By Muyiwa Adetiba
It was palpable; this air of expectancy. I felt it as soon as I drove into Police College Ikeja, for the second of my twice weekly exercise. I felt it in the banners that were conspicuously placed in strategic places; I felt it in the white chairs and the huge tents that took over the playing fields; I felt it in the huge loudspeakers that faced outwards rather than inwards; I felt it in the kiosks that were already bursting with activities; I felt it in the excitement of the young men and women as they trickled in with tracts in their hands; I felt it and I sighed. It is that time of the year again. What I had just seen were the trappings of another end-of-the-year vigil.
Part of my exercise routine includes walking around the field two or three times before going into the squash court for the real work out. In this instance, it meant I would have to circle the vigil revellers like the wall of Jericho at least twice. It meant I would be able to observe their activities at closer quarters. I was able to observe neatly dressed ushers in black who politely greeted passers-by as they offered tracts. But of a particular interest were the kiosks. They were arranged in such a way that they easily became the first points of contact as the worshipers sauntered in. Some offered iced drinks, some snacks, some fruits, some handkerchiefs, some candles and some oil in small bottles. In some ways, the kiosks symbolised the event that was to take place.
Growing up in that rural town of Ilesha in Oyo State, the one sure sign I had that the year was coming to an end was the harmattan haze which we would initially sight in the early evening between the foliage of neighbouring trees. The beginning of dry evenings and chilly mornings meant the advent of good things—not necessarily of the Lord which is the reason for the season, but of new clothes, rice, chicken and turkey aplenty. Coming to Lagos where harmattan rarely comes until late December, one needed new, early signs of Christmas. They invariably came through the traffic that would inexplicably begin to build up in November only to climax on Christmas Eve. Once the impossible traffic started, you knew Christmas was in the air. Speaking of traffic, the police escorts and their ogas were totally unreasonable on Tuesday this week around Civic Centre on Ozumba Mdadiwe Street, Victoria Island. They parked two rows on the busy street, leaving just one lane for the heavy traffic to manage. It was lawless and irresponsible. It compounded the traffic situation and made the hot afternoon even more insufferable.
Christmas traffic was almost immediately followed by Christmas lights which would increase by the day as more and more institutions lit up. That also would climax on Christmas Eve. Then, as a young journalist covering society, the season meant more cocktails, dinners and corporate end-of-year parties. Then slowly, almost imperceptibly, Pentecostal vigils and revivals—because they start early, sometimes as early as October, – became the first sign of advent, the season that marks the Lord’s coming.
However it is heralded though, the season is of importance and not just to Christians. For me and many others, the import of the season is stocktaking – spiritual, emotional and material stocktaking. It is a period to strip yourself naked and look into the mirror of your soul. What you see, and how you analyse what you see, should determine how you go forward and how the new year would pan out. Wherever you see failure, and I am not talking about financial failure alone, then you should be honest enough, and humble enough and determined enough to seek help. And wherever a previous failure has been turned around, you should be able to pat yourself at the back while remembering the things you did to turn that failure around. The main purpose is to embark on the kind of honest introspection that can lead to self improvement.
Religious institutions especially churches can help in this process of stocktaking. Demographics show that Pentecostal vigils are packed with the young and people who are mostly challenged physically, emotionally, spiritually or financially. People who need help but are uncertain as to where or how it would come. What the churches do through vigils and revivals is to offer hope—and miracles. I have heard it said on the pulpit on occasions that ‘whatever the year has been, profess that the New Year will be better and it will be so.’ There is nothing wrong with hope. There is nothing wrong with a positive mind set. In fact, I wonder whether Nigerians would have taken half of what their leaders have been dishing out to them without going to the streets in protest if they hadn’t been regularly fed with a large dosage of hope and miracles through our religious institutions. But there is a lot wrong with hope that is not rooted in reality. The churches need to emphasize the importance of an honest self-appraisal. The churches need to emphasize the importance of hard work, of character, of integrity. They need to tell their congregation that Israel, the‘promised land’ in the Bible, is not exactly flowing with milk and honey. In fact, it is far less endowed than Nigeria. That the people have had to turn their country around through sheer grit and innovativeness. They need to emphasize that miracles are supernatural occurrences and not everyday happenings. To live a life that is based on expected miracles is to be delusional.
We are in that time of the year when we wish our loved ones a happy and prosperous new year. But to live a happy life, we have to learn the tools that make for happiness. To have a prosperous new year, we have to do the things that make for prosperity. To live a healthy life, we have to imbibe a healthy lifestyle. Mere wishing is not enough. Our churches have a major role in letting the people, especially our youths to understand this. To reap, you have to sow. That is the law which the sovereign Lord has instituted on earth. It is immutable. May the good Lord bless the WORKS of our hands in the coming year. Just as he blessed and multiplied the five loaves with two fish that were offered to him in the desert. But you have to provide the bread and the fish.