By Nnamdi Ojiego
Christmas 2020 is here. It is a season that brings friends and families together. Meanwhile, Igbo people from the South-East, wherever they may be based, are known to have, over the years, developed special interest for the season, and, as such, would do everything possible to mark the season on their home grounds.
It is, therefore, usual to see the Igbo using the occasion of Christmas to besiege their villages from wherever they may reside, including those in the Diaspora, for the same purpose.
Many would have thought that the rising insecurity, fear of the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, the hardships occasioned by the several months of lockdown, and increase in transport fares, would drastically reduce the number of Igbo travelers this time around.
However, Sunday Vanguard findings revealed the opposite.
A trip to some parks in Lagos and Abuja showed ever increasing number of travelers despite over 100% increase in transport fares in the last few days.
For example, a journey from Lagos to Onitsha that cost N6, 000 last Sunday was N14, 000 on Friday.
Many Igbo people, who spoke to Sunday Vanguard from across the country, said neither the precarious security situation nor increase in transport fares would deter them from traveling to be with their loved ones in their various villages.
While some attributed this quest to visit home during Christmas as an inborn trait of Ndigbo, others saw it as more of a home-coming, a get-together for an average Igbo traveler.
This school of thought believed that Christmas time provides south easterners the opportunity to reunite with their families and loved ones.
Sharing this view with Sunday Vanguard, Mr. Obinna Kesta, a media personality and social media influencer, explained that Ndigbo is a tribe that is highly dominated by Christians (up-to 98%) and would be very difficult for them not to celebrate Christmas which was why they often travel home from the cities.
He said: “Christmas is a time to reunite as families and as a people to deliberate on issues that concern them and look for ways forward after staying apart for quite some time.
“Yes, there’s Covid-19 pandemic but we have all seen that it hasn’t really been a big problem for we Africans.
“Death rates with or without Covid-19 have remained the same.
‘South-East most secured’
“On insecurity, I think it’s even safer to travel because there is no place like home, as we say, and south-eastern Nigeria has been the most secured and peaceful region in recent history.
“The high cost of transportation is self-inflicted on our people by our people and we have always survived it.
“So I think there is nothing much that should stop our people from traveling this Christmas.”
Craving to return home
Speaking in the same vein, an entrepreneur from Owerri, Imo State, Mr. Ikenna Egejuru, added that Christmas was not just a mere celebration for Ndigbo, as it has become a time for reuniting and family get-together.
“It’s something that has been part and parcel of Ndigbo since the time immemorial”, Egejuru said.
“People always prepare that every December, they must touch home to see the people they have not seen for a very long time, most especially, those from the Diaspora that are going to return.
“So high cost of transportation and whatever Covid-19 has come with cannot deter us from traveling.
“Again, there are certain activities in various villages that give that craving to return home every December.
“So the problem of insecurity or increase in transportation fare cannot actually stop them from being part of these activities at the villages”.
Egejuru’s sentiment was also shared by an Abuja-based medical practitioner, and Chief Executive Officer of JOFA Global Foundation, Dr. Obinna Oke, who pointed out that no obstacle was good enough to prevent a willing Igbo person from traveling home this yuletide.
Oke regretted that he won’t be travelling for the Christmas celebrations because he had travelled home in November and his work would not permit him to travel again this soon.
“Yes, the prevailing insecurity in the country, the issue of COVID-19 and high cost of transportation at this time are very important factors that can discourage someone from travelling”, he said.
“However, none of them is an absolute contraindication for travelling to see one’s family, friends and loved ones.
“These three factors should not discourage Igbo who want to travel to celebrate and spend quality time with their loved ones after a long period of being away especially those who can afford to, an opportunity that Christmas provides.”
The medical doctor, however, added a caveat, advising those who “cannot afford to travel not to feel bad or engage in an unlawful effort to be able to” as there is no time that one cannot travel.
“They can celebrate the Christmas this year wherever they are and possibly travel when next they feel it’s convenient for them. Christmas isn’t ending anytime soon. Just like me; I won’t be travelling and I don’t feel any loss”.
Also, a Lagos-based businessman, King-James Onuegbu, who said though he was worried about the insecurity situation in the country, it would not stop him from traveling to his home state, Anambra.
He said: “Yes, I am traveling, though I’m a bit worried about insecurity, I am not going to be deterred by a possible hike in transportation fare.
“Also, I am not afraid of Covid-19 at all. This is because, people have been travelling in and out before now, ignoring Covid-19 protocols and it seems that nothing is happening.
But for some other people, the quest to travel should take the backstage when the issue of safety of life was concerned.
To Favour Amakor, a journalist resident in Abuja, the only thing discouraging him from going to his village during this yuletide was the high cost of transportation and insecurity along the major highways, and not necessarily the issue of Covid-19.
“I am planning to travel for Christmas but I am being deterred by high cost of transportation and insecurity and not necessarily because of Covid-19. It is unfortunate that government who came to power on the mantra of ‘change’ has failed woefully in discharging its constitutional responsibility of protecting life and property. For me, the fear of insecurity during the yuletide is the beginning of wisdom”, he said.
Similarly, a staff member of one of the commercial banks in the country, who preferred to remain anonymous, was worried about the security situation in Nigeria, saying she wouldn’t risk her life simply because she wanted to celebrate the festive period in her village.
“Well on the issue of traveling, I don’t want to risk my life on the road because of insecurity”, she said.