By Muyiwa Adetiba
The Christmas season, as you would expect, has been full of jokes and satires in the social media. But the one that takes the cake for me because it reminds us so poignantly of the state of the nation, is that which said everything had been in recession this season—including harmattan. By now, the air—and everything around it—should have been covered with fog. The harmattan fog is to us what snow is to Europeans. Most Britons would look forward to a white Christmas and would feel incomplete if the roofs, trees and large portions of the roads were not covered with the white stuff. In fact, the British media could go into a frenzy over it. So it is with many Nigerians.
The harmattan, like snow, is a sign of completion, not only in calendar terms, but in the natural cycle of things. Night follows the day just as harmattan follows the rains. Anything they say, that disturbs nature disturbs life because as the way of nature so is the way of life. The absence, or sparse appearance of harmattan is probably reflecting the absence of many of the essentials in our society today. Is nature sending a message to us this yuletide season?
Christmas creeps on you. The awareness of Christmas thickens at a particular point even without having to look at the calendar. Gradually, like the onset of harmattan in years gone by, the atmosphere changes. The air becomes charged; the pace becomes more frenetic. End of year meetings are held with more urgency in the corporate world. And those who service that world—printers, event planners, gifts providers, accountants, Advertising Agencies shift into another gear as the year closes. It is almost like a long distance runner who bursts into a sprint as he approaches the finishing line knowing that a satisfying rest awaits if he finishes well.
The season in many ways rewards the year—for individuals, for families, for institutions and even for nations. It is also a season for love. People travel home in order to find a bride or a groom. Some to meet prospective in-laws and formalise relationships. And for a lot of Nigerians in the diaspora, it is the time to come home and be introduced to prospective future partners. And there are always more fun places to take loved ones to during the Christmas season. But it is not only relationships and wedding activities that heighten during Christmas. Most business activities do. In fact, it is often said that more informal business is done during Christmas than at any other time of the year.
It is difficult to talk about Christmas in my world without talking about my growing up years. Then, the quality of my Christmas often depended on the quality of my school result. If I did well, I earned bragging rights and a few concessions during the holiday season. This meant I had to learn to suspend all thoughts of Christmas until after the exams even when the early morning chills and carols meant the season was in the air. Christmas season—beginning after exams for me—meant a lot of indulgencies, starting from sleeping about an hour late in the morning to enjoy the warmth of my bed to skipping morning baths.
It meant looking forward to receiving presents—including Christmas wears—without thinking of giving. It meant meeting up with older siblings and friends who had come home for the holidays. But it was always hard for me even then, to think of Christmas without the harmattan fog.
Christmas during the boom years was a joy. You got as many diaries and calendars as you needed. Hampers came from all and sundry. Even your enemies remembered to send something to you in this season of goodwill. The revelry, the fun, the parties started long before Christmas day and went on into the New Year. This was, we must not forget, the period of the 12 and the 13 month and everybody had money in his pocket and fun on his mind. The traffic to the Lagos Island was often a warning sign of the advent of Christmas because virtually all roads would be leading to the many shopping areas on the island.
Then monstrous go slows would build up to reach a crescendo on Christmas eve when places like Surulere, Apapa, Ikeja and the Island would virtually lock down. Everybody benefited from Christmas in those days—the rich, the poor and even the criminals. It was often said in my line of business that any printing press that was not busy during the yuletide season might as well fold up. One could say that about other lines of business at that time.
Now, everything has changed and it is not just the weather. Even the traffic has failed to acknowledge the advent of Christmas. There is a leanness in the air that is palpable. It seems the fat of the land has been swallowed by lean cows. The only people who have grains stored are the elites but unlike the days of Joseph in the Bible, they are not sharing. The champagne still flows but only in small, select circles. The opulent parties still take place but attendance is now strictly restricted. The rest are having to make do with trickles. There are many people who once had plenty but today are living from hand to mouth.
It diminishes one somehow when people who once had enough to give out are now turning to one for a hand out. There are kids who would gladly trade places with those in the motherless homes this Christmas only nobody would invite them. Internally Displaced Persons are not limited to the camps alone. They are scattered everywhere. I understand that we frittered the years of plenty away because we did not have a Joseph to advise on the importance of storing the excess grains and a Pharaoh with a will to do so.
But I still wonder if things have to be this bad for the average Nigerian. I am no economist but a policy that does not seem to arrest a deteriorating situation has to be re-examined. Many Nigerians are worse off this Christmas than last year’s.
There is a song at Christmas that a lot of worshipers in the orthodox churches, especially Catholic are familiar with because it is a song of advent. Its truth strikes me every year; more so this year. The first two verses are: (1) ‘Christ come quickly, there is danger at the door/ Poverty aplenty, hearts gone wild with war/ there’s hunger in the city and famine on the plain.’ (2) ‘Want demands a hearing in too many lands/ the sick go unattended, death deals a heavy hand/ the dreams of men are empty, their cups of sorrow full.’
Can these immortal verses be described as an exaggeration of the Nigerian situation this Christmas? I think not.
Meanwhile, count your blessings in whatever situation you find yourself and give yourself a merry Christmas. But please remember and pray for those who have nothing and no one this Christmas season.