By Bisi Lawrence
Christmas used to mean so much to me, as a child – so much of nothingness. It was a feeling which accompanied me to adulthood. It meant a time to splurge on good food for a day or two, after numerous activities that meant very little but dragged the time away.
It was a time for new clothes that were worn only on Sundays to church, in keeping with their first outing. It generated a heady feeling that arose from the endeavour to keep up with the pervading atmosphere of merriment, whilst the thought of what it was really all about went on wrapped in a small cloud of wonder, and curiosity, and doubt. On the whole, it didn’t matter, apart from the rice and delicious gravy that helped to sustain the cloud and make it all worth while.
It was still there for a while into maturity – the wonder, and the doubt and all- but then made even more pointless by a touch of insincerity creeping in as the mundane aspects first lost their appeal, and the religious connotations gained more emphasis.
But the thoughts of worldly things soon surfaced again as the introduction of the commercial interests of living gained momentum in establishing the character of the season. It began with the introduction to the Christmas Tree which was not even given a mention in the Holy Book from where the story of the season originated.
Rather, it was said to have been pioneered, howbeit unintentionally, by the Father of Revolution, Martin Luther, from whom the custom spread until it was accepted by the Royal Court in England and Germany. It was later transferred to the United States where, like every other fad, it blossomed and exploded.
There are several other aspects of Christmas that grew away from religion. A pleasant tradition of Christmas is the practice of exchanging gifts. Some people relate this to the concept of Jesus Christ being God’s gift to humanity. Others find that it recalls the gifts of the Magi to the Child Jesus.
It is also on all fours with other customs in various lands around which tales are spun especially for the delight and edification of young children who, of course, grow up with them.
Father Christmas, for instance, started out as a kind-hearted gentleman, St. Nicolas, who delighted in giving gifts to children who had been well-behaved during the year. He became identified with Santa Claus or Father Christmas, a jolly old fellow whose life-passion is to shower children with gifts at Christmas.
Gifts, of course, cost money which fact has created a roaring commerce across the period of Christmas. The cash register rings up a storm, almost drowning the carols that are now played as vigorously in the stores as in the churches. In the centre of it all is who?
Look around you and whom do you see? Christ? Yes, He is not totally absent. But the grandmaster – the “grandstand master” – is the jolly fellow with the ruddy cheeks, the flowing white beard, and the scarlet cloak,. Father Christmas, Santa Claus – call him whatever you may. Christ may be the origin, but the reason for this season is now Santa Claus.
Jesus Christ always deprecated the attempt to blend faith with customs and rituals which are the devices of human beings. He clearly proclaimed any worship offered to Him in that manner to be “in vain”, being no more than “doctrines of men”.
It is the tragedy of humanity today that almost every aspect of Christian worship is based on this intellectual pastime of imposing our knowledge and our will on the observance of our duty to worship God. The hymns and songs of praise are reduced in piety almost to the raucous noises of “Baal’s” hosts.
Anyone would be hard put to distinguish some “praise songs” from “rap: numbers at a distance. A church is, in some cases, just an auditorium and properly so considered; the “cathedral spirit”, the uplifting ambience that is the essence of the enclosure, is lost. Long-winded harangues have taken the place of homilies. Prosperity has been elevated in some sects to the pinnacle of a gospel.
The prosperous have special seating arrangements reserved for them in the church, in absolute disregard of the clear injunction of St. James. You see, it’s still so much of nothingness, after all. But where does one turn to after all these years of faith which stayed above so many misgivings?
“Come and Worship the New Born King”
In Nigeria today, Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan is king. If we cannot easily reconcile the system operational in our governance with monarchy, we may have to re-define what we profess to be democracy. Perhaps a middle-of-the-road approach may offer itself in a term like “monarchical democracy”. Cry, the belittled country!
It has now come to this, that Nigeria, the Giant of Africa, could be defied by the man we thought we had made; a man who said he could not afford the cost of a pair of shoes at school, but must now eat a lunch costing thousands of naira. And he has his followers – people with whom he would eat at the same table. And what can Nigeria, the Giant do about it?
Peasants have pleaded, and pastors have preached, but our king is deaf to all but his own will. Subsidy must go, he and his courtiers maintain.
One would have thought the sheer size of the country might tend to faze some obdurate despot; that the sheer number of the people involved – the people who would suffer seriously from this fell desire – would deter the most obstinate of despots. But the monarch sits tall on the throne, immovable, implacable. And what can the so-called Giant do about it?
Right before our eyes, this nation is suddenly shrunk to the measure of a banana republic! For months many people have stated and re-stated what is an obvious fact is. But those who have set their minds on the course they must take appear to have cast reason to the winds.
If the present price of our petroleum products is sustained by subsidy, so let it be. No matter** how much we may be spending from our earnings, our own earnings mark you, we are better off than groveling in hunger while our tormentors are enjoying “food allowance” of astronomical figures, from this same money of ours.
They are even talking about “saving for the rainy day”. Which rainy day? The rains are here already. It is a deluge that we are weathering right now, in a situation where a man has to entreat, implore, supplicate and even mount threats to obtain the meager sum of nineteen thousand naira a month all told, but the sovereign may enjoy millions of naira per month, apart from his salary. What rainy day are they talking about? But what can the giant do about it?
Some experts have even stated publicly that the subsidy issue is a contrived one. They say it only exist in the distorted accounts of those who have been robbing us blind, and would now like to rob us dumb. The House of Representatives have demurred. Jonathan can’t even convince David outright on this one.
But the Ruler is not listening. A head of State used to aver that, “Every man has his price..” If there is a price-tag on this matter for the NLC and the TUC, then we would really give up and accept the tongue-in-cheek description of that certain kind of democracy: “Government of the people, for the people, by a people”. That, actually, is the definition of “monarchical democracy”.
. .My “take” on all this matter, to employ a current term, is that this the continuing saga of the assault of the IMF (and, of course, its twin-demon, The World Bank) on Nigeria’s economy, which has the highest potential for development among all the emerging nations of the world.
We have gone through the “Cement Armada”, the “Structural Adjustment** Policy – SAP’, and now we are faced with the removal of the putative subsidy of our petroleum products. It is the continuation of the plan to ruin our economy as a matter of a rigid policy which the USA and Europe conceived as a saving grace for their crumbling economic prosperity. They applied it to the situation in several developing nations, like Angola, for instance.
Angola passed through the crucible of a civil war from which it emerged much worse than Nigeria. There could be no slogan of “No Victor, No Vanquished’ as a palliative for smoothening over the ravages of the savage internal confrontation, which was heightened by the foreign interests who galvanized their forces behind the intended disintegration of the country.
The purpose was the same as in the case of Nigeria – to dislocate the economic structure of the country. Fortunately, it did not succeed for several reasons including the fact that Angola’s economy is diversified although its mainstay is oil. But unlike Nigeria, it has refineries, which the dark forces of disruption have succeeded in keeping away from Nigeria.
In short, Angola has developed far ahead of us, even with less supply of oil, and of a lower grade at that. Whilst the economy of Europe is riding a turbulent storm, the Portuguese have had to rely on their former colony, Angola, for a steady relief while others are crumbling around them.
And we are yet struggling to even maintain an even keel? Don’t these elements of our government foaming the mouth over the removal of petroleum subsidy have any consideration for the future of this country?
In this on-coming confrontation, there must be a victor and a vanquished.
Oh, I almost forgot… .Merry Christmas..