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Christmas in the era of Covid-19, insecurity and economic recession

There are seasons that are celebrated all over the world. Economic prosperity or downturn can only change the elaborateness or otherwise of such seasons. Christmas and New Year are two of such occasions. This year, the celebrations may be low key in Nigeria, the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, the high level of insecurity and the economic recession have conspired to be “a kill joy” as it were.

As Nigerians continue to grapple with food inflation, high cost of living, poverty, fuel price hike, many concerned citizens also told BusinessDay SUNDAY that they were afraid that the security situation may worsen as the festive period draws nearer; for them, 2020 Christmas and New Year celebrations would not be the same.

Many Nigerian citizens whose habit it is to travel to their villages and ancestral homes during the yuletide have, this time around, cancelled the plan to do so. They complain of hard times and the frightening level of insecurity across the country.

An architect, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “Taking a retrospect on the year 2020, things happened. The pandemic, ASUU strike, #EndSARS protests and now recession. There is definitely going to be a difference in the way people celebrated Christmas last year and how they would do so this year. Many people will cut down on their expenses in celebrating Christmas; people may not want to travel to meet their families because of the rate of transport fare. We are also not forgetting the rising cases of kidnapping and banditry in some parts of the country.”

According to him, “Celebrating Christmas and weighing our pocket is definitely going to happen in this time. Some other festivals or celebrations might have been cancelled but no one would want to cancel Christmas despite the hard times. A lot of people were given termination letters due to the pandemic. How would these people celebrate Christmas and the New Year? How would those who lost their means of livelihood, their businesses to the #EndSARS protest react to the Yuletide this year? These are the germane questions.”

Ruling out any possibility of him travelling to the village for Christmas, Obi Emereuwa, who hails from Imo State, said he had not missed celebrating the Yuletide in the East in the last 10 years, but would do so this year.

“The economic downturn occasioned by the Coronavirus pandemic has seriously affected me. By this time, consistently in the last ten years, I would have sent home, at least six to seven bags of rice and the condiments. I used to share up to ten bags of rice every Christmas and New Year. Travelling for me is not just about me; it is about the people at home; those my little gift will put smile on their faces, but that will not happen this year because I do not have the means to do so,” Emereuwa said.

He also pointed out that the prevailing economic downturn and the Covid-19 protocol would prevent most religious organisations to organise elaborate programmes that usually take away the mind of their members to whatever that goes on in society during this period.

“There are usually a lot of crusades and retreats this period that occupy church members and make them think less of these celebrations, but with the Covid-19 and the need to observe the protocols, these programmes may either not hold or be trimmed down. The provisions that used to be made at such events may not come in their full measure, which may leave those that do not have anything to fall back on to begin to think about how to fill the gaps. So, what I am saying is that it is a situation that affects everyone,” he further said.

On 2nd December 2020, Chioma Omeje, a petty trader was mysteriously kidnapped with her baby in broad day light at the Bwari LGA in Federal Capital Territory (FCT) on her way to the local market, the situation threw residents into hysteria, because, incidents of kidnapping had not been recorded in that area for several years.

While residents are yet to recover from the shock, another incident happened in the same LGA on the same day when armed masked men invaded another community and kidnapped five persons including a mother whose two children said the kidnappers were demanding N20 million ransom.

“The security situation is getting out of hand, look at what has been happening across the country, when I received the news of the kidnappings, I was shocked because such hardly happens here, it means these people are expanding and penetrating communities, no place is safe anymore. The security situation is already bad, how much more this festive period?” Feyisayo Adeola, a petty trader said.

“My own fear is that security men seem helpless, for instance during the kidnap, those gunmen shot into the air, but it was hours later that the military and police came, what’s the use? If security men cannot be relied upon, what is our fate?” Chike Ogbu, a businessman told our correspondent.
“I have restricted my movement and that of my children, we will stay indoors more now, because Christmas is fast approaching, people are hungry and criminality will surely increase,” Nkechi Ukpa, a resident of the FCT, said.

While Nigerians and experts continue to lament the security situation, BusinessDay’s visit to motor parks in the FCT found that the passenger traffic is low. Transport workers said this is largely because Nigerians are afraid.

“The insecurity is really affecting our business. People are not confident traveling by road considering the kidnapping and banditry going on. By now people would have started traveling, but now they are reluctant even though we did not increase the fare,” Jude Akarele, operation manager, GIG motors Kubwa Abuja, said.

Jacob Oniperi, a driver at a popular transport company in Nigeria, said the situation is no different for the company he works for.

“People are afraid of travelling by road due to insecurity. We are experiencing low number of travellers in this year’s Christmas. Previous years, we don’t wait so long for passengers but this year it is obvious people are really not making plans to travel. Unlike other years when the cities get scanty with people travelling, this December will be different.

“The turnout is really low especially the Kaduna axis. People don’t even want to travel there by road anymore. Safety is not guaranteed on our roads, anything can happen. Even we the drivers move with so much fear, trusting that God would grant us safe trip,” Prince Babadangana, owner of another transport company, said.

“The fuel price increase also contributes to this low passenger traffic we are experiencing. The thought of life after Christmas in this economic crisis has really made people to cut down on so many luxuries.

“2020 is such a terrible year, many people are yet to bounce back to normal life, but the economy is not even helping matters. We still hope that the days ahead before Christmas may change the story,” he added.

A number of Nigerians told BusinessDay SUNDAY that they have dumped the idea of travelling this year because they have lost confidence in the security architecture.

“I was thinking about travelling with my family this year, but with what is happening I do not think I will consider that anymore; we are staying put. Help me tell Muhammadu Buhari, our commander-in-chief of the armed forces that he has failed,” Adayemi Badmus said.

“What is happening is really heart-breaking, these our elites have money, they stay in houses with heavy security, when they travel they go with private jets, but what happens to the common man? Truly we are at the mercy of criminals, the situation is only getting worse. It is only God that is saving us,” Fatima Jubrin, a food seller, said.

“It is sad that we have gotten to the point that citizens even in their houses are afraid, look at farmers that were killed, 43 of them, where was our security when 43 people struggling to make ends meet were slaughtered?

“I can’t remember when last I travelled by road, I go by air, it’s not that I have the money, but my safety first, even this year I will travel by air. These days I am so conscious of my environment; I am so careful of the places I go and the cars I enter because I know am on my own in this country,” Cecilia Onuoha, a student, said.

Experts say the security situation has only worsened and will continue to get worse because government has not put in place the necessary measures. Hardly a day passes in Nigeria without a report of kidnapping, killings, robbery, banditry, communal clashes, terrorism, and other forms of criminality across the country, the latest being the massacre of at least 43 rice farmers which has sparked outrage and indignation.

Security analysts say the wanton killing in Zabarmari is a clear affirmation of the reality that Nigeria has not defeated or degraded the terrorists, and if anything, the country’s security problem has worsened between 2015 and now.

The comment by Garba Shehu, Presidential spokesperson who reportedly told the BBC in an interview that the 43 farmers whose throats were slit didn’t have clearance from the military before going to the farm has left Nigerians wondering if government is apathetic to their plight.

The Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG), while lamenting that they are at the mercy of terrorists, have asked citizens to arm and defend themselves and not rely on President Muhammadu Buhari who “has lost control” of security.

Just within the same period of the rice farmers’ massacre, on Monday, November 23, a first class traditional ruler, Olufon of Ifon, Oba Israel Adeusi, was waylaid on the highway and killed in Ondo State. The wife of Olugbenga Ale, the Chief of Staff to Ondo State Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, was also kidnapped.

An Associate professor at the University of Agriculture, Makurdi (UAM), Karl Kwaghger, was killed in the Benue State capital last Saturday night. These and many more are some of the incidents that have rocked the nation in the last few days.

President Buhari and his service chiefs have come under heavy criticism for failing on his most basic responsibility of keeping citizens secure. During one of his campaigns, the President had said that the country was insecure due to leadership incompetence and called on the then President Goodluck Jonathan to resign.

“The president Muhammadu Buhari administration has failed on its most basic responsibility to every Nigerian, security. We cannot overstate this. It is unfortunate, it is a tragedy. Nowhere is safe, not schools, not our homes, roads, farms or even places of worship”, Mansur Ciroma, a security expert, said.

According to him, government needs to re-strategise and replace its service chiefs.

Senator Iroegbu, another security analyst, said until the Federal Government decentralises the security architecture to allow regional and community policing outfits, it cannot address insecurity.

“Government needs to look at the security architecture again, if they can decentralise it. Nigeria is the only federal state with a unitary system of policing. We are a diverse nation; each region has its peculiarities. We tend to summarise our security issues uniformly, this does not help,” Iroegbu said.

He said that decentralising the security architecture will enable each region efficiently address security challenges peculiar to them.

Mike Ejiofor, a former DSS boss,said that the number of police personnel in the country was grossly inadequate and the military was overstretched, dealing with internal securities rather than the external threats. He said until government revamps the police architecture, Nigeria cannot make a headway in addressing insecurity.

The Nigeria Army also recently admitted that it was overwhelmed, Sagir Musa, director, Army Public Relations, argued that it was not its duty to police the entire country and that the military was currently over-stretched.

“Army are the one fighting Boko Haram in Borno, Army are the one fighting Bandits in Kaduna, Katsina, Adamawa, Sokoto, Niger, etc, Army are the one fighting Biafra separatists, Army are the one fighting kidnappers, Army are the one fighting killer herdsmen,Army are the one fighting cow rustlers, Army are the one fighting cultists,” he said.

“Most of these if not all, are police main duties and still we want Army to be in the farm to protect the farmers and in the market to protect the traders, on the roads to protect the travellers, in the house to protect the household, in the streets to protect the walkers, in the churches and mosques to protect worshippers.How is this even possible?” he queried.

Nothing much to celebrate

Chidinma Okoh, an entrepreneur, said: “Celebrating Christmas in 2020, compared to 2019 is a no-no for some people because of the pandemic. The Coronavirus made so many people lose their jobs, thereby having nothing to celebrate. In all, we all thank God for life, that is the most important thing.”

Jeremiah Jerome, a student, said: “Christmas is a festive period, it is a time for people to come around, most especially families. In celebrating Christmas, this year, it is not new that this year has been difficult for everyone, it can’t be compared to other years. There is recession, dollar increase, fuel price increase.”

According to him, “Celebration of Christmas this year is not going to be easy at all. Previously, some families could afford a bag of rice, since Christmas mostly comes with just rice, but now many families may not afford it. This is not a good period at all in Nigeria. In some countries, people receive some palliatives to cushion the effort from their government, but here, it is a sad story.”

Deborah Omoriege, a Pharmacist, also said: “While celebrating Christmas this year, I think people are going to be very careful, people are going to be mindful of where they go to, it is not going to be as free as normal. People would avoid places that are crowded, they’ll prefer to spend Christmas indoors. Those who lost their jobs would be mindful of extravagant spending. Christmas this year is really going to be different than others because of things that have happened this year.”

Somtochukwu Tamara, a student, said: “Normally, everybody waits for December for concerts, celebrations and all that, but this year’s Christmas would be more of family and spending time with the people you love the most and just being grateful that you survived 2020. I don’t know about everybody in the world but the few people I know are just grateful that they’ll celebrate Christmas this year. Certainly, there would be little celebrations here and there but it will not be as festive as previous years.”

Similarly, Precious Saiki, a Trainee Nurse, implied, “Christmas this year for me is going to be great because I’ll be able to thank God better and worship Him because despite all odds, the pandemic, strike, recession and everything, He still keeps me, my family, and loved ones alive.

“At the end of this year, we are supposed to be thanking God seriously for seeing us through. This Christmas will actually be a time to remember because this year actually came with a whole lot of things.”

Deborah Sanusi, an undergraduate said: “With all that has happened this year, I don’t think Christmas will be like every other year. Normally, from November, one would have started seeing people decorating schools, roads, churches and even when you go to the market, they are selling Christmas items, but now when you go out, everywhere is just boring. With everything that has happened this year especially the pandemic and the recession, there is no much money, so people are just managing and just looking up to God and thanking God that we are going to see a new year.At least, we started the year and we are seeing the end of the year, that’s what I feel most people are just grateful to God for.”

In like manner, Mercy Saiki, a Teacher, said: “Christmas is a wonderful and amazing time of the year always filled with a lot of celebrations. Although we are still looking forward to celebrating it we don’t know to celebrate this year’s Christmas because things are hard. There are people who always travel far to spend time with their families, now imagine one travelling at this time when the transportation fare has doubled more than the normal rate. People who would have preferred boarding the plane to travel would prefer to go by road. Aside that, people who celebrate Christmas in a large way, spending time cooking and inviting people would minimize it this time around because of the pandemic, the rule remains that social distancing should be observed.”

 

Godsgift Onyedinefu & Gift Wada (Abuja) and PEACE IHEANACHO (Lagos)

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