Yuletide experiences and acknowledgments (1)

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By Douglas Anele

The year 2014 is about three weeks old. All over the world, both Christians and non-Christians are recovering from the excesses of Christmas and Near Year celebrations – excessive spending, eating, drinking and other ostentatious debaucheries that take a heavy toll on the health and finances of people.

As I stated in an essay published last month, extreme commercialisation of Christmas detracts seriously from the purported spiritual essence of the festivities. At any rate, despite the negative effects of contemporary Christmas celebration, the event has some positive components that make it worthwhile. For those of us from South-eastern Nigeria, Christmas period provides a wonderful opportunity for reunion with family members and relatives one has not seen for years.

In addition, it allows for recreational activities in which communities display their distinctive cultural achievements like masquerades, cultural dances, and other community-based events that promote cultural awareness among the people, particularly those living in cities and in the Diaspora who travelled to their various villages. In my own case, last Christmas was a mixed bag of sadness and enjoyment. My father, Ebere E. Anele, died peacefully in his sleep, about three years after his wife, my mother, Gladys E. Anele, departed the earth in her sleep. Therefore, I am an orphan now, but lucky to have lost both parents as a full-grown man with a family of my own.
One of the lessons I learnt from my father’s death is that, no matter how old one’s parents might be, there is a sense of loss which age cannot obliterate when any of them dies. For example, when I got to the village on December 26 and entered my father’s house, instinctively I looked at the bed where my father used to relax.

Of course, it was empty, because Alagbo, as close relatives, friends and admirers fondly called him, was not there anymore. I was downcast: the emptiness and existential vacuum created by his death was very real. It dawned on me that Alagbo has gone forever, and that the only connection I will ever have with him until I die is reminiscence, that is, recollection of his behaviour and activities through memory. Alagbo was a remarkable human being: he was so generous and kind-hearted that he did something extraordinary, something I am sure less than one percent of human beings have ever done. I still remember vividly that my father, for much of his working life, from Monday to Friday, bought assorted snacks, fruits and delicacies and distributed to children in the neighbourhood. He did this for nearly two decades. As a young boy then, I marvelled at his display of charity and pure love for children, knowing full well there is no way I can emulate such unique behaviour. Interestingly, some relatives claim that God compensated Alagbo for his loving attachment to children by keeping him healthy and strong, to the extent that he could see without glasses and swept the compound by himself until few days before his death at the age of ninety-four.

Clearly, if my father were a multi-millionaire, I am sure he would have gladly distributed his wealth to the less privileged. Alagbo did not believe in being frugal with money: on many occasions, he was too generous to a fault, a situation that some of his siblings and friends exploited to the fullest. All the same, my father lived a fulfilled life. In his youth, he was a very handsome man who enjoyed the good things of life. I dislike three things about my late father. One, he did not believe in saving for the rainy day. As a child, I was afraid sometimes, wondering what would happen to us if something happened to him since my mother was a complete housewife and the little money she earned from petty trading was grossly insufficient for a family of seven to live on. Two, although he never beat his wife, Alagbo did not display before his children the kind of affection and playfulness towards her, which I consider a necessary though not sufficient ingredient of a happy marriage.

Finally, as an adult, my father hardly discussed with me, as father and son should, the complexities of life. Yet, despite his shortcomings, Alagbo worked hard to provide for his family, and was always willing to help other members of the extended family. As he aged gracefully, my father did not neglect his personal hygiene.
Even while in his nineties, he shaved his beard, brushed his teeth, and took his bath daily. As we commit his remains to Mother Earth on 24th January, I know that those of us he loved and who loved him in return will miss his kindness, his graciousness and his unrelenting desire for peace and harmony in the family, kindred and community. Besides making preliminary preparations for my father’s burial, my travel to the village enabled me to assess firsthand the quality of governance in Imo State. Without equivocation, I completely agree with my friend, Obi Nwakanma’s conclusions about the performance of Rochas Okorocha, Governor of the state. I saw some of the road projects Okorocha’s administration is executing or has completed in Orlu, Owerri, Ideato and its environs.
The quality of work in all the roads I visited was very disappointing. To be candid, the obvious lack of standard quality monitoring was embarrassing, and I wonder what engineers working in the state ministry of works were doing.

In Owerri, the capital city, there are cosmetic touches in different places, but expectedly none of them gives the impression of solidity and substantiality that should be the selling point of a serious government. Douglas road, one of the most important roads in the town, was filled with refuse. I know that because of the agbata ekee philosophy of governance prevalent among the ruling cabals in Nigeria today, Governor Okorocha might be impervious to the yearnings and aspirations of ordinary people in Imo State.

Still, the vuvuzela effect of his sycophants cannot obliterate the truth aptly captured by Nwakanma in the following proposition: “It is shocking…that [Imo] state with its wide array of intellectual and professional talent, would continue to allow a political bantamweight to preside over its affairs, and stymie its potential, and much less, try to bamboozle the people with what are largely paperweight claims to public service.

” Of course, Okorocha’s supporters would claim road construction and rehabilitation, regular payment of teachers’ salaries, meal subsidies for schoolchildren, free education and supply of free school uniforms as achievements by the Governor. But I suggest that such claims must be critically assessed bearing in mind that Nigerians have become so accustomed to poor performance from their political leaders that any little achievement is exaggerated and described in superlative terms by praise singers benefiting from the flawed system.

Some of the pertinent questions to ask, in this connection, are what is the quality of teaching and learning in public schools in Imo state? Are the school uniforms supplied by the state government of good quality or are they made with Aba na anya materials?

TO BE CONTINUED.

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