The celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the progenitor of the Christian faith, was held worldwide yesterday. Christian faithful, in their millions, trooped to various worship centres to commemorate the day, which is obviously the biggest festival in Christendom.
But there was a build-up to the day. All over the place, the streets were jam-packed with people – old and young – all engaged in one thing or another in preparation for the day. In Britain, not even the ravaging flood that has changed the landscape for several weeks could dissuade people from going out for the usual Christmas shopping. Elsewhere in Europe, the chilling winter was no obstacle to people who braved the odds and moved round in their winter jackets. With some of the temperature falling below 4 degree Celsius, this year’s Christmas will surely go down as one of the coldest ever.
In Nigeria, it was celebration galore. Street carnivals were held everywhere. The popular Calabar Street Carnival midwifed by Donald Duke, former governor of Cross River State, has assumed a life of its own. So also is the Port Harcourt Carnival introduced by the incumbent Governor Rotimi Amaechi.
In many homes, churches, corporate organisations and some government houses, Christmas carols were held in anticipation of the Christmas Day celebration. In Akwa Ibom State, a 9,999-man orchestra was put together to celebrate the state’s Christmas Carol. In attendance were dignitaries, including religious leaders, foreign envoys and a host of other very important personalities.
The period also witnessed a regime of bonanzas unleashed on the populace by various corporate bodies and other manufacturing companies who enticed their customers with mouth-watering promos. Market men and women were not left out. They all made brisk business and smiled to the banks as Christmas presented an opportunity for them to do good business and make huge profit. And the governors were not left out in all of these. Though there were no salary increases, many palliatives were approved for state government workers to celebrate the Christmas.
In Imo State, a two-week holiday was declared for the state government workers in addition to some stipends approved for them to enable them celebrate Christmas with their families. The governor of the state, Rochas Okorocha, known widely for his unconventional style of leadership and, sometimes, erratic decisions, also approved money running into millions of naira for the security agencies in the state. His calculation was that the least paid security agent in the state would go home with at least N10,000 for Christmas. This gesture was replicated in other states of the federation in one form or another. It all borders on merriment during the Christmas as if all Christmas stands for is eating and drinking.
Notwithstanding the avalanche of mouth-watering offers and merriment associated with the festival, various religious leaders across the country, political leaders and public office holders were quick to remind the populace of the need to embrace peace in the country. The appeals come on the heels of threat of violence which have characterised the season in the past. Last year, on Christmas Day, worshippers at St. Theresa Catholic Church in Madalla, on the outskirts of Suleja, Niger State, were callously mowed down by a suicide bomber who had targeted the worshippers as they closed from church. It was a horrible sight as many of the worshippers died in the blast while others lost their limbs and sustained varying degree of injuries. The church building and other adjoining buildings were not spared in the orgy of destruction. The attack drew wide condemnation from people all over the world. But such condemnations were not enough to deter the bombers who still exploded their lethal wares in other parts of the country, especially in the crisis-ridden northern part of Nigeria.
As Christmas drew near this year, residents of Madalla were gripped with fear and trepidation. Last year’s incident was obviously still fresh in their memories. This resulted in many people moving out of the area to avoid any unpleasant situation. This is the extent of the psychological torture and trauma terrorism has inflicted on the people.
The thought of a re-enactment of the Madalla episode elsewhere in the country had stretched the security agencies in Nigeria to the limit this year. To avoid a repeat occurrence, security, therefore, took centre-stage in the affairs of the nation during the Christmas festivities. While the focus of the agencies in the North was to avert any strike by misguided extremists masquerading under the veil of religion, those in other parts of the country were battling kidnappers and armed robbers who have been on the prowl for some time now. The roads, too, were heavily monitored by officers and men of the Federal Road Safety Commission. But because of the generally deplorable situation of the roads, many people either stayed back or risked travelling on the roads. I am quite sure that the increase in traffic during this period must have also recorded its own fatalities. This is because of the nightmare travelling on Nigerian roads has become. It is no longer a pleasure but a horrendous experience moving from one part of the country to another.
On Friday, December 21, 2012, Chukwuemeka Ekweremadu, the elder brother to Ike Ekweremadu, Deputy President of the Senate, lost his life in a road crash on the Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway. Until his death, Chukwuemeka, who was 52 years old, was a Director in the Enugu State Civil Service and a member, Board of Trustees, Tertiary Education Trust Fund. His sudden death on one of the nation’s appalling roads has put an abrupt end to an otherwise glorious career.
Not even the alternative – air transportation – is safe in the country anymore. With far too many air crashes in the recent past, there is virtually no place to hide. The latest involved a naval helicopter that crashed in the mangrove forest of Bayelsa State on December 15, 2012. The crash claimed the lives of six Nigerians – former Governor Patrick Yakowa of Kaduna State and his friend, Dauda Tsoho; immediate past National Security Adviser, General Andrew Owoye Azazi (retd.) and his orderly, Warrant Officer Karmal; and the two pilots of the ill-fated aircraft, Commander Daba and Lieutenant Sowole. Daba’s wife is said to have newly put to bed, while Sowole’s wife is pregnant. The Sowoles were married for less than two years before tragedy struck. This disaster took the shine off the Christmas celebration in the affected families.
By and large, this year’s Christmas festival has come and gone but what remains is the lessons to be learnt from it. One of these is that Christmas is not about merriment alone. It is about humility, which Jesus epitomised in his lifetime. It is about service. It is about love and care for the less privileged in the society. It should not be misconstrued to mean extravagance or ostentatious display of ill-gotten wealth.
And now that the carnivals and merriment are over, shall we have good governance and accountability in all facets of our national life? That is the only way this country can move forward. That is the only way we can make progress as a people. So, as we move ahead into another year, let us have a rethink. Let us devote our energy to those things that will make life meaningful to all of us. This should not be a one-sided sacrifice. It is for both the leaders and the led. Together, we must make the world worth living through our actions and utterances. Already, the Presidency is promising Nigerians an El Dorado come 2013. But that refrain is familiar. We have heard such promises over and over again, such that it has almost become meaningless to the average Nigerian. But who knows if God will hear Nigerians’ prayers for a better life in 2013? We are all waiting for that miracle.