It was Lady Clarice that invited my attention to a series of recent text messages on the airwaves being signed off by a "Bankole Johnson". This Texter's favourite domain would seem to be the tri-weekly popular SLBC- TV PM Programme called "WEY YUS", which are usually anchored by Dan Moseray and (Rev.) Lucy-Anne Ganda. Seeing however that no one has a monopoly over names, I feel obliged to warmly welcome my namesake to the literary world. But that is where I presume our similarity ends. For example, apart from his Text messages are more cryptic and concise, "WEY YUS" is not my choice of SMS domain. Indeed, the harvest is plenteous; but the labourers are few.
If I heard those announcements clearly, then government has (again) reversed the placed on mask devils parades within the "North-Western" regions of the country, imposed almost immediately upon the SLPP assuming the mantle of political governance some 18 months ago. I daresay within the "North-Western" regions because from video clips evident in the social media, that ban did not appear to have affected our more law-abiding South-Eastern compatriots. For months now not a single public holiday would be celebrated in this country without some video evidences of masked devil parades through the streets of Bo, Kenema and a few other South-Eastern Towns, purportedly to help them preserve and sustain their own "cultural heritage and traditions".
In the last episode shot from Bo, I saw the masked devil even paying courtesy call at the main Divisional Police Station just by the junction of Hard Up Lane. Quite an appropriate name for a Lane under present circumstances, which I must admit I fell in love as a child with since our family took up residence at No.5 in the sixties. It was from that house my now late parents would allow me to meander through the unfenced neighbourhoods unto to Dambara Road to keep company with, and beat a wooden box in accompaniment to the strumming guitar of the late S.E Rogers, perched on the veranda and occasionally with a Cowboy Muffler to his throat. But I suppose the level of indiscipline and lawlessness in the South-East was not as serious as that which warranted the ban to be placed for the same purposes and vigorously enforced by the Police in the "North-West" of the country, especially if the parameters for calibrating lawlessness and indiscipline from the government's own perspectives rests on the kind of sympathy they garnered from the electorates at polls throughout the "North-West" at the last multi-tier elections.
One can only guess why government decided to lift the ban on masked devils parades within the "North-West" as unilaterally as they had powerfully imposed and lawfully exercised it, possibly with prior consultations with the "Baba-Orders", "Agbas", "Ala-Agbas" and "Ogbonis" of our various secret societies, but from the grapevine rumours had it that the North-Western domiciled societies were so chagrined by that ban, that they had all resolved to teach this government a lesson or two on how not to disrespect their traditions at the next general elections. And government being scared of the repercussions of that threat country wide since all secret societies are "Awo-Ni" is "Awo-Lor" quickly capitulated by circumspectly recanting the it. And you wouldn't blame them. The smoking gun effects from the recently "re-aborted" simple Parliamentary bye-election seat in Constituency 110 remains a veritable eye opener.
I have problems accepting the argument of the Minister of Tourism and Culture that the lifting of the ban on masked devils in the "North-West" of the country has anything to do with preserving and protecting our cultural traditions and heritage, as at the time of imposing it, those core values were as valid then as they are today; yet the ban was imposed. And the Minister, being so familiar with the Mends Street axis where for decades now 25th December has according to their late "Agba Olu" of "TEHTINA" been recognized as the unofficial cultural day of "OOMAN TOTE MAN" day, could not have been oblivious of that fact. I rather feel that the ban was rescinded because government is realizing much belatedly though that like its precursor, how increasingly difficult it is to provide regular entertainment avenues and outlets that are educative, of the mind-edifying kind for its youths and that are reflective of core family values for their citizens. And not having anything on offer would rather allow a relapse into social decadence camouflaged as observances of cultural traditions on every "gazzetted" public holiday - religious or not - throughout the country. Find me a volunteer to convince me otherwise
With us the cost of living rises prohibitively. We have no Parks and Recreational outlets for families to take promenades or go to relax and enjoy themselves. Our leaders see and take pictures in them when they visit abroad, but are not interested in setting them up here until they quit power. (Tell me we have land constraints to erect them and I will tell you Freetown is not the only city to start them). Our Radio and TV programs are mostly bland, replete with immoral slots, boring Nollywood, Gollywood and Bollywood movies and political demagoguery. Our prayer houses are unable to afford and or provide the alternative strands of education complimentary to the secular ones taught at schools. Concerts plays/theatre arts performances, athletics and sports promotions for children and adolescents are few and far between and or not prioritized. Inter-regional meets cannot be conducted without political party undertones. We have absolutely nothing - no platform - to cater for Youth empowerment and development outside academic work. In fact we are so distrustful of other regions and tribes that it is now a taboo to send our children away on excursions to regions away from those of their births, lest they be harmed. But we would readily yank at any opportunity for Teachers, students r sporting exchange programmes to foreign climes even if it is to Afghanistan. It is not surprising therefore to see governments wholesomely capitulating to indecorous demands such as pressure for a relapse into mask devil parades without setting up strict guidelines.
The malaise highlighted above are not new and cannot be blamed solely on this administration. They are perennial; and have been with us since the eighties. Religious organizations - never apolitical though - have been shouting themselves hoarse to have masked devils parades proscribed on religious holidays to no effect. So the reality is that like previous ones before it, this government not having much to offer the youths would rather allow them to relapse into devil street carnivals - which goes with lots of anti-social behaviours - than continue with the ban and probably risk losing future elections.
Being myself fully seised (as Lawyers would say) of our cultural societies, even if I may not be out rightly averse to the masked devils parades ban reversal, I would recommend for maintenance of sanity, that before unbanning that ban, government first draws up strict guidelines for all the heads of the various secret societies that will ensure not only the safety and security of onlookers, ordinary pedestrians and motorists during such parades, but one that will also ensure a strict enforcement of all "borellor" timelines.
Finally as has been reiterated umpteen times, masked devils parades have nothing to do with religious festivals and accordingly Police permission for them to process on such holidays must not be granted.