said "the mammoth crowd and the beehive of activities in and around Offa land is a testimony to the success recorded in his effort to re-establish a festival that predates many of us today. Even though, many of our people could not make it home because of the prevalent fuel scarcity in the country,it is our hope that in next years Ijakadi festival, there shall be no let or hindrance in sha Allah.
According to him, "the Ijakadi Festival is an annual event which all sons and daughters of Offa land both at home and in diaspora gather every year to celebrate. The festival presents the opportunity for Offa people to showcase our cultural heritage and it’s tourism potentials.
The festival emanated from our cultural history of two brothers who wrestled at the bank of a river, on account of one piece of lost yam on their way back home from the farm. The scenario resulted in a scuffle and argument as to who shall bear the pain of the lost yam. The king had to adjudicate on the matter and resolve the matter equitably. The king shared the yams in equal proportion of two and a half yams each. The cognomen of Laare! Buure!! Ikan ogbodo jukan nile Olalomi!!! rent the air, and from that moment onwards this slogan became a reference point for Offa people.
"The historical antecedent and moral lesson of the event was "Justice and Equity" embedded in the spirit of sharing. Today, the lesson of the festival is to spur our people, particularly our teeming youths to expand their horizon to face the challenges of our society, compete and excel with the spirit of equity, fairness, and justice.
Oloffa added that the wrestling competition captures the very essence of the festival, the promotion of the ancient cultural bundles, and the redefinition processes that will attend the legislative appeal of the National Assembly ,and for the inclusion of the Festival on the National Tourism Development Map by the Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism.
"As we celebrate this festival, we should not forget to remember the legendary Moremi who hails from Offa, but was married to the Ooni of Ife. She exhibited her heroic nature by allowing herself to be captured by the Ugbo warriors who incessantly raided the Yoruba of Ife so as to covertly study their war secrets and prowess. This she did most brilliantly, and the Ife people were able to redeem themselves from the insurgency of the Ugbos. This singular achievement led to her recognition and remembrance as a heroine across many Yoruba communities.
"As Custodian of our Culture and Tradition, the traditional Institution in the country should be given a space, and be empowered to contribute substantially to national issues and governance,"he said.
Meanwhile, the 2017 Ijakadi festival took a new dimension as the federal government promised to include it in the national festival calendar.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who was the special guest at last year's festival ,said the local wrestling contest in Offa, Kwara State, will now be included in the National Festival Calendar.
The Minister, said the people in charge of the festival will also be trained under a (training) programme for festival managers, being jointly implemented by the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture and the British Council.
"It is my pleasure to say that my ministry is going to put this particular festival on our own calendar. We have an MoU with the British Council through which, every year, we train festival managers all over the country. I want to assure you that in 2018, they (Ijakadi festival managers) will benefit from this training," he said.
Mohammed assured the organizers that the government will leverage the power of Information and technology to promote the festival, with a view to attracting domestic and international tourists, thus improving the economy of the state.
He congratulated the organizers of the festival for reviving it in 2012, after over three decades, and said the decision to raise its visibility could not have been better timed, considering the determination of the Buhari Administration to make the Creative Industry a pillar of the economy, under its economic diversification policy.
"What we have come here to celebrate is a history that goes back to the 14th century, and I want to seize this opportunity to congratulate Kabiyesi, the Oloffa of Offa, that after almost a hiatus of 30 years, when there was no festival, the festival was reborn in 2012 and every year it's getting bigger and bigger," the Minister said.
He said the festival was significant because it is not just about the history of the people of Offa, but a celebration of their virtues of "equity, justice and wisdom", as well as strength and determination.