By Dakuku Peterside
Though a Christian celebration, Christmas has turned into a cosmopolitan, cultural and social celebration marked and enjoyed worldwide by different religious adherents. In Nigeria, a religiously diverse nation, many homes, Muslims, Christians, and traditional religion practitioners, celebrate the spirit of friendship and comradery among different people, enjoy harmless fun, exchange gifts, and share the love that is the hallmark of Christmas.
The frenzy of Christmas and New Year celebrations will soon remove our attention from more immense socio-economic challenges pushing Nigeria to the edge. Nigerians never allow any political, economic, or social condition to dampen their Christmas and New Year spirit as they enter the festivities celebration mood, especially starting from the first week in December.
No matter what the year has brought, people go into Christmas and New Year celebrations with renewed hope for the bright future of Nigeria.The festivity will be low key for some, and others will still explore fun to the maximum. For some, Omicron variant of COVID-19 may define how they spend the seasonal celebrations, where they travel to and what functions they attend .
However, Nigerians have seasonal concerns they wish their leaders and government could address; so they have fulfilled celebrations and look forward to 2022 with hope and optimism. These concerns emanate from the yearly experience of people nearer to Christmas celebrations, and these issues have been a recurring decimal in Nigeria during the infamous ember months. Top on the list is insecurity.
Although there have always been fears of insecurity during Christmas periods in the past because of a sense of heightened quest to make money legitimately and unscrupulously among many people, especially the youths, the desire to show off with the latest gadgets, toys, cars, clothes, and other accoutrements of ostentation pushes many people to engage in various forms of criminality.
In recent times, insecurity has taken a more sinister dimension than previously. The secessionist agitations in the South-East, the banditry and terrorism of the North-East and North-West, the mayhem of Fulani herders and their conflicts with farmers in the South-West and Middle Belt region.
We also have kidnapping and militancy in the South-South and these entail that most nooks and crannies of Nigeria are insecure. Some have a yearly ritual of travelling back to their villages to commune with family and God. This year, many are having a rethink about making those journeys.
The above issue is especially so with people from the SouthEast living in faraway North or South-West. They will struggle to understand the killings in their hometowns and the constant sit-at-home orders by IPOB.
Fear is the new-normal, and people are afraid for their lives and from harm. Government should do everything within its powers to assure Nigerians of their safety. An orchestrated and detailed plan of providing security, especially in known hotspots by the security apparatus, is essential to instill confidence in the people.
Travelling by road should be made more secure by the government. I sincerely hope that government will give Nigerians the Christmas gift of providing robust security during this festive season on our major highways. If government has any plans and activities towards offering protection, it should let the citizens know to inspire confidence before the yuletide starts proper.
Besides insecurity in road transportation, traffic management is another bane of road transportation in Nigeria. Traffic jams are prevalent in most urban areas, but with the festive season approaching, this exacerbates and becomes a source of anguish and irritation to drivers and passengers. Government should start on time to plan how to provide robust traffic management and control systems, utilising modern technology. An efficient road traffic control system is a great Christmas gift Nigerians will cherish from the government.
Our gateways are often overwhelmed at peak times during the Christmas season. The airports, especially, are crowded with people coming back from big cities or abroad to spend Christmas with their families.
Often, with crowding comes the collapse of efficient service provision, touting, flouting of rules and best practices in safety, poor crowd management and flouting of laws on COVID-19. The facilities are sometimes not kept in good shape and our gateways, often the first point of contact with foreigners coming into the country, become glorified motor parks where anything and everything goes.
Government will use the little time it has now to plan and implement an efficient and effective airport management system that is fit for purpose and will utilise appropriate resources to run the airports effectively. Foreigners and visitors must feel welcomed to Nigeria and have a positive perception of Nigeria in the first few minutes of entering our airports.
Christmas is a festive season, and food prices tend to go up due to high demand. This year has been exceptional. Food prices all year have been increasing at above 10%. Already, the cost of staple food has gone beyond the affordability of many Nigerians. Although government does not have direct control over the cost of food, Nigerians will appreciate any macro-level intervention it can make to stabilise the price of food. Any measures taken by government to stabilise the cost of food will be a Christmas gift most Nigerians will love.
Next to food price issues is the rising cost of fuel and gasoline. The gas price has increased by over 200% in the past year. The price of petrol, although stable, for now, is feared to rise drastically if government goes ahead to remove the fuel subsidy.
Nigerians at the lower ebb of the economic strata are feeling the bite of the increase in fuel and gas prices. If they cannot afford foodstuff and gas to cook food, that will threaten their existence. The direct implications of this are the prevalence of malnutrition, diseases and sometimes death.
An increase in transport fare due to a rise in the cost of fuel will have a significant negative impact on poor people. Fuel scarcity is prevalent during the Christmas period. So far, government has done a great job to reduce the case of fuel scarcity in Nigeria. We hope that government will put all strategies and operations to avert any fuel scarcity and force the price of goods not to skyrocket during this festive period. Any positive action in this direction from government will be a great Christmas gift for many Nigerians.
The reality is that fears are growing that inflation could burn red hot, as Nigerians pay higher prices on everything from airfares and electricity to rents, fuel, transport, food items and cooking gas. Government should not be aloof to these fears and concerns but must work collaboratively with the private sector to reduce these concerns on many Nigerian citizens. On the side of the citizens, we expect economic common sense. People must avoid the temptation of seeing this season as a period of profligacy.
Nigerians would like to have hope in the future, which is the true bedrock of development and patriotism. A recent study by professors at the University of Miami has shown that in nations where people are more optimistic about the future, the impact of the economic recession is weaker, economic expansion is vibrant, and recovery faster.
Nigerians need a new lease of hope and optimism buoyed by a combination of heightened government action on security and a clear roadmap of tackling our immediate economic, social, and political challenges. That way we can navigate the future with confidence.
Finally, government must be ready to engage the people. If there is any challenge we have today, it is the fact that the citizenry feels hopeless and do not have much expectations because of poor citizens engagement.