By YINKA OLUDAYISI FABOWALE, Ibadan
The visitor needed no telling he had arrived Idanre. The sprawling mighty boulders that formed an impregnable natural vanguard of sentries round the town proclaimed it. The famed rocks formed a natural boundary that foreclosed further expansion or development thus “creating a linear settlement and a sense of order imposed by nature itself” that necessarily compelled admiration. At the same time, they elicited awe with their intimidating sizes and towering heights with which they seemed to watch, warn and dare would-be-aggressors against their charge, the town. Although, it was just mid-morning of December 19, 2015, the hazy harmattan mist that normally encircled the mountaintop at this period of the day had parted, with a warm kiss from the rousing sun. The weather was clear and bright; probably lending proof that nature itself sanctioned the 2015 edition of the “Mare” Festival, an indigenous cultural fiesta as old as the community that bordered Akure and Ondo town in Ondo State that had set the town agog, this day.
“Mare” which in Yoruba meant “Don’t slip/fall”, had been celebrated yearly by indigenes of the town in tribute to nature for the rocky endowments that helped protect the town, founded some centuries back, from invaders. However, the communal festival has been taken over by the Ondo State Government and developed into a international tourist extravaganza involving sports events, cultural displays and musical performances in which mega stars and budding local talents shared the stage to entertain increasing thousands of tourists and fun seekers the event had attracted since its debut in 2014. The festival gained this status after the Olusegun Mimiko government decided to exploit and develop the huge tourist potentials of the famous Idanre Hills, which, although well known even outside Nigeria, were hardly visited or patronized due to absence of tourist facilities.
The story is, however, different today as the site has become a tourist destination and had been transformed into a resort with aesthetic layout and diverse recreational facilities including a 660-feet staircase springing from the foot of the mountain to the summit, with cabins and restaurants as well as conveniences provided at intermediate resting points for interested mountain climbers. The facilities, architecturally designed and built along jutting inclines and caves of the mountain, nevertheless were African in character with the use of bamboo and raffia products for their roofing, bar and furniture. With a sash of foliage hugging the mighty crags, the resort offered a perfect haven for a commune with nature, what with various animal species and birds to keep an intending hermit company. The investment, Daily Sun learnt, had since earned UNESCO’s classification and listing as a world heritage site. Mare festival has become the driver of the Mimiko administration’s vision to grow cultural tourism as a cash cow particularly in the face of diminishing revenue from the Federal Government, the two commissioners behind the organization of the festival- Kayode Akinmade (Information) and Femi Adekanbi (Culture and Tourism) disclosed.
However, the state government would appear to have another agenda for inclusion of the musical component. Aside perhaps using this to draw music lovers, it appeared a deliberate strategy to draw national attention to the profusion of creative and musical talents that hailed from the state, both those who had made their marks or held promise of making even bigger statements on the Nigerian entertainment scene. These were showcased at the musical concert that normally climaxed the celebration. The show has turned the major attraction for tourists and spectators, even more than the mountain climbing and athletics components that preceded it earlier in the day, because it normally paraded big acts. The maiden edition featured Juju music icon and the state’s gift to the African entertainment industry, King Sunny Ade, and a 30-man army of artistes- Hip-hop, rap, R and B and indigenous music super stars, Nollywood actors, choreographers, dancers and comedians led by 2face Idibia, Ara and Dairo Paul Play enlivened the recent festival with superlative performances, which some members of the audience who saw the 2014 edition, said, raised the bar.
The morning of the festival began with athletes, both male and female, taking part in the mountain climbing exercise and a marathon race which began at Methodist High School and ran a course round the town. Winners in the competition as well as a lucky dip were later presented with prizes at a colourful ceremony at the Idanre Hills Resort, venue of the main event. Among items won during the lucky dip were washing machine, deep freezers, microwave ovens, and motorbike.
There were also cultural displays by various groups including the state Cultural Troupe, Eyo masquerade and Francis Akintade, a popular indigenous music maestro. Dignitaries that attended the occasion included, screen actress, Bimbo Osin, Yoruba actors, Olofa Ina, Jibola Dabo, the royalty as well as several government officials. While the ceremony lasted, many tourists-couples, families and kids as well as security agents seized the opportunity to explore the grounds, while others embarked on the endurance test climb of the mountain. It was such fun as more agile and determined climbers mocked or urged others, who gave up after climbing between 200 and 300 feet, barely half of the way, to try harder, while they made for the summit. Daily Sun, however, noticed that some of the eateries and cabins at some of the resting points were not opened for business, although food, snacks and drinks were available in shops and stalls on the resort grounds. Femi Aderibigbe, who witnessed the previous edition said the businesses were in full swing during the previous edition but noted that the expensive prices of their products discouraged many visitors then, who opted to go down to buy their needs in shops and stalls at the foot of the mountain where the products were sold cheaper. “You can imagine some of them selling a can of malt drink which cost about N120-N150 for N300,” he said.
Action shifted to Olofin Grammar School’s open field in another part of the town later in the evening where the musical concert took place after a short afternoon recess. It was a night of excitement as 2face, Paul Play, Ara alongside other artistes electrified the stage with spectacular performances that got the crowd of audience yelling for more. The early part of the evening featured upcoming local acts, until the arrival of Governor Mimiko, his wife, Kemi and children, at about 9pm, when the bigger names stormed the platform. Among the home boys and girls who registered with the audience were LSK, Erejere (rap); Archbishop (An Owo-based comedian who must have cracked many ribs in the audience with his mimicking of the idiosyncrasies of Orlando Owoh, King Sunny Ade, Fela Anikulapo Kuti and other famous artistes; Samp 23 (Akure-based); Salome (the Nollywood star, who added a cultural dash to the event in her all-bead costume, head dress and performance of the Ilaje/Ikale folk songs) and Iyalode, a female rapper. There were also special acts by B-Flow, Sahel and Suzzie, the South South Ladies Entertainment; and Odidi Ojoro, who got the arena charged as he sang his popular tune: “I don see my size o.”
But, perhaps, the greatest revelation of the night was Deola, a young indigenous rapper who rapped about objects shown to him on stage without previous notice. His unique style, swag, confidence, choice of themes and subjects as well as rhymes inspired waves upon waves of drowning applause and cheers from the audience including the governor and members of his cabinet and other dignitaries. The artiste’s performance was so impressive that he was ushered from the stage to the platform where the VIP’s were seated to have a special handshake with the governor, as the word went buzzing that in him Ondo’ State has a challenge to big rap artistes such as Olamide, Phyno currently rocking the firmament. “Olamide, watch it, Deola is coming!” a youth shouted in the midst of the excitement. Paul Play sang his popular tunes “Mo sorire o” and “ Angel of my life” which were both well received by the audience. After an interlude, Ara, also a daughter of the soil, mounted the stage with her crew. Although she still impressed with her legendary drumming skills, she gave the night more to dancing. After a duet with her producer the weird songstress announced the last, albeit greatest act at the concert, 2face at about a quarter to 1am. The appearance of the gangling crooner on stage sent the expectant crowd wild. They broke the line and surged towards the stage giving security agents including Police, DSS, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps operatives a hectic time controlling them.
“Tu Baba” ignited a passionate fire of bond with the fans as he mounted the stage with one of his familiar songs, “One Love” . He did other hits including “You are my African Queen”, “Ma lo rope iwo nikan lo ma lowo” in quick succession. His showmanship and bonding with the crowd by finger-pointing and shaking hands with some while acknowledging “I see you……. I see you”, drove some desperate ones to hurriedly climb the stage and hug him. But they were quickly removed by bouncers. 2face had to be persuaded to pause for Governor Mimiko to make a speech, as he and the fans obviously wanted the romance to go on. The governor registered the festival as another profound celebration of a marriage of culture and creativity, which, he said held “immense and infinite possibilities for our state”. He thanked the artistes and other participants, while reiterating his administration’s commitment “to exploring the instrumentality of tourism as a driver of the economy”, especially in the precarious era of economic challenges occasioned by tumbling global price of crude oil. “There’s no question that leveraging on domestic tourism, we can do a lot to drive our economy. For the past three months we have explored heritage tourism, pushed the line through Mare,” Mimiko said, stressing that developing the sector had become an imperative strategy to diversify and shield the state’s economy from vulnerability of cash crunch.
Echoing his boss in an interview, Akinmade said, Ondo would take a cue from developed countries, where tourism contributed between 50 and 60 per cent to the national income. He expressed joy that Mare festival had received global recognition and interest. His Culture and Tourism counterpart, Adekanbi, declared that a new dawn had come in the management of affairs of the state, with the attention being paid tourism development. The commissioner, who is barely few months in the office, promised to fix the few problems that may impair the Ministry’s success in its tourism drive. According to him, the current economic distress would not deter further investment in the sector, but even called for it, believing the efforts would yield fruits soon. As the governor and his entourage departed the venue of the concert which lasted till about 2:20 am, observers noted, that one area the organizers may want to address was ensuring greater involvement of the townsfolk in the festival. Save for the venues of the ceremonies, which teemed with crowds, Daily Sun noticed that people in other parts of the town, went about the normal business as if oblivious of the fiesta. Observers suggested that if the government hoped to replicate the global standard and acceptance that states like River and Lagos had achieved with the glamorous Calabar and Lagos Carnivals, it must promote awareness and inclusive participation of the indigenes, whereby the entire town would be shut down for the festival, save for commerce that would benefit from the inflow of money into the local economy. Also perceived was the need for development of hospitality industry by private players. The town certainly needed more than one or two hotels to accommodate the predicted rise in the population of tourists likely to visit to witness future editions of the festival. The dearth of such investment has been a gain to other hotels in neighbouring Akure and Ondo towns, where many of the tourists were forced to stay and make the about 25 minute- drive into town to watch the events.