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LAGOS STREET CARNIVALS

By NBF News
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He was full of life and held hopes of a better future for his family. Michael Afolabi graduated from the Polytechnic Ibadan, in flying colours and the quest for greener pastures led him to Hong Kong. After years of sojourn abroad, he decided to visit home to celebrate the Christmas and New Year with his family at Jakande Estate, Ilasan, in Lekki area of Lagos.

That decision proved to be a deadly one that cost him his life. The young man met his untimely death in the wee hours of January 1, 2011, in the hands of revellers while returning from a church service.

The late Michael's offence was having the effrontery to demand an apology after one of the youths that organised the street jamboree had poured alcohol on him. His demand for apology degenerated into a scuffle and he was reportedly beaten to a pulp, doused with more alcohol and then stabbed on the neck. He gave up the ghost while being rushed to the hospital for treatment.

On January 8, 2011, another street carnival held at Iwaya, Yaba, nearly snowballed into a cult war when miscreants from Makoko returned for a reprisal attack after having been beaten black and blue. According to reports, the Makoko boys had gate-crashed into the Iwaya carnival and were chased away but they regrouped days later to unleash mayhem on innocent residents and motorists. It took the timely intervention of the police to restore normalcy to the area. Even now, two people, Chukwuma Opara and Lukmon Badejo who suffered serious lacerations during the skirmish, are still in critical conditions.

On the same day in Ikorodu, another street jamboree cost Adewale Badmus his 18-year-old son, Olatunde. According to Olasunkanmi, elder brother to the deceased, they had both attended a carnival at Odugote Playing Ground in Idi-Orogbo, Ori-Okuta Owutu Ikorodu, when a fight broke out. The grieving young man said he suddenly noticed that his brother was being chased by the boys involved in the fight. By the time he caught up with them, he found his brother lying in a pool of his blood with a deep machete cut inflicted on his neck. Olatunde died as he was being rushed to Ikorodu General Hospital.

Days later, Iseyin Street, an area considered to be peaceful in Ilupeju, momentarily turned a battleground when youths in the area held a carnival. Residents of the street were awakened by gunshots fired by rampaging youths who hide under the guise of attending the party to unleash mayhem on the area. The armed hoodlums suspected to be cultists had gained entrance into the street by breaking a wall at about 2am.

By the time they left after the disruption, residents had been robbed, shot and vehicles vandalised. A woman was reported to have lost her sight to the rampaging youths. When Daily Sun visited the area, most houses had their doors, walls, and windows riddled with bullet holes.

According to Adebayo Olaribigbe, a civil servant who sustained a gun shot injury to his left leg, the area had not experienced such type of problem before, adding that the boys were all dressed in black.

These and many more unpleasant experiences usually trail street carnivals held by youths in many Lagos neighbourhoods.

Nigeria, a country replete with diverse cultures has many festivals that date back to the time before western influence. Such festivals showcased the richness of the country's heritage through various displays and parades.

Lagos on its own has a history of holding carnivals, as a result of historical links with returnees and their descendants from Brazil, West Indies and Sierra-Leone.

For example, the Carreta carnival celebrated in Brazil originated from the celebration of religious practices such as the Christian Lent. The celebration which was originally known as 'carne vale' meaning 'farewell to meat' was eventually coined and accepted as a carnival. The earliest recording of the Carreta carnivals in Lagos was in 1881, after the completion of the Holy Cross Cathedral on Lagos Island.

In 1936, another set of settlers in the Lafiaji area of Lagos started the Fanti carnival. The settlers who were mainly from Nupe, Hausa, Yoruba, Ghana and Togo spoke Fanti, a language from which the carnival derived its name.

Lagos carnival, which is very similar to what is obtainable at the Notting Hill Carnival, Rio de Janeiro and Trinidad carnivals, was also another one that emerged, attracting thousands of participants from within and outside the state. The Eyo Festival is unique and highly revered to Lagosians.

With time, several smaller carnivals groups emerged in Lagos State from other communities of settlers and each reflected the character of the communities they represented.

Street carnivals are an adaptation of such carnivals in Lagos neighbourhoods. The carnivals mostly held in Lagos during the yuletide season are primarily meant to provide an atmosphere for interaction. However, recent reports have proved otherwise, as street carnivals have turned into fiestas for bloodletting, rivalry, cult wars and death.

Members of the Police Community Relation Committee, Ilupeju, recently held a meeting to get to the root of a recent carnival that went awry in the area. In their words, it is high time the authority banned carnivals in Lagos. They noted that miscreants usually hide under the guise of the event to perpetrate evil, noting that laws should be made to spell out terms for such gathering.

The existence of local gangs that try to out do each other, Daily Sun discovered, has turned street carnivals into battlegrounds. Most times, the need by rival gangs to organise a carnival of class, usually lead to violence.

Also, criminal motives have been linked to the organisation of most street carnivals. According to the Police Public Relations Officer, Frank Mba, the command had recorded quite a good number of incidents associated with street jams, adding that most carnivals are organised by criminals to extort, demand money menacingly, instil fear and create confusion deliberately to commit crime.

He also noted that most of the things they do are provocative in nature. 'They block roads to prevent vehicles from passing. During such time, people are bound to ask questions. In a situation when you pour alcohol on people or throw fireworks at them, it is bound to cause provocation. If people engage in actions meant to provoke, and disorganise the social and economic life of others, there is bound to be resistance,' he said.

He however, noted that the command was not opposed to street jams as the constitution guarantees freedom of association but emphasised that carnivals should be held within the ambits of the law.

'A situation where carnivals becomes killing ground and avenues to unleash mayhem on innocent people, cause restiveness or create unnecessary fears in the mind of law abiding citizens, the police would not fold its arms,' he warned.

He therefore, appealed to parents, community leaders, landlords and other stakeholders to consciously work towards ensuring that negative incident does not occur during carnivals.