Itâ€™s Christmas again, but how many Nigerians know it as a fact in the true sense? How many people are really getting that special feeling which traditionally comes with the yuletide? How many are really sharing in the joy and goodwill the season has brought to the world?
A cursory assessment of the local situation reveals that this yearâ€™s Christmas does not appear to be the best in recent times for the average Nigerian. Sola Ogundipe encounters persons who donâ€™t know itâ€™s Christmas and those who know but donâ€™t give a care.
THROW your arms around the world at Christmas time,â€ the preacher admonished the congregation during a special Church service on Christmas eve. â€œSay a prayer, pray for others and give thanks for the gift of life,â€ he continued. The preacher meant well, but probably did not contend with just how much his listeners would rather throw their arms aroundÂ â€œworldlyâ€ things at this point in time.
A member of the congregation who spoke to Vanguard Features,VF shortly thereafter put this in perspective. â€œItâ€™s okay to pray and show love but what the average Nigerian really wants is to have nice things such as a bag of rice, a couple of live chickens, one or two crates of soft drinks, and other goodies to make this season much more festive.â€
In more ways than one this statement speaks to the current situation in Nigeria.Â There is no doubt that Christmas is here again and many Nigerians have cause to be joyful and to celebrate.Â Surely, millions are making merry and basking in the sacred splendour of the season, but even as the festive period is unfolding to help spreadÂ smiles of joy and the spirit of goodwill to all mankind, there appears to be a palpable aura of forebode and despondency in the air.
Priceless spirit missing
In the typical manner of yuletide, the streets are awash with people in last minute shopping, but somehow, everyone attests that in the true sense, the priceless, age-long spirit of Christmas is missing this time around. Inexplicably, the party seems to be over even before it got started. Even the tolling Christmas bells are beginning to sound like the clanging chimes of doom.
But perhaps what is more worrisome is that there are persons who are not losing their sleep over this development. In fact, several persons couldnâ€™t care less about the yuletide. There are those who do not share the belief that there is anything to celebrate.
Somehow, the yuletide, for a few, has lost its meaning and all the hue and cry of Christmas is little more than an unwelcome distraction. One or two persons even have cause to be afraid, because, rather than bring light into their lives, the season has brought nothing but blight.
Indeed, in more ways than one, this yearâ€™s Christmas does not appear to be â€œsinging the right tuneâ€. A significant majority concurs with this notion. Apart from the timing which could be said to be the only thing that is right, nothing else seems right.
There is conviction within certain quarters that heaven and earth must have conspired to make this yuletide one of the worst in recent memory. Someone sums up this situation thus: â€œWith no power supply, no fuel, no money, no work, no food, no water, no roads, no health, no education, no government, no hope, no nothing, so no Christmas.â€
Fathers cannot find enough money to give mothers to buy the childrenâ€™s Christmas goodies because the price of everything has skyrocketed. A trip to any open market in Lagos is a revelation. The turmoil that goes on with price haggling is best imagined than witnessed. Cost of a bag of rice has doubled.
Ask the price a fully grown agric fowl and donâ€™t be shocked if it has tripled. How about Childrenâ€™s Christmas clothes? They now cost four times as much. Same goes for shoes, food, drinks, electronic lights, decorations, gifts, etc.Â Traders are grumbling, housewives are lamenting just as husbands are groaning. Everyone is at their wits end.
In the face of an apparently inclement environment holding sway nationwide, it is hardly surprising that this may turn out to be the most forgettable Christmas in memory for different reasons. No thanks to (mis)fortunes of the times, fuel scarcity, power outages, bad roads, etc.
â€œCan you believe that Iâ€™m yet to plan for my familyâ€™s Christmas dinner? Gloria, a middle aged business woman exclaimed as she told VF she could not afford the expensive gifts this year. â€œThose who know me well are aware how seriously I always plan for Christmas, but this year things just went awry. I havenâ€™t even done myÂ holiday shopping mainly because the cost of things is crazy. Honest, Iâ€™m just fed up of the whole thing and I have given up trying.â€
But Joy, whose birthday falls on Christmas day takes a different approach. â€œLetâ€™s just thank God for life. Everyone knows Christmas is a celebration of life. Christmas is about life and being alive and Iâ€™m glad to be alive today. Itâ€™s just that when youâ€™re alive and having fun, itâ€™s so easy to forget thereâ€™s a world of dread and fear outside your window or beyond your doorstep.â€
What is that?”
According to Joy, at times like this, many persons find it a lot more convenient not to see a world where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears of need, and the only cries are the wails of anguish and pangs of hunger.
Ironically, there are people who donâ€™t even know it is Christmas. â€œChristmas? What is that?â€ Olu, operator of a commercial motorcycle popularly called Okada queried when accosted by VF. The man was unimpressed even after being educated about the true meaning of the season. Laughing scornfully, he remarked: â€œMe who cannot feed my family well or pay house rent, whatâ€™s my business with Christmas? People like me donâ€™t celebrate such things.â€
The young man who made it clear he could not be bothered about the â€œtrivialitiesâ€ of the yuletide, requested to be left alone as he was too occupied trying to eke out a living. For him, survival has been and remains a struggle of sorts. â€œDonâ€™t disturb me, please. What is celebrating Christmas going to do for me? Will it feed my children or pay my bills? I beg O, allow me to ride this Okada and complete my delivery money.â€
Yinka, a hairdresser was more disposed to talking about the yuletide. â€œOh I am not celebrating Christmas in the real sense because Iâ€™m a Muslim,â€ she said smiling. â€œI have many Christian friends who share the joy of the season with me. I donâ€™t do anything special or attach any importance to Christmas, but I appreciate it is a time everyone feels happy.â€
For Joseph, it was not until the day before Christmas that it finally dawned on him this was going to be one bleak festive period for him and his family. Rising from a restless nightâ€™s sleep without a kobo in his pocket, the 30-year-old father of two was not in the right frame of mind even toÂ lament.
â€œYou dis people sef, una no dey pity?â€ he remarked angrily when VF popped the question. â€œLook I neva chop since yesterday. Common gari no dey my house. I no fit talk. Any day I see food, na Christmas day be dat. Hungry man no dey celebrate.â€
Children are not left out and are also grumbling aloud.Â VF overheard a group of adolescents discussing the matter with relish. One of their complaints was that they were being forced to wear the same â€œoldâ€ clothes and shoes they got for Christmas last year. â€œI donâ€™t know why my parents did not buy us new clothes this year?â€ She soon stopped complaining when another girl announced that this was the third year in a row she and her siblings last celebrated Christmas with new clothes or shoes.
Eventually they mutually agreed that it was bad enough that many children received no special Christmas gifts this year. They noted that while it was forgivable that some of them had to wear their old clothes and shoes to Church on Christmas Day, ruled that it was inconceivable and absolutely objectionable that in many Nigerian homes, rice, chicken and soft drinks are not as plentiful this year as in previous years.
But observers note that perhaps what these children failed to appreciate was that they are actually luckier than many other children who only wear new clothes and shoes and eat rice and chicken in their dreams whether or not it is Christmas.
A sociologist and expert in human behaviour observes that: â€œIf only these children knew that so many parental and conjugal obligations cannot be fulfilled in the normal and usual manner because we are not in normal times. We are an unusual people behaving in an unusual manner in an unusual situation because this yuletide, anything and everything is not what it ought to be. In other words, things are abnormal.â€
â€œWhether we say everything is wrong or we say nothing is right, are we not saying the same thing? Just look around. What is it that could go wrong that has not gone wrong in this country? What form of adversity have we not suffered? Are we not all experiencing a bad case of Christmas blues? Are we not all suffering the seasonal depression?â€
The sociologist pointed out that in Europe and the United Kingdom, during festive periods such as this, there are fantastic sales bargains on most household goods and food items particularly. â€œHuge savings can be obtained by customers because of the huge discounts at the shops.
But come to Nigeria and the reverse is the case. Here the trend is for prices to jump through the roof. People pay through the nose to buy even the most basic items. Why must that happen? Is it just because it is Christmas? It is too bad. Itâ€™s manâ€™s inhumanity to man.â€
…A mixed bag for transporters
By Charles Kumolu
MOSTÂ faces would be long today, even as homes would be enveloped with darkness -no thanks to the failure of the Federal government to fulfill its promised 6000 megawatts of electric power by December.
Even the festive wind has refused to blow.
This ChristmasÂ have left many gnashing their teeth, just as they are too exhausted in body and devastated in soul to sayÂ â€œMerry Christmas!â€
A check at Mazamaza (a popular motor park in Lagos) revealed the depth of this hardship.Â Instructively, Christmas is usually cherry in Nigeria. This is whyÂ people always travel in drove to their various homes.
But the barrenness of the usually crowed park (Mazamaza), says much on whether people travelled or not.
Surprised that passengers were a handful, this reporter had to find out the reason.
A transporter, who identified himself as Mr. Marcilinus Amadi, told Vanguard Features,VFÂ that the turnout this year is relatively poor, adding that this is the worst year as it relates to turnout.
According to him, â€œMy brother we have not seen this kind of thing before. It even seems as if its Easter we are celebrating. People have refused to come out like before. Let me tell you, by this time last year, I would not even have the time to speak to you because I will be very busy attending to customers. We did not know that it was going to be like this. Although we know that the economy is not good. But that is not withstanding because our economy has never been good. Yet people travel.â€
Amadi further disclosed that with few people making the festive trip, most programmes scheduled for this period would be affected.
â€œYou know that my people donâ€™t play with this period. This is the time that ceremonies take place in the East and even other places. But how can it be too successful when people are scared to travel. who will attend them. I believe that the Federal government is responsible for what we are experiencing. We donâ€™t have a government I would say. How can they increase fuel pump price now,â€ he lamented.
Not done with his lamentations, he argued that former President Olusegun Obasanjo is responsible for the woes of this period.
â€œLet me tell you, if Obasanjo had allowed a better government to emerge in 2007, we will not be here today. But we inherited from him has not done this nation any good. I pray that things will get better.â€
When asked if he would have the spirit to say â€œMerry Christmasâ€ today, Amadi said, â€œWhy not. If I live to that day I would give glory to God and share compliments with people around me.â€
No price hike
Contrary to Amadiâ€™s lamentations, a transporter with Young Shall Grow Transport Company, who doesnâ€™t want his name in print said the turnout has been encouraging.
Still pleading anonymity, he said, â€œLike this morning almost forty buses left for Onitsha. And it has been like this since the festive trips started. Whoever is saying that people are not traveling, I believe is not giving you the fact.Â We are not talking about big buses. I am telling you about small buses. So if forty buses left here this morning, how would you say people are not traveling. The turnout might even increase by tomorrow. If you can come here tomorrow, you will know what I am talking about.â€
When asked if the fare is same as last year, he stated that it is relatively the same.
According to him, â€œWhat we collect now is four thousand naira. It was almost like this last year. But you know that there would be little changes. We must not forget, that there is economic problem in the country.â€
Too poor to fear
Speaking against the fact that some did not travel because of kidnaping in the South east, he argued that it is only the rich that are scared of travelling.
His words: â€œNo donâ€™t say that. It is only the rich men we have that are not travelling. May be they are scared. But the poor ones are travelling. We are witnessing massive turnout. And let me tell you there is peace in the South East. You journalists why would you say such a thing. I will implore you to come here in the morning and you will see for yourself.â€
Adding, he said, â€œ I agree that things are difficult now. But it has not got to the extent of people staying backÂ in Lagos. If you came earlier you would have seen what I am talking about.â€
For Mr Jude Afamefule, who is a commuter, this festive period has not been too fair to Nigerians.
â€œAs much as I am counting my blessings, I would not relent to say the fact. The issue is that there is no money. We have spent much on a lot of things. Of course, you know that this deregulation has affected the prices of goods. In fact, we need divine intervention in this country. Even the road that we are going to ply is another issue. You people should always tell the government the right thing and not what they want to hear.â€