Thrills and ills of street carnivals

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In this festive season, many streets in the city of Lagos are awash with announcements and actual staging of carnivals and music jams which draw both the young and the old. While this celebration has its thrills and frills, it equally has its ills, reports SAMUEL AWOYINFA

For those who are observant, many streets and estates in Lagos are currently festooned with colourful banners, ballons and decorations. For some, the banners proclaim the name of the carnival or street jams slated to be held between the December 25 and December 31, 2012.

For others, the names of the streets or the acronym coined for the carnival feature prominently on the banners.

Indeed, this has become an annual festivity of sorts in the City of Excellence. And from Lagos Island, where such carnival originated, it has spread to other parts of Lagos.

The carnivals actually dates back to the 19th century. History has it that during the 1850s, there was an influx into Lagos of educated Africans who had earlier been sold as slaves, from Sierra Leone, Brazil and Cuba. The Sierra Leoneans were known as Akus or Saros, the Brazilians and Cubans as Agudas.

In the 1880s there were four distinct groups in Lagos – the Europeans, the educated Africans (Saros), the Brazilians and the natives.

The town was physically divided into four quarters corresponding to these groups. Fanti Carnival was brought to Lagos Island by the Brazilians who settled around Campos area on Lagos Island. The carnival comes up thrice a year: Boxing Day, Easter Monday (the first celebration after Lent and Easter Sunday) and on New Year’s Day.

With time, the people living in Lafiaji area, also on Lagos Island, started participating in the carnival. Later on, other areas of Lagos, such as Obalende, Surulere, Yaba, among others, caught the carnival bug.

Streets festooned with banners and decorations

Our correspondent who went round town on Thursday saw many streets and estates already adorned with banners and Christmas decorations. On these banners were dates the carnivals would hold. The dates ranged from December 25, 2012 to January 1, 2013. Youths mainly take the lead in the preparation and eventual organisation of the events.

Raising money for the carnivals

While some streets have well-to-do landlords and/or sponsors who bankroll the carnivals, some youths actually contribute money and also mount checkpoints on entrances to their streets to raise funds.

From the island to the mainland, youths manned strategic entry or exit points on their streets, where they solicit funds from motorists who pass through. Some also print stickers which they sell to commercial motorcycle riders’ units and commercial bus operators in motor parks; while some also print special carnival envelopes which they give to business/shop owners, churches and mosques to raise money.

Procession, funfair, dance, music rent the air

Between December 25, 2012 and January 1, 2013, depending on the specific date picked by each group, the D-Day is a day of fun, merriment, reunion, music and entertainment. For many of these groups, the day begins with a procession, accompanied by drumming from the Boys’ Brigade band. Some groups adorn specially made T-shirts with preferred colours; some might choose ankara fabrics and yet some others might just allow their members to wear whatever please them.

The procession moves round their area, with a lot of dancing and merriment, and it makes stop-overs at houses of important members of the street/estate, where they get sprayed money or showered with prayers or both.

Some appoint queens and kings who normally ride on horses to make it more colourful and visually appealing. The procession usually kicks off either early in the morning or sometimes in early evening.

Night dance, merriment and entertainment

Some of the street carnival organisers pay to hire either disc jockeys or established musicians, depending on their budget. Some disc jockeys charge as high as N200,000 per night, while some others charge as low as N50,000. It all depends on the popularity of the disc jockey concerned.

Some groups who are more buoyant financially invite top fuji musicians like Pasuma, Saheed Osupa among others to give them a treat.

The groups are joined by friends, relations and others from far and near, who just want to be part of the merriment. Some who had relocated from those areas see this period as a time of reunion and they come to join in the celebration.

The show usually lasts till the wee-hours of the following day, when everyone disperses to their respective destinations until the next celebration.

Violence and the carnivals

Though the carnivals were meant to serve as unifying force for residents of respective localities, however, in recent times, violence has almost become the hallmark of most carnival nights, resulting in death in some extreme cases. Indeed, some rival groups have turned the venues of the event into the theatres of ‘war.’

As alcoholic drinks and, more often than not, illicit drugs such as marijuana are usually in good supply, there is the likelihood of irrational behaviour among participants.

Some guests have reportedly had their valuables such as cash and handsets snatched by hoodlums who throng some of the carnival venues, most times uninvited. They lay siege to those who might be leaving the venue before dawn.

What people say about carnivals

Ace actor and producer, Mr. Tunji Bamishigbin, who had some of his formative years on the Island said he used to visit Campos area to watch the carnival train.

He said, “In the early 1960s, I used to go to Campos on the Lagos Island to watch the carnival train, usually staged by Nigerians of Brazilian descent. People came from other parts of the Island such as Ofin, Isale Eko among others to watch the carnival. It was such a spectacle, with the performers painting their faces. With time, the carnival had improved in both costuming and scope.”

Another carnival enthusiast, Mr. Muyiwa Oladunni, who once headed the West Coast group at Jakande Low Cost Housing Estate, Isolo, noted that there was nothing evil about carnivals but rather, “they are staged for fun, entertainment and a kind of reunion.”

Also, 60-year-old Mrs. Caroline Oluleke, said she had never missed any of the carnivals staged in the estate where she lives since they started 14 years ago. She stated, “I have never missed any of the carnivals since they were initiated 14 years ago. On one occasion when some people spoke against it in the church, that carnival was evil, I told them that that was not correct, because we do not worship any demon when stageing it.”

Security arrangement

Some of the organisers provide their own security, while some others liaise with the men of the Nigeria Police to provide security cover for them and their guests.

However, the spokesperson, Lagos Police Command, Ms. Ngozi Braide, said the Divisional Police Officers of each area in Lagos had been put on the alert, and they had been instructed by the commissioner to lead the operation each time there was any distress call.

She said, “We shall be employing visibility policing all over Lagos. So, all areas where these carnivals would hold shall be covered to mitigate any form of violence or crime.”

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