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A CHRISTMAS WITHOUT GIFTS

The myth of Santa Claus or Father Christmas as he is more popularly known in these parts, is a legendary character originating in Eastern Christian…

The myth of Santa Claus or Father Christmas as he is more popularly known in these parts, is a legendary character originating in Eastern Christian culture who is said to bring children gifts on Christmas Eve of toys and candy or coal or nothing, depending on whether they are “naughty or nice”. He is said to accomplish this with the aid of Christmas elves, who make the toys in his workshop at the North Pole, and a flying reindeer who pull his sleigh through the air.

A few days ago, I watched a movie about Santa delivering goodies to families whose children had been good. There was a child who did not receive any gift that year because he was portrayed as a bully with sticky fingers. He frequently hit younger kids and sometimes stole money from his parents. For that, he was punished by his parents and the mythical Santa did not deem it fit to grace him with Christmas gift that year. The boy was of course, heartbroken.

As I watched the movie, I could not but compare the metaphor with our Nigerian situation. 

This week, I intended to write about 2021. The headline was imprinted in my mind; 

2021: The year of resilience.

A year which began with hesitancy and hope, flirted with fire and shuddered to an abysmal end. 2021 in a way, is a lot like buying a new ‘tokunbo’ car. It showed promise at first, all shiny and new and exciting and then along the way, the engine starts to stutter, coughing up black smoke and so you go the mechanic to get plugs cleaned and the carburettor fixed. Things seem to go well for a while and then all of a sudden, the engine gives a loud cough and dies. 

That’s it. The story of 2021.

I had written a few points that I remembered from the beginning of the year till the end.  I wanted to write on only the good stuff; things like the development of the COVID vaccine and its availability in Nigeria, infrastructural development and the government’s numerous bail out schemes. Okonjo- Iwela’s win at the World Trade organization. All good, positive stuff. Until I went to Wikipedia to refresh my mind and counted the number of mass kidnappings this year. Government Science College, Kagara, Niger. Government Girls Science Secondary school, Jangebe, Zamfara. Federal College of Forestry, Kaduna. Greenfield University, Kaduna. An Islamic school in Tegina, Niger. Bethel Baptist Secondary School in Chikun, Kaduna.

Remember that this list is exclusive to schools and does not include the individual cases of kidnappings that are happening on a daily basis. 

Other headlines included Sowore’s arrest, Military plane crash, Invictus arrest, Owerri prison break, Nigeria’s Twitter ban, Kebbi boat disaster, Lagos building collapse, End SARS report, Sokoto bus passengers burnt alive, and the death of a child in an elite boarding school at the hand of bullies. 

So much for my positive list.

As I perused the events one by one, I realised something; Evil does live among us. However much I would love to relieve 2021 through a prism of optimism, the cold hard truth remains that the bad stuff ultimately outweighs the good stuff. Which begs the question: Are we the bad children that do not deserve Christmas gifts? 

None of these kidnappings or killings was carried out by President Buhari himself. These acts are perpetuated by Nigerians themselves. PMBs failure lies squarely on his inability to secure the country.  But why the cold-hearted killings in the first place? When did we become so corrupt that we turn a blind eye to high rise buildings being built on faulty foundation? Where is our humanity that we can watch as passengers scream as they are being burnt alive? How did we arrive at this place where Nigeria is third place as the most terrorised in the world? Why the green passport is being treated with contempt and disdain? How?

Nigeria has received several blows this year, both internationally and locally. The travel bans and the diplomatic feud between Nigeria and the UAE has pinched us hard in the butt. A few years ago, a Saudi government official, on national TV, said: ‘…If not for religion and ethical judgement, the one set of people he would have loved to deny entry into his country would be Nigerians….’

There was a national outcry after this, with some light hearted banter here and there. But did we change? No. Instead we sunk lower on the ladder of humanity. More prostitutes on the streets of Saudi, more Cybercrime internationally, more kidnapping, more terrorism.

It is as if there is something in the air, or maybe it’s the corona virus, that has turned us against ourselves.

There is a verse in the Quran which says: “Verily, Allah will not change the condition of a people as long as they do not change themselves (by committing sins and by being ungrateful and disobedient to Allaah)” [13:11]. Every time I remember this verse, I cringe. I feel it is like a doomsday prophesy because I do not see the world changing for the better. There is so much criminality and sin going on that it is impossible not to feel dejected.

Sometimes though, just a few times, we see or hear of people dedicating their lives to doing wonderful things. Take Zannah Mustafa, a 2021 CNN hero, for example. Watching all the good things he has done for IDPs as a result of the ongoing Boko Haram work warmed my heart. Same goes for all the heroes: Jenifer Colpas for her work to bring water and electricity to rural Columbia; David Flink for his ‘Eye to Eye’ educational programme pairing children with learning disabilities to mentors who will help them figure out their path in life and a whole lot of others who made the list.

I am well aware that there are many unsung heroes among us. Indeed, even within the medical community, I know of many, many people who provide services pro-bono and go out of their way to solve a patient’s need. Alhamdulillah, for that.

And yet. 

The bad is taking over.

This year, we got no Christmas presents, because we were bad citizens. Maybe next year we will improve. As much as we like to lay the blame on the government, we must face the bitter truth: we must change our ways.

May 2022 be better. Happy New Year!

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