….We’re doing our job —Police
By Austin Ogwuda
ENUGU—CULTURE is universally seen as a distinctive body of beliefs and social institutions that characterize a given society.
Therefore, Enugu State is not far removed from the cultures of other Igbo race east of the Niger as initiation into the Ozo title, igbankwu (traditional marriage) and burial rites, to mention but just a few, are celebrated with great admiration and splendour.
Likewise, the people of the state have a variety of cultural activities that include masquerade dancing parade (mmanwu) and new yam festival which are two predominantly annual Igbo traditional festivals that the indigenes, residents and tourists look forward to.
The new yam festival also known as iwa ji is celebrated between August and October, marking the harvesting and feasting of the new yam, a cultural symbol for the Igbo people while the mmanwu festival takes place in November and features various types of masquerades.
And symbolically too, each of the masquerades has its distinctive name and usually held at the Okpara Square in Enugu, in a carnival-like manner.
Enugu State is not alone in showcasing their array of masquerades. The sanctity of appearance of any masquerade in the country, be it in Enugu, Anambra, Oyo, Delta, Kano, Kogi, holds sway as it draws that eerie that makes the non-initiates to scamper for safety.
However, there is an introduction of a new dimension as masquerades, which was unheard of in the early 60’s and 70’s, are now being arrested by the police for allegedly committing one crime or the other.
A chronicle of events showed that on June 28, 2013, a masquerade was arrested for allegedly stabbing a 60-year-old man, one Emma Nnamani, to death in Enugu.
The suspect, who wore the masquerade, according to police report, stabbed the victim in the lower abdomen.
And only a forthngiht ago, an Anglican priest, identified as Reverend Christian Ajibo was mercilessly beaten up and stabbed by a three-man masquerade gang. The suspects were promptly arrested.
The arrest desecration of custom, tradition —Igwe
Piqued by the arrest of the masquerade, a traditional ruler in one of the autonomous communities in the state, who begged for anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the crime allegedly committed by the “masqueraders,” told South East Voice, that the arrest was a desecration.
According to him, “no matter the crime, a masquerade is supposed to be revered. They are spirit beings from the ancestors. I am totally against the arrest. This is what the police should consult the Igwe of the community for and sort things out amicably,” he fumed.
We’re doing our job —PPRO
Reacting, the Enugu State Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, Mr. Ebere Amaraizu described the defence put up by the unnamed traditional ruler as a bunkum.
“How can he say that? We (police) are doing our lawful job. If the masquerade was doing its own thing, dancing and going about without committing crime, we could not have been involved. Are you saying that people should hide under the canopy of playing masquerade to commit crime and we should keep quiet, even when they kill? Not so!” he added.
On whether he would be charging the masquerade to a law court, the PPRO said “the people who wore the masquer- ade we arrested would be charged to court after concluding our investigation. Their masquerade regalia found with them would be tendered as exhibits.
“Operatives of the Igboeze North division of the Enugu State command of the Nigeria police nabbed three suspects (names withheld), all of Igogoro Enugu Ezike Igbo-Eze North Local Government Area of Enugu State for allegedly conspiring to beat and stab one Reverend Christain Ajibo, an Anglican priest last Thursday with dagger on the right side of his chest.
“It was further gathered that the suspects allegedly perpetrated the act while in masquerade, but were later identified and during the time, also damaged the victim’s car and stole his money,” the PPRO stated.
The phenomenon of arresting masquerades is not peculiar to Enugu State alone.
Investigation showed that in December 2014, some military men attached to Koko community in Warri North council area of Delta State arrested four masquerades, a number of elderly men and youths after a clash with the members of the community. The bloody encounter was said to have started during their masquerade display when they accosted a soldier in a mufti.
Also, sometime ago, the Ekiti State Police command arrested a masquerade and four other suspected armed robbers during a shoot-out in Ado-Ekiti.The list of masquerades breaching the peace in the society is endless.