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Column No.6: Big lessons from ‘Small Sallah’

Yesterday was Eid el-Fitr (or ‘Festival of the Breaking of the Fast’), also called ‘Small Sallah’ in Nigeria. Of course there’s usually an air of…

Yesterday was Eid el-Fitr (or ‘Festival of the Breaking of the Fast’), also called ‘Small Sallah’ in Nigeria. Of course there’s usually an air of happiness and festivity, occasioned by a variety of food in abundance in most Muslim households. Food is distributed in beautiful containers to family, friends, and neighbours, and it is indeed a time of the year to look forward to. But this year, that is not the case, for a variety of reasons. Prices of commodities at the markets this year have steadily been spiking, worsened by the dollar’s crazy rise-and-dip. Since this is a post-Sallah piece, I’ll stick to the season’s essentials: Chickens, tomatoes, pepper, cooking oil, and others all saw prices climbing up so fast and so high that in some cases are double immediate-past prices (did anyone else hear about the N15,000 chicken?)

Needless to say, this rained on most parades in the country, and I remember how many ‘Big Sallahs’ ago, ram sellers via their associations nationwide cried out in the media about low patronage. Then it was reported from about three different sources, that a group of Christian clerics in an unnamed part of Kaduna State, who went round markets and pleaded with sellers to be considerate of the Sallah festivities and keep prices reasonably low. While probably just a well-meaning urban myth, it still warmed my heart. And even if it is not true, its spread says volumes about a need for a narrative that inspires hope in humanity, because of the general feeling that everything is spiralling.

Many people travel around various states during Sallah, mostly to spend the time with family while taking advantage of public holidays. This year, like last year, and the year before, on my way to visit my family, I noticed the roads were ‘dry’. Only a few trucks – and even fewer private cars – shared the highway with me. While that should be a welcome development in the best of times, it was eerie, to say the least, because in the past, the roads are usually packed with travellers. Ironically, a drive round Kaduna’s beautiful streets made me feel guilty for having had such a bountiful, happy celebration with family and friends.

The guilt, you see, stemmed from the number of beggars at traffic stops in the urban areas, and the sheer multitudes of long-faced people I saw. Typical Nigerian that I am, I turned to social media for some much-needed escapism. Alas, there was none, because it reflected the harsh realities all around us. Even a smile, that most basic of charities, won’t do anything to uplift the spirits of a low-earning person with mouths to feed, and an ever-dwindling income.

But this isn’t a government-bashing piece, even if it has thus far sounded like one. It is many things: a call to action, based on the most disturbing signal which this season – supposed to be the most bountiful, but has turned out to be the leanest – has projected. I’ve never seen a Sallah, big or small, which had this many people with long faces. While a solution to a problem as massive as what we are currently facing in Nigeria might require a miracle – as impossible as miracles are – maybe the outgoing government needs to push a little harder one last time, and beyond that sad N5,000, to meet that seemingly impossible miracle, at least halfway. This is also a ‘barka da Sallah’ piece, in case you need that pointed out. I sincerely hope you’re one of those who, against all odds, had a happy Eid celebration.

Postscript: Just last night I was discussing with a security professional, and we were talking about how incidents of kidnapping and banditry had subsided, when this morning I came upon the news that barely 48 hours after kidnappers invaded Kasada village, killing a class teacher and abducting his pregnant wife and five others, 13 villagers have been abducted in neighbouring Ggau village in Gaube ward of Kuje Area Council of the FCT, last Wednesday at about 11pm. At a time that is meant for happiness and peace, all I can feel is guilt. A psychologist friend of mine insists it is ‘survivor’s guilt’. I pointed out that it is still guilt. I wonder, when will any Nigerian government ever do well by – really do well by – rural dwellers and communities? They’ve historically been the underserved, grossly, and now they appear to be the most at-risk anytime a group of murderous criminals get a brainwave to steal, rape, kidnap or kill.


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