Dramatic slices from a people’s protest


Maureen Azuh captures some of the dramatic enactments that punctuate the pro-subsidy rally holding at Ojota, Lagos

Drama is usually associated with acting, while ritual is often seen as a complex medium of acts, with the purpose of reaffirming beliefs as well as culture in every community.  As the protest against the removal of fuel subsidy entered its fourth day on Thursday, a lot of events unfolded.  Of course,  most were quite different from the original intent of the organisers.

But then, these side attractions turned out to be dramatic as well as entertaining. The most outstanding is the ritual dance  by different individuals. They were not planned, but that did not in any way erode their entertainment value as well as their place in reaffirming the cultural belief of the people.

In Yoruba land, and most parts of Nigeria, palm oil represents peace while eko (cold pap) is mostly used for appeasement. Perhaps, in an attempt to suggest that the government may have to make some sacrifices to appease the masses, for peace to reign,  a protester attracted a huge followership when he filled a black clay pot with eko and palm oil and danced wildly round the park.

Another protester had an effigy of a woman in one hand and a tusk in another. He would intermittently take a sip from a bottle of gin, spat at the tusk and spoke to the effigy inaudibly. After this,  he broke into a wild run;  stopped, threw back his head and let out a wild laughter.

Yet another protester filled a calabash  with boiled yam, oranges, raw meat, boiled eggs and palm oil. He walked round the arena for a while with the calabash on his head and stopped at a spot. Then suddenly, he held the calabash in his hands, made some incantation and smashed it on the ground.

Although it was not clear what the meanings of these dramatic displays were,  the spectators had so much fun watching and running after the performers that they completely forgot about the protest speeches that were being made. Most of them- were more engrossed in the entertaining performances.

Perhaps, the most bizzare came from a young man dressed in a white robe and carrying a black box on his head. He claimed to be President Goodluck Jonathan.

“I am Jonathan,” he chanted.  Immediately, some people spat on him, some beat him lightly while some others dragged him on the ground.  But according to one of the performers, simply identified as Waheed, it was just his own way of protesting.

However, that was not all about the side attractions. A group with the inscription,  ‘O Le Ku ‘on their white and green T-shirts,  stationed  itself at a corner of the park, entertaining protesters with dance and drama to reflect the mood of the strike.

There was also a  man decked only in white pants. His face was equally marked with white chalk.  He was called ‘fake Fela’. At a glance, he cut the picture of legendary Afro-beat singer, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, whose songs also boomed from the speakers.

The weirdest of the dramas came from some people who carried mock coffins with various inscriptions on them.
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