Speaker: David Pratten (University of Oxford)
This paper concerns the mechanisms by which young people in southern Nigeria deal with and are engaged in a context of radical insecurity. It focuses on agaba, a group that has expanded its membership across the multi-ethnic coastal plain of south-eastern Nigeria since the late 1990s. Agaba members are regularly linked with electoral violence and urban gang conflict, and have been variously framed as ‘masqueraders’, as ‘area boys’, and as ‘local militia’. Drawing on ethnographic research conducted in Annang communities and Calabar, this paper examines the performative aspects of the agaba society. While these young men set trends in fashion and slang, and sing of African-American gangster rappers, their concern is less with bodily surfaces and the languages of violence than with inner strength and protection. Agaba therefore engages with long-standing localized discourses on power derived from spiritual intercession. More broadly this case study enables us to examine the relationship between personhood, possession and power, and to address the subjective and inter-subjective constructions of the category of youth, masculinity and violence in the west African post colony.