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Ajukwu : The Night Mask in Nigerian Politics

Dr. Chimalum Nwankwo
In certain parts of my home State, there are great masquerades known for their multi-plex capabilities and potency as ancestral spirits at festival times.

Their characters and images speak to so many things at once. The Agaba and the Mgbedike probably top the list in their violent excursions, cult medicine aided, when gatherings demand agitation and the motions and gyrations associated with pain and pleasure at once. It is the funeral of a stalwart.

There is cosmic tragedy. Some festival of renewal with ancestral spirits is at play. It is , in short some kind of grand event.These are masquerades whose fanfares are abrasive and unapologetic . There is of course the Ijele, known for its excess and grandeur.

There is the stilt riding Izaga, elegant and ungainly at once.There is the Ojionu, whose restlessness whether at rest or in his prance of a dance and witty twits is another vortex of excess. There are quite a few remarkable others, and it is pointless to name or keep naming to exhaust the list.

I talk about these masked spirits because of what they represent in relation to the cult of ancestors, muo, mmonwu, mmanwu. There is  a dignity and pride they bring to all ceremonies and celebrations…those cultic mysterious spirits.

I have not included in my list a masked spirit called the Ajukwu which operates only at nights. If he has dignity or pride, nobody knows.

The music and drums which summon this spirit is reflective of something so deeply cultic and insidious and menacing that not even his acolytes want to be associated with him during the day.Even during those rare night outings, the whole ritual of appearance is like a secret initiation, forbidding in its access with its ambiances of evil.

The experience comes with such exhausted fear and drain of positive feeling that by early morning when the whole show terminates in fatigue and pointless fear, the audience goes home with little or no memory of what ought to have been the cleansing from all great rituals and drama. This thing is strange…because despite such conclusion, expectation and suspense follow the audience home.

Contemplating present day Nigerian politics, a politics of all comers, makes one wander into all kinds of strange alleys of consciousness searching for answers.We cannot dispute that we are a people of excess. So do the day time beautiful masquerades in our politics cut it in the dignity and pride we associate with conventional day time performance whether it is with excess or no excess?

Or have all degenerated into the insidious and cultic and menacing and tragic pointlessness of the Ajukwu, the night masked spirit? Perhaps we should just look at the politics and politicians as the night audience looks at that night masked spirit, shrug our shoulders and walk away in perplexity and wonder…But why these dark reflections ?

They were driven by the unprecedented character of the politics surrounding the Nigerian presidency. After weeks of agon and agony regarding the absence and ill-health of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the giant of Africa, with a population of around 150 million people, the drama wins shoddy and botchy resolution with the president returning into the country like the drama of the night masked spirit. What kind of resolution is that? Does the country  not have some shame left in her consciousness?

The presidency sneaking back to his country via a bizarre dramatic performance ? Do Nigerians understand how ridiculous the country looks in the eyes of the world?

Can these politicians not see that if they had been telling the truth to the nation and the world about the President’s health, that return was a grand opportunity for the man to stand before the national and world press and affirm that truth with an address that dispatches the entire humiliating controversy with finality.

Such would have thereby saved everybody’s face : the presidency, the opticians,the whole nation. Making the return an Ajukwu night masked spirit show only says something like you guys aint seen nothing yet. Tighten your seat belts. To be continued…

Most truly patriotic Nigerians who live abroad now share one collective prayer. May the president live long. If he does not, a transition under the present circumstances will be an international tabloid festival.

As a country, the Nigerian nation is already damaged goods with so much trivialized in dignity and integrity. Nigerians have neither been kind nor thoughtful regarding  Providence and her largess of endowments.

Let the various masquerades keep on performing, but the country should probably show more care in the manner it courts the dark cultic spirit of the night to perform for the world especially at the wrong hour.

Dr. Chimalum Nwankwo
Professor of English North Carolina A&T State University Greensboro


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