By: Kehinde Akinlade
Nigeria, Ogun - In Ilaro as it is in other western part of Nigeria, the tropical rain has receded into the midnight, the sun has increased its intensity, signaling the eve of the dry season. It is November, the month of the annual return from the great beyond of the legendary Oronna, the Ilaro ancient warrior, hero and life long deity of power, victory, conquest, freedom and mercy.
From the immortal Oronna, the return is in fulfilment of his ageless promise to the good people of Ilaro when descending into the world of the immortals that his ears would always be attentive to their call for support whenever his help is needed.
Right now, festivity is in the air, Ilaro is agog, gbedu the ageless drum is summoning the progenitors, kakaaki is piercing the air with its sound of majesty, power and authority, the old and the young are in festive mood welcoming the nemesis of the ancient Ilaro oppressors who heard and hearken to the first call for help from Aro the founder of Ilaro, had mercy and fought to set Ilaro free from the shackles of oppression and slavery.
A classic show of mercy from Oronna which set the town and her people on the path of growth and development, lasting peace and prosperity that are the hallmark of Ilaro today.
This year’s Oronna-Ilaro Festival, is the 28th modern day return of Oronna to bless the town he fought for and set free from slavery and related oppressions.
This year, Oronna who fought to secure Ilaro as a merciful warrior is returning as a deity of mercy.
This year’s festival as assented to by the Arole Oronna, His Royal Majesty, Oba Kehinde Gbadewole Olugbenle MFR is themed FESTIVAL OF MERCY.
The legendary Oronna, though a warrior, was a man of mercy. In his first entrance into Ilaro in the 18th century, he was decked in his armour vest, holding a smoking gun, sheathing a blazing sword and a chain that led to the neck of a Leopard of war with eyes of fire stretched from him also.
He came prepared for war to be able to establish peace as a merciful man. There are reasons wars are fought, Oronna fought his wars for the people of ancient Ilaro to establish peace because he was merciful. Only the merciful stands up to rescue those under oppression.
Ilaro deified Oronna in appreciation of his sacrifice done out mercy for the now thriving town.
From 18th century when Ilaro was founded to the present day. 28th years of Oronna-Ilaro Festival and still counting. 19 kings from Obadu to His Royal Majesty, Oba Kehinde Gbadewole Olugbenle MFR, there is no doubt that Ilaro has enjoyed the mercy of God Almighty. From surviving the Dahomey slave raiders, the holocaust of the fall of Oyo empire to the blessing of leadership position among comity of sovereign lands and the mercy of being blessed by God with kings that have the love of their kingdom and subjects at heart, Ilaro has enough causes to declare a Festival of Mercy.
HRM Oba Dr Kehinde Gbadewole Olugbenle MFR, Olu of Ilaro and Paramount Ruler of Yewaland
No period in history has accentuated the mercy of God upon Ilaro better than the present reign of His Royal Majesty, Oba Kehinde Gbadewole Olugbenle MFR.
The unprecedented achievements his reign has recorded in less than a decade of enthronement vividly paint his kingship as divinely designed for the people of Ilaro.
To start with, his reign met this annual festival of the sons and daughters of Oronna as Oronna Festival. Out of his leadership ingenuity the festival was rebranded to Oronna-Ilaro Festival with the injection of new ideas that marketed the festival and Ilaro along with it to the world.
The rebranding turned the festival to a sought after cultural festival not only in Ogun State but also in Nigeria and the world. Today, Oronna-Ilaro Festival is top ranked on national list of cultural festivals and the benefits to the people of Ilaro in terms of the developments and growth that it has engendered are immense. This is not to talk about the boost of the local economy and the solidification of the unity of Ilaro sons and daughters across lands and oceans.
Every November, Ilaro is in the eyes and hearts of the culture and tradition loving world more than the town was before Oba Kehinde Gbadewole Olugbenle ascended the throne of his fathers.
With different unique and rich events and activities showcasing the very best of Ilaro culture and tradition that have evolved for over 300 years, the rebranded Oronna-Ilaro Festival has grown beyond being a festival to look forward to for Ilaro people at home and in the diaspora to one that Yoruba culture enthusiasts and tourists from far and near are delighted to be part of annually, making Ilaro a top destination of choice for fun seekers, holiday makers who are yearly multiplying in witnessing Oronna-Ilaro Festival highlights like the Sisi Ilaro Beauty Pageant which is the celebration of beauty and brain, the very colourful Onigbaaje procession in celebration of the deity of wealth, Poosu/Oso Night for the best of culinary expertise of Ilaro people, Gelede masquerade dance in honour of fertility, Egungun masquerade in appreciation of Ilaro progenitors to mention just few.
A tour of Ilaro which Oronna-Ilaro Festival affords visitors will reveal a town thriving in all spheres of human. endeavors. The leadership quality and style of His Majesty, Oba Kehinde Gbadewole Olugbenle has transformed the town and strengthened her footings on the path to greatness.
Today Ilaro boasts of a degree awarding institution of higher learning through the developmental effort of Oba Olugbenle that made a study centre of the National Open University of Nigeria possible in Ilaro.
Few months back, the royal father led dignitaries from all walks of life to the Federal Polytechnic, Ilaro where an imposing building comprising classrooms and offices donated by him was commissioned to enhance and make learning conducive in the institution. As Ilaro celebrate festival of mercy, construction of hostel accommodation is on going at the school of nursing in Ilaro on the bill of Kabiyesi, Oba Kehinde Gbadewole Olugbenle.
Also, appreciable number of Ilaro sons and daughters are studying in different citadel of learning on the scholarship of His Royal Majesty, Oba Kehinde Gbadewole Olugbenle MFR.
Away from the direct intervention of the royal father, at no time in the history of Ilaro have the sons and daughters of the town at home and in the diaspora showed more interest in the affairs of the town than now.
The reign of the present Olu has opened the floodgate of the people of Ilaro in the diaspora to their ancestral land. More and more Indigenes of the town seemed to have their expectations met in the leadership of Oba Olugbenle making them to identify with their land of birth.
His calls for support in developing the town has led to more and more of them getting involved in growing the town socio economically.
The reign of His Majesty, Oba Olugbenle has witnessed tremendous increase in investments across all economic sectors by Ilaro sons and daughters. Increase in investment in the hospitality sector for example cannot be alienated from the rebranded Oronna-Ilaro Festival, a fit achieved by the visionary Oba Kehinde Gbadewole early in his reign.
Increase in the volume of trade and commerce under the watch of Oba Olugbenle has enhanced the standard of living in Ilaro. It is important to note the multiplier effect of the confidence of the natives home and in the diaspora is that it has attracted non natives to the tranquility in Ilaro making more of them to be choosing Ilaro as a town to work, play and invest.
The result is the boom in the local economy that is vivid for all to see.
As Ilaro celebrates the mercy of the Almighty with this year's Oronna-Ilaro Festival themed Festival of Mercy, there is no doubt that God has been merciful to Ilaro.
Key among the mercies of God on the town is good leadership which the Olu of Ilaro, Oba Kehinde Gbadewole Olugbenle MFR represents.
From the 13th to the 21st of November, 2021 that Oronna-Ilaro Festival of Mercy will take the centre stage, different classes of visitors to Ilaro, tourists in particular will be thrilled not just by the known events but also by new ones introduced by the organizers as the rebranded Oronna-Ilaro Festival continue to upgrade to meet contemporary international festival standard while keeping Ilaro culture and tradition intact for annual showcasing to the world.