Three things make you have a feel of the Christmas season in Nigeria. The music you hear, the mood of people and the alluring decorations on street corners. The jingle bell songs start reverberating in music stores right from the last day of November.
For these music shop owners, it is their own way of calling attention to buyers. It is boom time for them. The music comes in such soothing ways that make passersby want to patronize them even if they had done that repeatedly over the years.
It is more of a yearly ritual for people to get these carol music and share in the mood of the moment. In Lagos, the commercial capital city of Nigeria, many of the music stores make good money selling Christmas songs which make people reflect on the closing year.
Suddenly everybody seems to become sober. All the struggles of the beginning of the year seem to be winding down. It is a time to reflect on the gains and the losses. But it is also time for businesses to boom.
Marriage ceremonies suddenly jerk up while hitherto undone events get the needed attention. As the year runs to an end, event planners and those in the entertainment business smile to the bank. The salary earners are somewhat at the “losing” end. They spend so much to acquire material things. Some change furniture, some repaint their houses. Those who sell chickens also make good money.
It is also a tradition for many families to buy new cloths especially for the young ones. Children entertainment programmes also get so much patronage. Damilola Akingbagbohun, CEO Damsar Communication observes that the Christmas season is the best season for the kids.
Commenting on the children programme he organized in about four states of the country, he says, “There is something about this season. Children get excited when it is getting close to Christmas. We have been organizing programme for children over the years but we found out that the only time we make huge success is the Christmas time not even during the Children Day Celebration. Children like the sight of Santa Claus and all the ceremonies and the songs that link up with Christmas”
Over the years however the beauty attached to Christmas season has suffered considerably as families grapple with the economic reality of the times. While a large portion of Nigerians grapple with this seeming economic downturn; the story is different in the highbrow areas.
In the rich communities the celebration still goes on in a big dimension. In Victoria Island, Lagos where most of the banks and high networth companies are located, the atmosphere is different. Many of the streets are decorated with Christmas trees and assorted Christmas ornaments that leave you wondering if you are in a fairyland.
As you walk these streets, the sight, sound and spirit of the season envelop you. It is a beauty to behold. But the story is not the same in the densely populated parts of Lagos. In the rural areas the story is also different. The only sign to show the Christmas season is here is the harmattan haze that is more felt in these areas and the general mood that suggests rest.
In some street corners where the average income earners and the indigent live, street urchins known as Area Boys take advantage of the season to make brisk business extracting money from motorists who ply their streets. They erect roadblocks and encourage motorist to celebrate the season with them. The implication is that motorists who have to ply that direction will part with something no matter how small. They in turn rain prayers on such motorist.
Some of the young chaps also organize carnivals and street shows going from house to house to solicit support. The young ones simply try to make themselves happy while older ones reflect and grapple with the reality of the season. For the adults, Christmas means more spending. Those who don’t have the financial strength end up borrowing to live up to expectations.
Family ties in Nigeria are strong. It is expected that many of the people around you should also have a feel of the season. Sharing is encouraged. Some work organizations realize this and so give their staff some kind of allowance that would make them enjoy the season. Organizations that cannot afford such make provision for some food items like rice for their staff.
It seems there is an unwritten law that no man should be sad and wanting in this season of Jesus’ birth. But this Christmas season comes with a dint of heaviness for some people in the country. In the north, relentless killings by Boko Haram sect members have made some of the residents to relocate down south. It is believed that the insurgents will take advantage of the season to wreak havoc. Many lives have been lost in the course of the year to these mindless elements.
Tunde Suleiman, who has chains of businesses in Kaduna in the middle belt area of Nigeria has relocated down south for the Christmas. “I don’t want to take a risk of staying up north for the celebration. I had to move to the south with my family for now because the insurgents may take advantage of the season to kill” he said.
Many families who cannot relocate have had to stay and wait for whatever faith may befall them. Families of the Chibok School girls abducted by the insurgents are also having hard times grappling with the mood of the season. There seems to be no hope that they will see their girls before the year runs out.
For the vast majority of Christians, hope is kept alive. Churches take advantage of the season to hold programmes and conventions. Prayer vigils span the last 30 days of the year. Some churches limit theirs to the last three days. Usually, some churches especially those who have Pentecostal leanings declare fasting and praying programmes for their members. It is believed that the last four months of the year are to be observed with a great deal of care. December particularly is treated with some measure of care.
Prayers of protection for church members get deafening amen in churches. It is easy for people to be carried away with prophetic utterances that have something to do with their lives. A young man recently took advantage of this in Ota, Ogun State. Ota is the town where the former president of the country, Olusegun Obasano resides.
The young man came into the community close to The Bells area in Ota; early in the morning about a week before Christmas. He began by ringing the bell and calling on people to come out for prayers. He then resumed a session of prayer. He prayed for their children saying in vernacular, eni gbo mo sin o meaning, you will not have cause to bury your children.
The prayer item attracted a huge attention. Pronto, some of the residents including Muslims queued before him. He sensed he had gotten their attention and began reeling out prophecies to them. Not long people began parting with their money. In one hour he had made about N49,000 (about $200 dollars)
He continued in the prayers and moved round some of the streets when some smart young boys apprehended him and discovered he was playing a prank on the people. It turned out that he was not a prophet. They found on him alcoholic drinks in sachets neatly packed in his pockets and sticks of cigarette. He was a fraudster. He just took advantage of the people and their ignorance to swindle them with fake prophetic utterances.
He was handed over to the police while those who had given him money for the prayers run up to him to collect their money. The young man is still in the police custody as I write this. But he may be left off the hook since he did not force the people to pay him for prayers.
The scene however is just a reflection of the attitude of the average Nigerian to church issues. They believe so much in spiritual leaders that they would rather spend for church and church leaders than spend on their basic needs. The Christmas season often presents opportunities for all kinds of charlatans to take advantage of the people. And this season has not been an exemption.