By Muyiwa Adetiba
It will be Christmas in a few days. Many buildings are already well decorated with Xmas lights as are quite a few streets especially around the Lagos Island. They look quite nice at night and bring the spirit of the season home. The activities of the yuletide season are also here.
The shops are fuller, the traffic around the high streets is heavier. The Pentecostal churches are holding one revival after the other, one convention after the other while the orthodox ones are holding one carol service after the other. The children are also home, increasing the chatter and the spirit of the season in our homes.
The airlines are flying at a premium; so are the commercial buses which do their best business around this time. Nature also marks the season in its own special way. The air starts getting distinctly cooler in the evenings and can get quite chilly in the mornings. The Western world looks forward to a white Christmas when snow fills everywhere; the air, the trees, and of course every exposed surface.
We in Africa have a greyish version of it as the harmattan haze fills everywhere; the air, the trees and of course every exposed surface. The sky can, come to think of it, be quite white in the villages and some rural towns.
I love Xmas. Always have and I guess always will. It’s a season of love; it’s a season of joy; it’s a season for Christ. It’s also a season for get-togethers, parties and gifts; the latter being the more memorable as a child. Growing up, I looked forward to the Xmas dress that made going to church on Xmas special. I looked forward to the Xmas lunch—usually rice with turkey. It was probably the only time in the year that turkey would grace my plate. I looked forward to the fire crackers, the masquerades and the street games. In school, I looked forward to being promoted to a newer, higher class and a likely reward for doing well in class. But I never could handle the harmattan onset. It meant not wanting to get up in the morning but you had the morning family prayers to attend. It meant not wanting to touch cold water but you had plates to wash. It meant dust everywhere which translated to extra cleaning. But then, it meant Xmas was in the air.
I have since grown older and more cynical of many of the things that symbolise Xmas. The mercantile spirit that has taken over—more business is done in the world at Xmas than at any other time of the year. The hypocrisy—in my last year as Editor of a national newspaper for example, I received enough hampers from the who’s who in the society to start a mini supermarket. The following year’s gift was next to zero. It was as if I was dead. The meanness—it can also be a season to reward and punish using Xmas gifts as your weapon. The loneliness—it can be an uncaring world if you have lost a loved one to divorce or death. The sheer cruelty—more and more churches are getting bombed at Xmas in recent years.
It is to the victims of the latter and other terrorist atrocities during the year, that my mind goes to this Xmas. This week alone, gallons of alcoholic beverages will be consumed; tons of different kinds of food will be consumed; millions of miles will be traversed as people connect with loved ones; ship loads of gifts will exchange hands; romantic and joyful messages and images will fill the electronic media. There will be parties and clubbing. There will be revelries and indulgences. But there are people, and they are not far from us, who will not feel anything. Even if they knew it was Xmas, it would not mean a thing. They have no one to care for and no one to care for them. Many are on the run from visible and invisible enemies; from demons within and without. For them, it is not about Xmas but making it to the next day. It is about survival not revelry. They are victims of forces they don’t even begin to understand; they are victims of terrorism and their government’s inability to confront it headlong.
I wonder how President Jonathan sleeps at night. He may not have pulled any trigger or slit any throat but the buck stops at his desk. He must know about vicarious liability and wonder whether any of his decisions or indecisions has led to more loss of lives. I wonder how the politicians who fanned the embers of hate and those who neglected the development of their areas sleep at night. I wonder how the military chiefs, serving or retired who diverted funds meant for equipping the military into private pockets sleep at night. Or the commanders who push their poorly equipped soldiers into certain deaths at the battle fronts. Or the fifth columnists, the moles in government or all those who benefit from this blood letting. In fact, I wonder how the rest of us manage to behave as if nothing is happening. I wish I could.
There is a song which comes up around this time of the year in the Catholic Church because it is a song of advent; a song of Xmas. It is unfortunately, more apt today—probably in a way not intended by the writer—than before. It is titled: ‘Come Lord Jesus’. I will quote the refrain and the first two verses.
Refrain; Come, Lord Jesus the light is dying, the night keeps crying: Come Lord Jesus.
Christ, come quickly/ There is danger at the door/ Poverty a-plenty/ Hearts gone wild with war/ There is hunger in the city and famine in the plain.
Want demands a hearing/ in far too many lands/ The sick go unattended/ Death deals a heavy hand/ The dreams of men are empty/ The cup of sorrow full.
Is there any part of this song that is not sickeningly familiar in our country today? A country that needs a saviour, that needs leaders who are willing to put themselves out to promote equity, justice and the kind of economic policy that will provide all round security for its people.
Merry Christmas in advance. As you wine and dine in celebration of Xmas, don’t forget our brothers and sisters in the North East who don’t know the difference. Remember them in your prayers and if possible send something to them. It’s the least you can do.