The Lagos masquerade is woke. (Woke, for the uninitiated, has been elevated on the conventional Parts of Speech ladder: it has upgraded from being a bland, rural ‘verb’––the distant cousin of ‘wake’––to a modern, sophisticated ‘adjective’, now used as by-word for being socially aware or, as we say in Nigerian local parlance, ‘Soji’).
Now, the above is no conjecture; it’s a statement of ‘fact’ premised on a long period of unscientific observations around Lagos and environs.
I grew up in Igando part of Lagos where masquerades and their performances were an integral aspect of communal life in the town. They came out and brought glitz to the week-long annual traditional festival, observed around May or thereabouts. Their roles, their costume, their names––everything about them––spoke to a deeply traditional aspect of the people’s heritage. Of course there were a few recalcitrant ones among them, who deviated from the rules of engagement, but they were largely few and far between.
In Ibadan, masquerades were largely notorious for their violent tendencies. The coming of the Oloolus and Alapansanpas and the Jalarurus of this world brought with it a bitter-sweet mixture of palpable fears and wild excitement, until the government came in to contain them.
But the contemporary Lagos masquerade, particularly the one around Ojuelegba Underbridge, has no time for violence nor pretensions to culture preservation. He is out there for commerce; no ifs, no buts.
First, an examination of the name.
There is a tendency that the claim might afterall be apocryphal but the street has it that a couple of them now flaunt their wokeness by adopting funky names––– ‘Dorrobucci’, ‘Eegun Swagger’, ‘Shangalo’…and the list goes on. Placed against traditional names like Ogbonkoko, Onipepe, Akerejeunbiodo, the new names are multi-purpose: they serve as both objects of demystification and commercial bait. The logic is that you can only patronize, and indeed spray money on, the one you find endearing.
Now, take “Eegun doro” or more appropriately now, ‘Dorobucci’, as an example, a creative appropriation of Mavin’s smash hit of same title. Funky, lovable, melodious, hippy and easy to pronounce, ‘Dorobucci’; it makes a mess of ‘Akerejeunbiodo’, a scary, deeply provincial and difficult-to-pronounce nomenclature. Now, that’s wokeness!
Again, the wokeness extends to the demeanour.
The traditional masquerade goes around with a mixed bag of authority and notoriety, two factors from which he garnered the mysticism built around him. The old masquerade does not defecate nor urinate; neither does he eat. If he did, it was in the dark recesses of their meeting point, away from the full glare of everyone inside the Igbale.
But the Lagos masquerade enjoys doughnut and Òpà, eats ice-cream, fancies designer wears, has earpiece hung around his ears, dances to Davido’s smash hit, FIA, and, well, loves backwardly-endowed women. When he feels pressed, he knows the way to the public toilet under the Ojuelegba bridge.
The magic of the masquerade, any masquerade, is in the shared delusion that he isn’t part of us, the mystical thought that he isn’t of this earth; that he is Heavenly, an Ará òrun kìn-kìn. The Lagos masquerade isn’t cut out for such traditional, nay nonsensical, pretensions: he is a super-woke earthly entrepreneur in the regalia of an Ará òrun.
So at Ojuelegba UnderBridge, he doesn’t court poor, recession-stricken passers-by. But when he sees the rich, or any Lagosian who masquerades as one, he jumps and dances and, again, does some artless gymnastics, not for some mundane tradition or culture, but for commerce. Wokeness!
The Lagos masquerade offers a textbook analysis on the never-seen-before ingenuity of the Nigerian, no, Lagos, spirit. And it is a shame that at the Lagos Business School, he isn’t offered a professorial position by those bookish, turenchi-speaking professors who can barely run a Mai Shai business successfully.
Stripped of all pretensions, his template should make an eye-opening strategy for Nigeria’s army of unemployed youth: that with sheer ingenuity, one could deploy the art of the heavenly on this earth, not for the growth of Lagos culture or some tradition, but for the fatness of one’s own pocket and, who knows, bank account.
With that, ultimately, the solution to youth restiveness isn’t far-fetched. Of course, a few violent youth would be taken away from the grip of selfish politicians, and end up being placed in a safer position outside the youth unemployment net.
The society should be better for it.