By Sunny Awhefeada
My childhood memory of Christmas was blissful, it is evergreen and I am sure it will remain so. This goes for members of my generation, the preceding generation and the one just behind mine.
The harmattan was always the harbinger. Then what we called Christmas holiday after the first term examination would follow. The bush around us will burn and hawks would hover above the fire and dive as if pecking some objects on the smoking ground.
The season also saw us working on the farm in anticipation of the rain that would make the crops bloom. That was Evwreni, after I left Ibadan for home, home being Urhoboland. Christmas in Ibadan was a sharp contrast to that in Evwreni. Ibadan was a sprawling hurly-burly teeming with people. The streets were always alive and loud.
The Christmas made the streets more boisterous with human activities. My memory of Ibadan enjoys a dual tendency. I lived there as a child. I again lived there as an adult doing postgraduate studies. My thoughts of Ibadan therefore spanned different moments.
Nevertheless, whether it was Ibadan or Evwreni, Christmas was always the best of seasons for us. It was the season to expect new clothes, monetary and material gifts, home decoration, Christmas carols, visits to Father Christmas (Santa Claus) and of course the rice and especially the chicken and curry laden stew tasted differently.
There were visits and then New Year festivities followed. It was a moment of great happiness. As children we never reckoned the spiritual essence of the season. That was decades ago!
Over the years, the tenor and temper of Christmas changed for the worse and there has never been a reverse to what it was in the good old days. The carols began to fade and such choruses as “We wish you a merry Christmas” and “Jingle bells, jingle bells…” became distant and unappealing.
The economic doldrums of the 1980s and its malignant consequences bred poverty and took the allure and joy of Christmas away. The Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) sapped the nation and the citizens were at the receiving end. The nation’s economic woes deepened. Each passing year elicited nostalgic reminiscences of what was.
People looked and still look at the past wistfully. So far any thought of how the glorious past can be reborn has been will o’ the wisp. The past is gone and it is long gone. But we pray that its beauty and glory shall be reborn. Christmas has over the years assumed new dimensions, meanings and implications.
As the economy got worse every year, the conviviality gradually gave way to forced sobriety which now manifests in religious activities to mark the end of the year.
The Christmas of 2020 came upon a world that is in tumult. The pandemic, COVID-19, which stole in on the world in November 2019 continue to loom over humanity. It locked down the world for much of this year after which a short spell of reprieve followed. Just when humanity was beginning to heave a sigh of relief, especially with the discovery and mass production of vaccines, a more virulent type of COVID-19 burst forth to dampen our joy.
As the world mark Christmas this year, many countries are returning to lockdown and religious leaders have ruled that there was no need for people to gather in churches for the usual religious activities that feature at Christmas. Recreational facilities are also being shut down and people have been advised to stay at home. All around the world is bleakness as COVID-19 has returned with a treacherous blow.
There are many frightening scenarios for Christmas in Nigeria this year. The devastating effects of COVID-19 on families who lost loved ones and the fear of infection, the virtual collapse of the economy and the poverty it spurned, the intractable problem of insecurity, the #ENDSARS protest against police brutality, all contributed to the bleakness of the 2020 Christmas for Nigerians.
Already rated as the poorest nation in the world three years ago, the poverty index must be frightening at the moment especially as our population increased from 198 million of three years ago to 208 million at the moment. Population increase without economic opportunities is a recipe for grounding poverty.
This is further complicated by the problem of terrorism and banditry in the North. The bandits and herdsmen have also infiltrated the South where they daily kidnap people for ransom.
Nigerians really have more than many problems to contend with this Christmas. Besides the fear of COVID-19, the complete abdication of governance by the ruling class has robbed Nigerians of hope. Besides government officials pouring platitudes of their feeble and reluctant attempts at what passes for governance there is hardly anything to cheer about here. It was alarming to hear that the Federal Government couldn’t pay workers for two distressful months.
Three days ago, Financial Times of London told the world that Nigeria was at the risk of becoming a failed state.
Some of us responded with an angry hiss and despondent sigh. Why is Financial Times just saying what all Nigerians already knew? What is a country that is the third most dangerous place to live in the world, if not a failed state? What is a country with the highest number of poor people in the world, if not a failed state?
What is a country that has consistently struggled for the medal of the most corrupt place in the world, if not a failed state? What is a country with over 15 million out of school children, if not a failed state? What is a country where policemen kill citizens, rape and rob them to the applause of the police chief, if not a failed state?
What is a country that has no electricity, if not a failed state? What is a country that has no roads, if not a failed state? What is a country with collapsed health and education systems with its universities shut down for a full year, if not a failed state? Armed robbers and kidnappers; bandits and terrorists; have taken over to the extent that policemen who got kidnapped were rescued by village vigilante!
As we observe Christmas, yes observe not celebrate, many families are mourning the death of loved ones. COVID-19 took many away this year. Death also came through terrorism, banditry, kidnapping and armed robbery.
Our roads that have become death traps also took some. The parlous state of our economy in depression has robbed many of the capacity to celebrate. This is a cold and bleak Christmas. There are soldiers fighting insurgency in the frontlines. We must pray for them. The incipient harmattan haze and cold accentuate the predicament of the majority of Nigerians who would have nothing to eat or drink as well as those who lost family members and friends.
But we must not give up on the hope for a better world, a better Nigeria. We must hold on to hope and work as a people to make Nigeria a better place. We the people have largely become complicit in the things that hold us down. We must think, rework our mindset and refocus on what kind of country we want to build.
The future of Nigeria and the kind of country we want is in our hands. Having said all this, can I say merry Christmas and Happy New Year or should I re-echo Tai Solarin’s “may your road be rough”? I dunno! Nevertheless, those who have should reach out to those who don’t.
For every spoon of rice or slice of chicken we eat, let us reach out to those who couldn’t afford same and in so doing, say “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!”