was frightened when I heard that the masquerade died. I asked myself, "Is it not a second death?" The Igbo traditional belief tells us that a masquerade is the spirit of the dead, who comes to earth from the ancestral world to entertain people around with cane. There is also a masquerade that entertains the living by dancing around. The chasing or dancing masquerades appear on earth through the ant hole. Imagine how the masquerade, as big as an adult, passes through that tiny hole. Wonders shall never end! Those initiated into the masquerade cult pour some drops of libation into the hole before the dead spirit comes out, wearing sackcloth, which covers the whole body from face to toe. I have observed that the modern masquerades have pockets in their sackclothes for money collection. I was told that they use the money they collected from people to buy local chalks (nzu), which they consume as food in the world below. As darkness descends in the evening, they go back to the ancestral world through the same route, waiting for another opportunity.
Little did I know that a masquerade can die again, since it is a spirit. After my priestly ordination on September 5, 1993, I was posted to St. Mark's Parish Abagana to assist. That was in October of the same year. Before I could know what was happening, Christmas songs started sounding all over the air. That was already in the second week of December. Time ran a marathon race and the Christmas day dawned like a film. My boss sent me to celebrate Christmas day Mass at an outstation. When everything was over, I jumped into my 505 Peugeot car and started driving home to the Presbytery. Along the road, I saw people standing in clusters. Some were shouting on top of their voices while some were crying. The few elders present there stood round in a circle whispering. I packed my car quietly at a corner and came out. Then I walked piously to an old man whom I saw at a corner urinating without a full-stop. I stood at his rear and asked him, "Please Sir, what is amiss here?" The man cleared his throat, turned his head and said in a low voice, "A masquerade was crushed to death by a lorry." Surprisingly I exclaimed, "What an abomination! What a blasphemy! What a nonsensical nonsense!" I was nodding my head in disbelief and asking, "Why did the masquerade not escape since it is a spirit?" I sighed in disbelief. As I was driving home, I was asking myself, "So masquerade can die? What a second death! Death, you have caused havoc and confusion. You have no respect." The man behind the mask went out in the mid-morning on foot to entertain the people as part of Christmas celebration and to earn some money for Christmas expenses. Unfortunately, he met his untimely death as he stood behind a lorry asking for money from a passer-by. Because his face was covered, little did he know that the lorry was accelerating backwards. He was crushed instantly while his customer escaped unhurt. Immediately, other masquerades around ran into the nearest ant holes.
As soon as I entered the presbytery my boss accosted me and asked me to go and bury the dead masquerade. I responded immediately, "Please Father, I do not know how to bury a masquerade. Can you lend me a copy of the burial rite?" He just gave me the rite of Christian burial because the masquerade was baptized. As I was conducting the burial, tears flowed like flood all over the place. I started weeping myself just as Jesus wept at the grave of Lazarus. The most pitiful thing was that the masquerade left a young wife and three little children behind. If he had known his fate, he would have stayed at home with his family to enjoy the Christmas day. Who would take care of the young wife and little children was the question on all lips. But the consolation was that the man behind the dead masquerade attended Christmas midnight Mass. After weeping, we conducted the burial just on that Christmas day. Joy turned into sorrow.
Just recently, hell broke loose at Umuchu in Aguata Local Government of Anambra State. It was a bloody Sunday. The fatal accident was regrettable and preventable. A trailer with full load of timber was descending the Nkwo Umuchu -Ibughubu road heading to Umunze. The driver of the ill-fated trailer lost control as soon as he experienced break failure. He continued moving at the highest velocity. He ran into group of people celebrating new yam festival in a market place. The worse happened. Some masquerades stood on the tarred road chasing people and extorting money from motorists. The mad trailer caught them unawares. Four of the masquerades were crushed to death. Seven human beings lost their lives. In all, eleven souls were gone. About twenty-five persons were seriously wounded. The village youths wanted to implement jungle justice on the driver of the ill-fated trailer, but he was saved by divine intervention. However he was later handed over to the police for disciplinary action. Indeed I blamed the driver somehow. Less lives would have been lost if he had plunged the articulated vehicle into a lonely farmland before the market place. If he did so and died alone, it would have been a worthy sacrifice for the good of others. Did Jesus Christ not die alone to save the whole sinful human race? On the other hand, the driver might have developed mental imbalance as he lost control. May God grant the masquerades and people who lost their dear lives in the bloody accident eternal rest in Heaven. Amen! The dead masquerades dare not come out again having died a second death.
Food for Thought: No man should dare to enter a forest where fowls marched on thistles and got wounded. If masquerades can die a second death by road accidents, we mere human beings should be more careful. Those communities in which human beings and masquerades block major roads during festivities should desist from doing so. Vehicles plying the roads can lose control or suffer break-failure. Life has no duplicate. If such uncontrollable vehicles run into such a crowd, a whole village can be sent to their untimely graves. Town festivals and community celebrations should be done at the village or town squares and not on the highways or the 'lowways'. The Government should promulgate an Edict to this effect immediately to avoid further senseless loss of lives. Those drivers of articulated vehicles, such as tankers and trailers must drive with their rightful senses. If you drink, do not drive. If you drive, do not drink. The Road Safety Authority should as a matter of urgency organize a safe driving seminar for all drivers, especially for articulated vehicle drivers in Nigeria. It can be done state by state. Between last year and this year, these articulated vehicles and their drivers have sent thousands of innocent Nigerians to the world beyond. In Anambra State alone we have shed enough tears between last year and this year on the bloody havoc done by trailer and tanker drivers. As we are now in the ember months which are prone to fatal accidents, drivers, passengers and passers-by must be more careful. These ember months are not dangerous themselves. We human beings are the cause. All drivers should maintain their vehicles always. You can manage a bad wife but you cannot manage a bad vehicle. Speed kills. Therefore let us drive to stay alive. It is better to be late than the late. Masquerades and pedestrians, beware of the motorways!