Free Speech as an Indigenous Practice in Pre-Colonial Nigerian Communities: the Igala Abule Night Mask Example

Emmanuel Paul Idakwo, Amin Zaigi Ngharen


Before their contact with the Western world, a number of pre-colonial Nigerian societies had developed practices adjudged by modern pundits as civilised. These included having representative and hierarchical political systems, fair justice system, indigenous technical knowledge (ITK), and effective communication modes. This paper relied on historical research method to contend and establish that freedom of expression was an indigenous Nigerian practice, as epitomised by the activities of Abule Night Mask of the Igala people of North-Central Nigeria. It also simulated the Night Mask’s activities to modern mass media practice. The Night Mask served as a moral check on the excesses of members of the society. Its dramatised execution of this function, using insults and other verbal attacks on erring individuals, added to its entertaining richness to the community. By this, Abule was an organ for not just moral correction and social commentary, but also of information dissemination and entertainment - a simulation of the contemporary mass media. The much celebrated “free speech” may not, after all, be new to the Nigerian society.

Keywords: Abule, Night Mask, Igala, freedom of expression

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ISSN (Paper)2224-3267 ISSN (Online)2224-3275

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