A man identified as Uche escaped self-immolation on Saturday after setting himself ablaze attempting to smoke a cigarette as he cosplayed as a cultural masquerade [Otokolo] in Ekwulobia, Aguata local government area of Anambra state.
Orient Daily gathered that, but for the metal interior of the masquerade costume, Uche would have been burnt to death. It was reported that another masquerader, of similar costume, tried to help douse the flame but was caught by the fire whereupon he suffered burns.
According to an eyewitness, who spoke on the basis of anonymity, the masqueraders were on their way to some funeral ceremonies in Ihuokpala village, Ekwulobia around 2pm when Uche lit a stick of cigarette.
“Suddenly, fire from the cigarette caught the raffia element of his masquerade and set up a fire. A smaller masquerade known as “achikwu”, that tried to douse the fire had the raffia on his own masquerade also catching the fire, burning vigorously.”
The source said that before the “achikwu” good Samaritan could be extricated from his own masquerade, he had already suffered burns. He was then taken to Civic Hospital, Ekwulobia where he is currently receiving treatment.
Yet another source alleged that the Otokolo masquerade was not smoking but was trying to create the smoke effect synonymous with some of the masquerades when the mechanism malfunctioned and he was caught in the fire. The source added that another masquerade close to him tried to help but because of the highly inflammable regalia, got caught by the fire. He was said to have run into the compound of a woman who happened to be washing clothes and used the foamy water to douse the fire. This was not until the masquerade removed the regalia in front the woman, thereby breaking one of the codes of the masquerade cult.
Nneka Ohamaeziokwu, daughter of a revered masquerade cosplayer, reacting to the incident on Facebook alleged that the boy in question was smoking Indian hemp while in the masquerade and lit himself up accidentally.
“An Otokolo lit himself up with fire from Indian hemp. Boys, stop smoking Indian hemp anyhow and everywhere. Please protect our cultural heritage,” she wrote in Igbo language.
Another female, Njideka Ogbuka recommended the masquerade cult should go about with fire extinguishers given the inflammable nature of their regalia.
Speaking on the issue, Chief Emma Okeke, former chairman of Eziagulu village in Ekwulobia, said that there was need to set up a monitoring unit for the masquerade cult to check their excesses. “When I closed down “achikwu” in Eziagulu when I was the chairman, I was resisted by even the traditional ruler of Ekwulobia. But I had seen the excesses of the group and the need to develop a check on their activities. Members of the masquerade cult had raped a girl from Arondizuogu then and I had to spend a huge amount of money to settle the case. They pleaded and I lifted the ban. Then at another instance, they broke a stranger’s head,” he said.
Okeke enjoined the leadership of the group to set up a task force that should be monitoring the members to sanction anyone engaged in substance abuse. “The leadership of the town should look into how the cult is being run. The emphasis should not just be on money making but on ensuring that those who carry the masquerades as well as those who enjoy them are safe. Masquerade is good but they should be controlled just as the transporters are being checked with FRSC, VIO,” he said.
Revd Emeka Ezike, the president general of Ekwulobia said that he was not aware of the incident but recalled that the Igwe Emmanuel Onyeneke had banned their activities at three years ago but lifted the ban in 2018 after certain control checks were put up. “I was not aware of the incident because I try not to get involved in their activities. However, I remember that Igwe Onyeneke lifted an earlier ban on them after the masquerades were given numbers so they could be easily identified and their leadership in various quarters fully identified,” he said.
It was gathered that the leadership of masquerades have warned against making the issue public. They, however, said that they would sanction the culprit.