Mare festival has been held in Ondo State now for four consecutive years, and it has become a much-awaited event for its marathon race, celebration of the state’s arts and culture, and the mountain climbing. It has, indeed, become a brand the Ondo people are identified with all over Nigeria.
For this year’s edition, the build-up awareness created globally by the Ondo State government through its ministries of Culture, Tourism and Information helped create the interest in tourists, culture buffs, mountain climbers and fun seekers from all over the world, who scrambled to the hosting state to have the feel of the much trumpeted Mare Mountain Climbing Festival in Idanre.
Thus, getting hotel accommodation and reservation became a herculean task, as the hordes of people trooping to the state mopped up the available hotel spaces in Akure, the state capital, and its environs.
On Thursday, December 13, as early as 8:00a.m., a fish-like structure, mounted on the back of an articulated vehicle, was taken round the streets of Akure in a long convoy, to announce the Mare Festival 2012. It finally berthed at the Methodist Primary School, Idanre, at about 2:00p.m.
The venue had been prepared with canopies of different colours as well as an elaborate stage mounted at a vantage point. Different cultural groups entertained the excited multitude of people who had been seated at the foot of the Mare Mountain as early as 10:00a.m., waiting for the official inauguration of the festival.
It was fun all through, as the guests were entertained with dance, drama, songs and cultural displays by groups from different parts of the state.
The Ondo State Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Mr. Deji Falae, in his welcome speech, described the tourism vision of Governor Olusegun Mimiko’s administration as “ enhancing the tourism potentialities in the state with a view to aligning them with the aspiration of the people in terms of boosting their image, rejuvenating their culture and tradition, empowering them, mobilising wealth and engendering peace and fostering unity.”
He assured guests and participants of the commitment of the government to ensure that the Mare Festival stands the test of time and achieves the purpose for which it was inaugurated.
In the same vein, the governor also told the people of the state and Idanre: “I want to assure the Kabiyesis (traditional rulers) and everybody here that Mare has come to be very much part of our calendar in Ondo State. I am assuring (you) that Mare will take its rightful place in the international tourism calendar. We will continue to do what we mean to do to deepen the quality and expand the coast of the festival.
“For us, Mare is about the celebration of our God-given cultural heritage; Mare is about the celebration of our unique geography in Idanre; Mare is a celebration of excellence, bearing courage and the can-do mindset of a typical Ondo person, and we will continue to celebrate it as a major annual event in the state.”
He said further: “For us, culture and tourism is one of the very credible avenues to generate engagement for our youths. Apart from the fact that on a day like this, a lot of resources will get to Idanre, in the years ahead, we have no doubt in our mind that Mare will be a veritable avenue to qualitatively engage our youth and we will continue to invest in it. We will also continue to invest in other general tourist activities so that Ondo State will eventually become a preferred tourism destination in Nigeria.”
Mimiko also emphasised his administration’s determination to live up to the people’s expectation “by doing that which will serve your best interest and also make life more abundant for you all.”
He explained why his administration decided to brand the Mare mountain climbing as a product.
“The Mare festival is a symbol of the solid and enviable characteristics of a typical Ondo State person who is resilient, sportive, daring, adventurous, hardworking, responsible, reliable, dogged, solid, with uncanny ability to survive against all odds,” he added.
These characteristics, he stressed, must be imbibed, transmitted from generation to generation and packaged as core values of reference for generations yet unborn, with a particular relationship to a physical structure of reality which Mare stands for.
Mimiko further enthused: “We can see the Mare as it stands solid, erect, and strong, resiliently defying the odds against its survival and refusing to bow to the repressive forces of nature.”
The Marathon Race of unity
One of the beauties of the Mare festival is its nationalistic and global appeal, as it has the capacity to draw competitors from all over Nigeria and beyond.
The marathon race, which kicked off at the Akure Stadium and ended at the foot of the mountain at the Methodist Primary School, was won by non-indigenes. A participant from Imo State won the female category of the marathon while John Onye from Jos, Plateau State, won the male category of the race. Each went home with $1,500.
Onye said after the event: “My coach told me about this exciting competition in Jos sometimes in March. When I was told about the competition, I dreamt that I won; and thank God I was able to actualise what I saw in my dream and I am a proud owner of $1500. I commend the governor of Ondo State for coming out with this brand of competition.”
Paul Riyel, a South African who was one of the mountain climbers, said “Nigeria is lucky to have been blessed with numerous kinds of mountains which can be harnessed for economic and social development, like what Governor Mimiko is doing with these ones. This is a product of being cosmopolitan and resourceful in outlook.
“I appreciate the governor for seeing the enormous resources in these mountains and his agrarian efforts at enhancing them for economic development and growth of his state. I am in love with these lovely mountains, beautiful place, fantastic and hospitable people. They have really impressed me. I am looking forward to seeing next year.”
Abdul Usman, a trader from Kano, said: “Honestly speaking, this festival has proved itself to be beyond dancing and climbing of mountains. To me, it is an economic emancipation event, which the governor must have smartly designed to mobilise wealth, create fun and lubricate the economy of state.
Commenting on the festival, the state Commissioner for Information, Media and Strategy, Mr Kayode Akinmade, said: “For me as an indigene of Idanre, it is a big blessing in terms of exposure of the town to global attention, not by the famous Idanre Hills, but of having another intercontinental tourism product – Mare, which has always ensured the visitation of over 4000 people to Idanre whenever it is being celebrated, with the fall-out of this on the economy of my people.
“Good governance does not only entail the provision of infrastructure, protection of life and property of the citizenry and engendering super policies, but includes the ability of the government to meet the social-cultural expectations of the people in such a way that will not only brighten their lives, but also aid their economic prosperity.
“Good governance cannot just be limited to physical development of a state via provision of roads, education infrastructure, health services or security without assisting the people in the rejuvenation of the culture, norms, mores and traditional values that make them who they are.
“A good government must be able to take cognisance of the totality of the needs of its people. Provision of infrastructure and execution of grandiose projects without aligning these with the socio-cultural expectations of the people has been found to be antithetical to development and growth.
“A sitting governor must attend to the social and emotional well being of his people in a way that will enhance their economic prosperity, since a culturally, socially and psychologically happy set of people will naturally be decent, reasonable, and emotionally balanced to consummate, appreciate, interpret and embrace whatever a governor is doing in a state,” he said.
The above summed up the efforts of Governor Mimiko, indigenes of Idanre and the people of the state as they celebrated the fourth Mare Mountain Climbing Festival, which started on Thursday, December 13 and ended on December 15, 2012.
Lauding the inauguration of Mare, the Owa of Idanre, Oba Fredrick Aroloye, said: “My people are most grateful for the inauguration of Mare Mountain climbing festival by Governor Mimiko. I am particularly happy that this festival has over the past year metamorphosed from a mere socio-cultural jamboree, which enhances our core values and norms, to a wealth-mobilising event whose economic value will reverberate till March next year in the town.
“Mare to us is a step taken by the government to boost the economy of my kingdom first, attracting investors and tourists to Ondo State in particular and boosting the tourism image of Nigeria. It is one festival that I am fond of and I urge those who have not created the time or had the opportunity to witness Mare to make a date with us next year.