Unmasking The ‘Useless’ Masquerade

May my pen never get me into great trouble.
What was I ever thinking choosing the above title? Unmask the masquerade? Abomination!
Years ago, as a little boy, I voluntarily, and with the approval, moral and financial support of my very dear father, got initiated into the ranks of masquerade guild. I would rather use ‘guild’ and refuse to use the word ‘cult’ with all its negative connotations.
Initiation into the masquerade guild in my hometown is a true rite of passage.

I am conscious of the fact that my audience includes so much of the uninitiated Ogbodu, Ofeke. And I am talking strictly of all-male affair, because the issue of masquerade is strictly a male affair in Obosi, my hometown. Obosi is located in Idemili North Local Government Area of Anambra State, South-East geopolitical zone of Nigeria.
It is not male chauvinism that masquerade matter is an all- male affair in Obosi. That is just the way I met it. And that is the way it has remained. But I surely can divulge, with all the authority of a veteran initiate, that, in the course of the initiation process, initiates swear an oath severally to be good and obedient sons to their mothers. What greater tribute to womanhood?
I have no qualms about identifying with masquerades, for being an initiate has inculcated values that forged me into who I am. I am so much of a man that realises so much that my very manhood is intricately-woven into my respecting womanhood.

Therefore, I have always been a keen aficionado of masquerades. What greater entertainment fare than a full ensemble of Ijele? Ajukwu? Ozokwankpo? Odogwuanyanme? Odum? I could go on and on. And what about the masquerades that are restricted to the moonless dead-of-night, all lights switched off and the locality pitch-black, the masquerades’ rare outings a true test of a fresh initiate’s courage. The realm of Nmuo Uchichi,Nmuo Abani, Omegwelanya is not for the faint-hearted. Masquerades, as in the make-up of the various societies where they are found, come in various shapes and shades of colour and character. There are the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful, all serving their respective useful roles in their respective settings.
Masquerades are a vital, vibrant and integral part of the culturallyrich tradition of theatre in Igboland and a number of other African societies. Apart from the village squares during festivities, homesteads are also ready-made stages during such festivities and obsequies for initiates, for performances by masquerades.
What veritable vibrant village square the Nigerian maritime industry is! What a variety of masquerades haunt this village square! And what interesting performances by these masquerades!

So many many years ago in Obosi, as I heard told, there was a certain masquerade Dike funanya okwe. And dike funanya okwe is also a favorite saying by my beloved Obosi people. Simply put, dike funanya okwe implies that the man believes what the eyes behold; seeing is believing.
Dike funanya okwe jumped to my mind, following the pronouncement by the Comptroller-General, Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Alhaji Dikko Inde Abdullahi, to the effect that a 13-member Joint Monitoring and Compliance Committee would promptly be constituted to help address challenges before importers and bring these before the Customs top brass. A bold initiative indeed! The Customs chief announced the then proposed committee Tuesday, March 13, 2012, at the maiden town hall meeting he had with importers at no other remarkable venue than the Lagos International Trade Fair Complex, Lagos-Badagry Expressway.
Abdullahi’s statement was in the realm of dike funanya okwe; not until it was actualised, transforming into dike funanya kwe the man has seen and believes. That fateful Tuesday, the Customs helmsman hinted that the committee would comprise, among others, five importers, three Customs agents, and four senior Customs officers, including the Zone ‘A’ Zonal Coordinator, Assistant Comptroller-General Mohammed Uthman, the Controller, Zone ‘A’ Federal Operations Unit (FOU), Comptroller Dan Ugo. And most interesting is the inclusion of a journalist in the team.
The full list of the committee’s members has since been released, their numbers now increased to 18, including nine importers, three Customs agents, the aforementioned Customs Zone ‘A’ Coordinator and Zone ‘A’ FOU Controller, as well as the Customs Area Controllers (CAC) of Apapa Area I Command, Lilypond Area Command and Tin-Can Island Port Area Command, respectively.

The last, and certainly not the least, is the lone journalist nominee on the committee. The nomination is truly good music to the ears of yours truly. My prayer had been that let it be a real journalist; not one from the midst of the horde of real journalists, who have backslid or lost it totally, pseudo-journalists, and outright quacks or fakes that bedevil the maritime beat and form the basis of the contempt with which certain organisations and individuals deal with the press.
That the Customs top brass considers journalists relevant enough stakeholders to appoint one of them into such a critical committee is quite laudable. I must state that it is revolutionary. Even if the NCS is not particularly imbued with revolutionary zeal, going by the snail speed of the much-touted automation of its operations over the years.
The Customs chief’s appointment of a journalist as a member of that committee came a day after the Service bounced the media from a stakeholders’ forum at the Conference Hall, Apapa Area 1 of the NCS. After Abdullahi’s opening remarks at that event, the Master of Ceremony and the Deputy Service Public Relations Officer, Chief Superintendent Joseph Attah, told his so-called “colleagues” from the press to excuse themselves from the gathering and vacate the venue for the main business of the day – that of the Customs chief’s consultation with other stakeholders, comprising mostly Customs agents.

If one practices active and real journalism for a while, you are bound to get inured to a whole phalanx of issues. The experienced active journalist learns soon enough to maintain personal and professional dignity, while not being fixated on certain indignities in the firing line and allowing these to interfere with the efficient execution of the societal watchdog brief.
Being sent ceremoniously or unceremoniously out in the course of an event, or being shut out the closed doors of certain meetings are burdens the serious journalist bears. But certain insults are unbearable. And many misguided souls in the Nigeria Customs are apparently purveyors of these insults in abundance.

The person, who brings home ant-infested faggot, invites lizards to a feast, goes the saying. If this be the case, journalism is getting a raw deal at the hands of certain Customs personnel and the Service itself, as well as certain other persons and organisations in the maritime beat for the simple reason that the profession has lost so much face in the wake of the invasion by carpet baggers. ‘Journalists’ routinely would flood an event, either officially or unofficially invited, claiming to represent one medium or the other, but, in the end, only a tiny fraction of the so-called journalists ever report. Freebies are what rule these pseudo-journalists.
Freebies are their mantra. For the true journalist, there must be a passion for the written word, and for the spoken word. The true journalist loves to write the word to be read. The true journalist loves to write the word to be heard in a radio or television broadcast. It is the passion to report, the passion to write, that consoles when difficult times occur in the course of the job.
Shame affects the whole body and does not restrict itself to the face, goes the saying.

Hardworking journalists on the maritime beat are full of angst about the demeaning antics of the laggards.
These pseudo-journalists, and their charade, like the fabled deviant masquerade in the village square, deserve to be unmasked for sanity to prevail in the industry. The useless masquerade deserves to be banished from the village square.

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