Gaani festival; is celebrated annually among the Bartonum of the old Borgu Empire in Baruten and Raima Local Government Areas of Kwara, Borgu in Niger; and Nikki, a community administered by Borgou Department of the Republic of Benin. Gaani festival attracts people from Kishi and Igboho in Oyo State, New Bussa, Yashikira, Okuta, Gwanara and Ilesha-Baruba in Niger State; and Nikki, Paraku, Kandi, Kounde and Segbana in the Republic of Benin. Anthropologists note that Gaani, a popular festival among the people of some border communities in Nigeria, is usually celebrated during Eid-el-Fitr and Eid-el Kabir Muslim festivals.The uniqueness of the festival lies in its ability to promote fraternal relations between some Nigerians and their kinsmen in the Republic of Benin wherever any edition of the festival is taking place, citizens of the two countries in the border region will cross the border to celebrate it.
Gaani cultural festival has fostered relations among the residents of some border communities in Borgu, Kwara State, and the citizens of the Republic of Benin. Borgu extends from the northeastern and eastern bank of River Niger to the rain forest in the heart of the Southwest geopolitical zone of Nigeria. Following the 1898 Anglo-French pact, Borgu land was partitioned into British and French Borgu, which fell within the domains of Nigeria and the Republic of Benin respectively. Inhabitants of the neighbourhood are variously referred to as Bariba and Borgawa by their Yoruba and Hausa neighbours respectively. The historians observe that the residents of the area are not a homogeneous group, adding that they are, nonetheless, brought together by their ruling class who shares the same ancestry.
Gaani festival begins in Nikki town, the headquarters of the old Borgu Empire, every year. Other emirates under the empire, majority of which are in Nigeria, will subsequently announce their festival days based on their hierarchical positions in the empire. Various events are usually lined up from Fridays to Sundays in any edition of the festival. On the first day – the eve of Gaani festival – is usually set aside for the display of various types of drumbeating which are peculiar to the people’s culture at the emir’s palace. On this day, the elderly will converge on the palace and praise singers will perform; prince and princesses will also come home from their various places to meet and interact till dawn. The real festival day is Saturday when the emir will ‘visit’ the ancestors early in the morning, offer prayers and some sacrifices for the peace and development of the communities. Activities resume in the festival arena later in the afternoon and the monarch will deliver the message of the year to the people, while cultural activities will begin. The festival features horse riding skills, different cultural dances and acrobatic displays, among others. The third day is for the departure of guests and in some cases, some distinguished personalities are honoured with traditional titles.
The festival began as a way for Bartonum people to express happiness about the birth of Prophet Mohammed; and also, in the Bartonum mythology, that period falls within the period when the people migrated from the east to their modern location. Those who are in the eastern part of the Republic of Benin and the people from Kishi, Igboho; Kaiama, New Bussa, Yashikira, Okuta, Gwanara and Ilesha-Baruba in Nigeria belonged to the Nikki ancestry before the colonial period[i].
[i] Tribune, March 29, 2014