Wednesday, 6th December 2023

Those days are gone

By Ray Ekpu
27 December 2022   |   3:12 am
In the South South region where I come from, Christmas and New Year were days that we looked forward to with excitement in the 50s and 60s. As young people we would be shepherded into the village church to mark the birth of Jesus Christ our savour. We were happy that Jesus was born, which…

In the South South region where I come from, Christmas and New Year were days that we looked forward to with excitement in the 50s and 60s. As young people we would be shepherded into the village church to mark the birth of Jesus Christ our savour. We were happy that Jesus was born, which meant that we would be saved from our sins; we were happy that God showed us so much love by sending his son to us as a saviour of the world.

We were told as young kids that Christmas was a season for love, for show of tolerance and friendship. That was the time that people exchanged fanciful Christmas and New Year cards, which in later years came to be known comprehensively as season’s greetings. People also exchanged gifts and visits while our relations who lived elsewhere would come home at this time to mark the period with us. Some of them brought us gifts.

And our parents knew that the time to buy us new clothes was Christmas/New Year period. We did not expect to wear old clothes to church on New Year day. Our parents knew that even if we did not get new clothes during the year they had a responsibility to buy us new clothes during the Christmas/New Year period.

The food was special too. Our staple food throughout the year was basically garri and yam. Rice was a special food to be eaten at this time. I remember that our mothers used to pour the rice on a mat and we the children would sit around the mat and pick stones out of the rice pile in readiness for cooking. I do not know whether the rice was imported or locally produced but the ritual of sorting out stones from the rice is something I cannot forget. It was fun as we looked forward to the delicious plate of rice that we would eat later with a piece of chicken and palm wine or ogogoro.

We went to church by foot or by bicycle. No one thought of using cars, buses or taxis because the distance was short and we always walked together, chatting and laughing excitedly on the way to church and back home. So when I look at how Christmas and New Year are marked today, I wonder how our young people would think of us, their parents and leaders of the country.

At a time that there should be happiness there is all round pain, suffering and fear. There is scarcity of petrol all over the country because all of Nigeria’s four refineries are dead, as dead as dodo. No drop of petrol is coming out of there or if there is any drop coming out of the refineries it is not enough to serve a small village. A crude oil producing country is importing finished petroleum products at deeply inflated costs, which they sell to the people, prosperous or pauperised, at more deeply inflated prices.

Then there is something called subsidy, meaning that the government is subsidising the cost of petrol, part of which we learn is exported illegally to neighbouring countries even though an assortment of security personnel are manning these routes. It is doubtful if a large quantity of petrol can be exported to other countries through what has been known as NADECO route, which is also known as footpaths.

So the debate about subsidy has been going on throughout the lifetime of the Muhammadu Buhari government and it is a debate that is far from resolved. You would think that seven years is enough for the government to have made up its mind to either sell the refineries to those who can run them or run them efficiently or even build new ones.

Running a refinery is not rocket science. Small countries like Qatar do so efficiently but Nigeria has too much wealth buried beneath its feet to really know what to do with it or to show an appropriate level of appreciation to God who has blessed us with too much wealth. If our refineries were working we would not have this long and interminable argument about petrol. Petrol is the most commonly used petroleum product in the country. Other petroleum products such as diesel and kerosene have had their prices adjusted to suit demand and supply.

With the huge debts that Nigeria is carrying now, subsidy will have to go eventually when some miracle happens and our refineries start working or when the Dangote Refinery starts working and it is fortunate to receive crude oil at a concessionary rate. Today as we speak petrol is being sold in the so-called black market for N400 per litre and people have no choice but to buy if they must keep moving. Owners of buses and taxis have had to respond accordingly by raising the fares they charge. Buses going from Lagos to the South South or South East towns charge three times their normal cost. The airlines are not left out of the scramble to cut the throats of those who need their services. A one-hour journey by air, which used to cost N50, 000 or less now goes for about N150, 000 or more. Those who make it a habit to visit their villages during the Christmas/New Year period are now debating whether it is really worth the trouble with the excessive cost of transportation whether by road or by air.

But even if you are not travelling you have to eat. Over the years rice has transformed itself into Nigeria’s main staple food across cultures. Everyone in every part of Nigeria eats rice, which can be fried or boiled or cooked with coconut or waterleaf. Rice has become a much-cherished delicacy whether it is the imported variety or the locally produced Ofada or Abakaliki rice. Whichever one you choose to buy you needs at least N50, 000 to buy a 50kg bag. And since rice goes very well with chicken you need to set aside N15, 000 for one large chicken.

The pertinent question to ask is: where are the rice pyramids that the Federal Government displayed in Abuja sometime ago? Where have they disappeared to? Are they all in our stomachs or they have gone back to wherever they came from? What was the idea of displaying the rice pyramid except to show us that we are now a serious rice producing country? But a few months from the date of that show we have no rice to buy at reasonable cost. Propaganda can only work to a limited extent. Whoever cooked up that one should hide his face in shame.

We are marking the birth of Jesus at a time of extreme stress for the country. There is widespread insecurity, high unemployment and poverty, a huge debt burden, brazen corruption, soaring inflation and the reckless bombing of INEC and police stations. We are tested every day as a nation. No one is sure that he will see the next day. Insecurity seeks to be walking on four legs every day everywhere. All of these have added to our misery.

In the 2022 Global Hunger Index, Nigeria is ranked 103 out of 121 countries. According to the index 12.7% of Nigerians are under nourished, 31.5% of under-five children are stunted while 11.4% of children die before their 5th birthday. Also, four out of 10 Nigerians live below $2 a day. This does not look too frightening because $2 can fetch anyone at least N1, 500 at the black market. But that is not the reality. Most people do not have access to the equivalent of $2 a day in Nigeria. If they did their life would be somewhat tolerable.

President Muhammadu Buhari has told us that he has done his best for Nigeria since he came to power in 2015. Obviously he must have done his best but his best is not good enough for Nigeria and its people. At this point there is not much he can do before taking his exit on May 29, next year.

He is now in the lame duck phase of his governance and no one truly ought to expect any significant difference to his lacklustre performance. Unemployment is over 33% today. Today, also, Nigeria is among the 10 hunger spots in the world. What more does anyone want to know about how deep into the hole we have sunk as a nation? But life is nourished by hope. Our hope is that things can change if we are able to make the right decision about who should take over from Buhari.

That is a difficult decision but difficult or not that is a decision we must inevitably make in the days to come. How we make that decision will determine what the country will look like post-Buhari era. Partisan politics is largely propagandistic so it is up to us to use our senses and decide what is propaganda and what is a possibility. We were sweet-tongued into voting for Buhari in 2015 and 2019. Those campaigns must stand out as the most successful beneficiaries of fabulous propaganda. They deserve to be studied by students of propaganda in our universities.

We must therefore be more circumspect this time around. We must ask the hard questions. When they tell us they will do this and do that we must ask how? How must be the most important question we must ask those who want to rule us in 2023 and beyond. Sweet words will not be enough to get us to vote for whoever. They must be backed by pragmatic actions that can make next year’s Christmas and New Year, different, positively different, from this year’s celebration.

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