Feathers and fanfare for Lagos carnival

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The Independent Online

A multicoloured tidal wave of dancing people flooded the streets of Lagos on Monday for the inaugural carnival in Nigeria's sprawling economic capital.

Men disguised as women, women disguised as butterflies, as suns, or queens, were a sample of the sumptuous costumes that bedazzled bystanders, some of whom seem surprised by the event.

In their thousands, with each cortege representing a different district of the capital - Ikorodu, Yaba, Agege, Obalende and the others - people converged on Tafawa Balewa Square, where the festivities were due to culminate.

The hip-hop beat of the processions mingled with the drums and brass of an orchestra perched on a trailer truck about 10 metres (30 foot) long, and with the klaxons, sirens and whistles of carnival organisers.

The festive fuss and fun seemed welcome in the megapolis of between 15 and 18 million people, which has to battle a reputation as one of Africa's most crime-ridden and traffic-clogged cities.

Adorned with feathers, hats and masks, their faces made up and shimmering with glitter, young women plunged into choreographed and synchronised dance routines in the heat of a sweltering sun.

"People are so interested, they love that," said Mahmud, a policeman whose automatic rifle was slung back over his shoulder. "Everyone is happy to see this."

"We are butterflies," yelled Bose, a young student in the middle of a cortege waiting for its turn to leave.

Tayo, a Sierra Leonean resident, has chosen to become a woman for the day. With lipstick, fake breasts and a fake bottom, a wig, a gilded skirt and his matching scarf, he sought out his companions in the middle of the street.

Funmilayo Ajibola, one of the many members of the organising committee who are efficiently running the parades, said the carnival had been organised by Lagos State, one of the 36 that make up the Nigerian federation.

His explanation was punctuated by the efforts of a young devil in diabolical costume to kill a bystander with his sword covered in gore.

The carnival was financed mostly by private companies, Hakeem Bello, the spokesman to the governor of Lagos state, Babatunde Fashola, told AFP.