2023: Nigeria’s dance of the masquerades and quadrennial costume party | Dailytrust

2023: Nigeria’s dance of the masquerades and quadrennial costume party

Every harvest season, Nigerians in villages are treated to a spectacular street party of music, dance, feast and bazaar. In most cultures, it is the season where the ‘ancestors’ emerge from antiquities, dust off their masquerade costumes of straw, sisal and menacing masks and dance with the agility of the spritely uncle or brother who lives down the street, the one who is conspicuously missing at the carnival.

The elections season in this country is like the harvest season. It is that time of the year when politicians, like masquerades, big and small, some long-forgotten, emerge from the rafters to stage one of the most elaborate costume parties one would ever see. It has everything: the dancing, the uniformed dresses, and the habitual acts of cruelty — after all, this is the one spectacle where the performers, the masquerades, revel in chasing down spectators and flogging the daylights out of them as if they are stray animals that dipped their snouts in the soup pot.

As the season approaches, politicians’ aides will devote more time to selecting their principals’ wardrobes than they would to develop a convincing manifesto. Some lucky tailors will be busy, rattling out costume after costume (and I deliberately chose the word costume because this is a performance, you see.). For some of these tailors, Christmas and Sallah rush is child’s play compared to this.

Those who have witnessed this performance before will not be surprised to see a Bola Tinubu in a suit, or a Yemi Osinbajo in babban riga and turban, with a tasbaha to boot and as usual, Atiku Abubakar would most likely make an appearance in black lion-head emblazoned Igbo Isiagu and don’t bet against a Peter Obi appearing in a Fulani attire.

As the campaign heats up, aspirants and candidates, when they emerge, will burn through several costume changes to put on a performance for the electorate. They will do so to identify with various ethnic groups. It will be all too entertaining, especially if a wardrobe malfunction or epic bad tailoring, say for example the Ganduje Karota uniform debacle or that Buhari trousers in his costume in Imo makes an appearance. Often these provide fodder for social media chatter for a week or so. A bad costume appearance could derail a whole event. Not many people remember what the president said in Imo, not that he said much though, but they remember how those badly tailored trousers made him look. And that is the problem with all these stagings.

The focus often centres too much on the spectacle of ungainly, ungraceful, and unpracticed models in a cultural attire parade and too little on the issues that should matter—how to tackle insecurity or the crisis in the education sector etc.

In 2015 for example, President Buhari changed his costume for every part of the country he went to—dressing up in the Niger Delta etibo with a bowler hat, the Igbo’s isiagu, the Yoruba’s asooke, and even making the rarest appearance in a suit on some campaign posters. In the end, throughout his nationwide campaign, he spoke for a total of fifty-something minutes. At most rallies, he would speak for between two and three minutes, most of which will be to chant the party’s initials and wave the broom. How that is enough to sell his policies or sufficiently justify any realistic grasp of the issues troubling the country, not to talk of the place he is visiting, is beyond reasoning.

But that is not just a Buhari thing, all politicians across party lines do that. Campaigns in Nigeria are not about discussing policies or manifestoes. They are jamborees for broom, corncobs or umbrella waving dances. Most times, politicians encourage this behaviour because it is an excuse not to show how unprepared they are for governance, or gets them out of saying things they will be held accountable for. It is not a new trend either. There is a grainy video clip of Chief Obafemi Awolowo shutting down the party at his campaign rally saying if the crowd insisted on dancing the day away, he would not have the chance to say what needed to be said.

But it is known, and has been known for long, that Nigerians love parties. We love dancing in the harsh sun and in the rain. Nigerians will laugh and dance through hardship. Our campaign rallies are often organised like carnivals, often meaningless jamborees of rented crowds who would cheer and dance their hearts out for one candidate one day and then do the same for his rival the next day.

At the end of these parties, Nigerians leave, not with the assurance of a better country, because they have in fact been sold a dummy, but with packs of noodles and soap and N1,500 for their trouble. That is how much our country costs.

These jamborees and costume parties are nothing but sleight of hand, the same old trick that has been used by politicians who will sooner disassociate themselves from the tribes in whose regalia they have stood waving brooms or umbrellas before elections, mouthing greetings in those languages, greetings hurriedly learnt, with little or no interest in the people or the culture, other than the votes. People are often too much in a hurry to disassociate with the moment votes are counted.

Remember that uncle that goes missing just before the masquerade ball, the man the masquerade ends up dancing like, well, this is the deal. Election seasons are like masquerade dances. They are colourful, entertaining, crowdy and ultimately, full of deception. Nigerians would do well, this time at least, to keep their eyes on the ball.

It gets worse, you see. This time, some clowns have decided to kickstart the costume party early. You might have seen the video of some men holding assault rifles in one hand, and Godwin Emefiele’s posters in the other faces covered in Ku Klux Klan-like costumes, effectively threatening Nigerians to choose between the poster and the gun.

How did we get here? Because as a country, we haven’t always had a choice. From one dictator to another, those who wielded big guns and unleashed khaki boys with kobokos to beat us into submission, Nigerians have had little choice in the matter of how they are governed and by whom. But since we have had the chance to choose—and that too is not as clear as it should be—we have made the wrong choices, mostly because the parties have presented us with the wrong choices.

If we don’t get this one right, and chances are high that we still won’t, then there is a real danger that every day will become a costume party, with costumed brigands, heads wrapped in turbans or KKK-style sacks over their faces, running the country, punching the buttons of governance with the blood-stained barrel of their rifles, while those we sold the country to for noodles, soaps and N1, 500 cower behind the walls of the villa, issuing inane statements to condemn our killing and massacre and avoidable deaths.

But, wait! Isn’t every day already a costume party of the horrible kind?

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