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Oro, human sacrifice and the conspiracy of silence

Oro, human sacrifice and the conspiracy of silence

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Azuka Onwuka([email protected] 0809-8727-263 (sms only))

Today, Tuesday, May 8, 2018, no female person will come out of her home in the Ikorodu area of Lagos, a so-called megacity, or move around the town, because of the oro festival. A letter circulated hugely online over the weekend, signed by the Ayangbure of Ikorodu, Oba Kabiru Adewale Shotobi, dated April 23, 2018, had decreed that women should keep indoors today because of the oro festival.

 The first paragraph of the letter, which was addressed to the Chairman of the Management Board, Ikorodu Town Hall, reads thus: “This is to notify you of the abovementioned festival which is slated for Tuesday, 8th May 2018, according to tradition all female are forbidden to be seen outside their homes or move about the town on this date which is ORO DAY.”

What it means is that in a country where the constitution (which is said to be supreme) guarantees people freedom of movement, women who work in banks, or media houses, or law firms, or hospitals, or government offices will not go to work today in Ikorodu. Most likely, schools, markets, churches and mosques in the Ikorodu neighbourhood will not open today for fear of the unknown.

 To go to work today outside Ikorodu, such ladies would have left the Ikorodu vicinity yesterday or earlier, and slept in hotels, or in their offices or at their friends’ places. Some married people with little children would have relocated their entire family to other places during this oro period and return after the festival is over. This is because some inquisitive children may want to step out to see what is happening. Some may innocently step out unaware of any danger.

 Naturally, there are people who would not hear about the oro festival, especially those who don’t live in the Ikorodu area. Even during state or local government election when state governments announce that their states will be closed for traffic between 7am and 3pm, many people still don’t get to hear the news. Such people get stuck in such states until the roads are opened later in the day.

 Therefore, it is expected that some people who will arrive Ikorodu today, especially late at night, without knowing about the festival, may become victims. Those who are also passing through Ikorodu late at night towards Ojota in Lagos or Ijebu-Ode in Ogun State may also fall victim. This includes women and men who are strangers.

What is the implication of running into the oro festival at night? Most people who do so don’t live to tell the story. That is why the festival is feared. The implication of running into the festival is that the unfortunate person may be killed as part of the sacrifice for the festival. Such deaths had occurred and been reported in the past in different communities where the oro is held. Some had even resulted in inter-ethnic crises because someone from a different ethnic group was killed at night during the festival. There are even sayings that the person that will be used for sacrifice at such a festival usually walks in by himself: nobody goes out to look for such a sacrificial lamb. That means that an unfortunate person will walk in mistakenly and become the sacrifice “chosen by the gods” and mysteriously compelled to be at such a place at such a time. We all know that no god chooses such a person to be killed. What happens is that in a metropolitan community where people move about until after midnight, there will always be someone arriving late, missing his way, or unaware that such a festival is on.

 It is fantastic to uphold our traditions in the face of rampaging modernity. It is wonderful to ensure that our culture is not allowed to die because of modernity, Christianity and Islam. In fact, observing our traditional religious practices is part of the freedom of worship enshrined in our constitution. As an Igbo proverb goes: Let the kite perch and let the eagle perch. The sky is also too wide for all birds to fly about without colliding into one another.

 However, there is a difference between a tradition and an illegal and repugnant practice. If not for that, the killing of twins would continue today in the name of tradition. Any tradition that involves the direct or indirect shedding of human blood is not to be condoned or allowed to flourish for whatever reason.

 The governors of the states know about the oro festival and the rights of women that it infringes upon, especially in cities where there are human activities even after midnight. But most importantly, they know that human sacrifice is sometimes involved in it. The traditional rulers get their licences from the governors and are therefore subject to the governors. But the governors do not want to rock the boat. So, they look the other way and pretend that oro is all about the culture of a people.

 The media also know what is involved in oro festival. The churches and mosques and their leaders know. The educated and well-travelled members of society know oro too well. But everybody keeps quiet and pretends that there is nothing wrong with it.

 How can it be explained that in the Lagos of 2018, which prides itself as Nigeria’s only megacity, that there is a cultural practice that not only prohibits the movement of women and strangers but also is touted to involve human sacrifice? Yet, there is no outrage from the people or the media or the governors and the political elite against this festival?

 The only advice the learned give about the oro festival is that people should stay away from it to ensure their safety. They usually add: “After all, it is only for a day, and nobody will die if the person does not come out for one day.”

 Nothing is static in life, not even culture. There is no need to ban the oro festival. The culture of our people should be preserved and sustained. But it has to be modified, if it has some drawbacks. And oro sure has. It is a wonderful sight to behold the colourful Eyo during the Lagos Eyo Festival, otherwise called the Adamu Orisha Play. The one-day imprisonment placed on people, especially women, during the oro festival needs to be removed. And most importantly, everything linking the festival with human sacrifice needs to be expunged. The state governors should make it clear to the traditional rulers that if any life is intentionally taken during the oro festival or any other festival, they will be held accountable.

 This should also refer to all states in Nigeria where any practice that poses a threat to the freedom of movement of people and also to the lives of people still exists. No tradition that poses a threat to the life of an individual should be rationalised, justified or condoned. Festivals should attract people to a city, not scare them away. Life is sacrosanct. Life is irreplaceable. Life is priceless.

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