Police arrested the Oloolu masquerade and some members of his retinue in the city of Ibadan last week. Oloolu is the chief masquerade in Ibadan, whose festival comes annually. The masquerade is believed to be the spirit of the dead Ibadan ancestors.
Oloolu was arrested after a streetfight with Muslim youths and arraigned in court Friday, on a three count charge of arms possession, assault and malicious damage.
According to the Tribune, the magistrate imposed bail conditions which the masquerade and his followers could not meet. They were thus held in the Agodi prisons.
The case has been adjourned till July 23.
Who is Oloolu?
The oloolu festival is a celebration of ancestral spirits who visit the living once in a year to bless the living. In Yoruba tradition, the spirits of the ancestors are part of the pantheon of gods. The masquerade is believed, literally, to incarnate the dead ancestors and his person is therefore sacred and inviolable. The violation of Oloolu is taboo.
But on July 3, during the second day of the five-day outing of Oloolu, Muslim youths attacked and unmasked the masquerade along Popoyemoja, a busy commercial street in the heart of the city.
According to the Tribune, violence erupted when Oloolu arrived in Popooyemoja from Ode-Aje and encountered Muslim clerics holding a memorial ceremony for the late Chief Iman of the Irepodun Mosque, Alhaji Rafiu Fasasi. According to the Sun Online, the clerics asked Oloolu not to pass through the street but when Oloolu insisted Muslim youths armed with machetes, knives and clubs fell on him and his entourage, and inflicted severe wounds with machetes. They gave him a severe beating that left Ibadan traditionalists shocked.
According to the Sun Online, on July 4, members of the Oloolu cult organized a reprisal attack and swooped on Popoyemoja street. They unleashed mayhem, armed with charms, broken bottles, daggers, machete, and guns. According to the Sun Online, they attacked residents, smashed vehicle windscreens, damaged property and looted shops. Police responed to distress calls and the mob retreated quickly when the police arrived.
The police arrested Oloolu and some members of his retinue on the same day.
The Tribune quotes a supporter of the Oloolu cult, saying:" It is an affront to our traditional religion and belief system that Egungun, not just an ordinary one, Oloolu, for that matter, would be attacked and molested in the public. It has never happened before, and something must be wrong with our people. Have they forgotten that it was this religion that their forefathers practised before the advent of these foreign religions we now have around here?"
According to the Tribune, the widow of the late Imam of the Irepodun Mosque, Madam Amudat Fasasi, said that the Muslims had tried to induce the masquerade and his followers with gifts to avoid the area because women would be present at the mosque ceremony. It is taboo for women to see the Oloolu masquerade during his annual outing. Madam Fasasi said: “Our visitors, who came from far and near, mostly women, sat on the road at Popo-Iyemoja observing the prayers. All of a sudden Oloolu and his men stormed the venue of our prayers stoning us and scaring the women who must not see him. They started stealing purses and bags and other valuables, though we had given them money when we heard they were coming."
The lady said: "Our youths rose against them and sent them away. They, however, returned the following day damaging vehicles and shooting sporadically. A young girl was shot at Sakapena by them and was later carried away. We never expected this. It took us by surprise.”
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Traditionalists allege victimization
The arrest of Oloolu has caused an uproar among traditionalists in Ibadan who allege that they are being victimized by the majority Muslim population of the indigenous city. But the Tribune reports that the Oyo State Police Command has responded to the allegation, saying it is the duty of the police not to "allow anyone to hide under religion or tradition to perpetrate criminality."
According to a release signed by the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) Mrs Olabisi Ilobanafor, police officers from the Mapo Division were compelled to intervene in the violence that erupted between Muslim youths and the followers of the Oloolu masquerade cult on Tuesday July 3, after they received several calls that the masquerade was attacked by thugs in the Popoyemoja area of the city. According to the police statement, officers rescued Oloolu from his attackers and rushed him to the hospital for treatment because he was bleeding profusely after sustaining machetes injuries.The police statement said further that on July 4, they received intelligence that followers of the Oloolu cult were organizing for reprisal attacks.
Tribune reports the police statement read: “When the Oloolu and his followers stormed the place and saw the police, they quickly beat a retreat, but not before some of the followers were arrested with dangerous weapons, including a locally-made gun."
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The police said while the Constitution guarantees freedom of worship, it is the constitutional responsibility of the police to protect lives and property.
The Sun Online, however reports that analysts allege complex political rivalry issues in the incident, especially in the humiliating treatment of the royal masquerade and deployment of joint police and military force by the state government,against members of the Oloolu cult on Wednesday. Analysts allege that the incident is the fallout of power tussle in the Oyo State Council of Obas and Chiefs over rotation of chairmanship of the Council between the Alaafin of Oyo, the Olubadan of Ibadan and the Soun of Ogbomosho.