Ordinarily, the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, among Christian faithful, the world over comes with excitement. However, in this report by LADESOPE LADELOKUN, Nigerians share their experience on how insecurity and harsh economic realities are redefining Christmas celebration
The annual festival, in the eyes of a number of faithful, should be celebrated with pomp and gaiety. Little wonder Christmas lights and trees traditionally adorn homes and streets in major cities, with Christmas songs blaring from loud speakers in public places, exhuming Christmas feelings. Children, in their innocence, yearn for scrumptious meals and new wears. Hit by multiple debts and the frustration of months of unpaid salary, Peter Salami told Sunday Telegraph how he could not hold back his anger over a request by his 9-year-old daughter, Ireoluwa, for her Christmas dress.
According to him, he felt guilty as a father for failing in his responsibility and taking out his frustration on his immediate family. “The last one year has been hell for me. Before I lost my job in one of the new generation banks, I wouldn’t say I was comfortable but I could meet the basic needs of my immediate family. But things are no longer the same.
With my teaching job, the last time I got fully paid was September. I hear we would be paid half salary this month.
What will I do with it? How much is even the salary?” He queried. He explained further that, “When my 9-year-old daughter was demanding her Christmas dress and asking me about Chicken, you needed to see my cold response to her. But deep down my heart, I knew I was wrong. It was the frustrated me responding to her. The girl was not asking for too much and she didn’t beg me to be her father. I did the right thing when I had a fairly good job but I no longer have the means to fully shoulder my responsibilities.
Look, school will resume again in January. I have to pay Ire’s school fees and her brothers’. That’s my biggest headache now.” Though, Basil Etim, is of the Mountain of Fire Ministries – a Christian denomination, which, according to him, does not believe Christmas should be celebrated, the sexagenarian told Sunday Telegraph how the parlous state of the Nigerian economy has affected preparations for Christmas.
“I attend MFM and we don’t believe in celebrating Christmas. Just like Deeper Life, we don’t believe Christ was born on December 25. Notwithstanding, because of the mood of the festivity, the aura and what have you, people individually get involved. Concerning the issue of preparation, things are really hard for many Nigerians. “Then, right from November, you would feel Christmas and see decorations everywhere.
Also, Christmas lights and trees. Companies, individuals beautify everywhere. There ‘s no how you would not know that something was happening. Even market women smile to the bank. But the bad state of the economy has changed a lot of things. If you earned N80,000 monthly four years ago and you still earn the same now, your purchasing power will definitely be affected.” For Kunle Adeyemi, Christmas provides another time to reflect on the essence of the death and birth of Christ.
The retired police officer calls on Christians tobe cautious as they celebrate and battle economic hardship. “Aspiring to live beyond your means is an invitation to corruption. Some people will run helter skelter to get loans to celebrate Christmas. Does it make sense? Live within your means and you will live well and live clean. Don’t allow the situation of the country to control you; control the situation instead. If a chicken is N10,000 and you can’t afford it, there’s always an alternative.
The problem most times is that people feel they are in a competition with others.”
‘Origin’ of Christmas
The earliest mention of December 25 as Jesus’ birthday, according to archaeology.org, comes from a mid-fourth-century Roman almanac that lists the death dates of various Christian bishops and martyrs.
It stated:” The first date listed, December 25, is marked: natus Christus in Betleem Judeae: “Christ was born in Bethlehem of Judea.”3 In about 400 C.E., Augustine of Hippo mentions a local dissident Christian group, the Donatists, who apparently kept Christmas festivals on December 25, but refused to celebrate the Epiphany on January 6, regarding it as an innovation. Since the Donatist group only emerged during the persecution under Diocletian in 312 C.E. and then remained stubbornly attached to the practices of that moment in time, they seem to represent an older North African Christian tradition.”
Although, the Bible does not mention date for his birth, History.com reports that some evidence suggests that his birth may have occurred in the spring and Pope Julius chose December 25. It added that it is commonly believed that the church chose this date in an effort to adopt and absorb the traditions of the pagan Saturnalia festival.
Poverty vs. celebration
In a chat with Sunday Telegraph, Sola Jaiyeola, a petty trader and widow in the Mowe area of Ogun State, lamented how a shift in feeding pattern would make a proper celebration a tall order. According to her, her crumbling business is a fallout of the low purchasing power of her customers; something she said would negatively affect her Christmas celebration. “My brother, please tell our leaders that we are hungry. Business is dull. My children and I struggle to feed once a day.
Christmas? Well, God is merciful. Nothing is impossible anyway. I want to feed well first.” In a recent report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) food inflation in Nigeria rose for eight straight month to 23.72% in October 2022. Also, an SBM Intelligence report puts the average cost of preparing a pot of Jollof rice for a family of five at N9,311 in the second quarter of 2022,which represents an 8 per cent increase from N7,613.
Against the 95.1 million projection of poor Nigerians in 2022 by President Buhari, the NBS in its latest National Multidimensional Poverty Index report said that 63 per cent of Nigerians -133 million Nigerians – were poor due to a lack of access to health, education, living standards, employment and security.
Oxfam International has reacted to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report on ‘State of Food Insecurity and Nutrition in the World 2022’, which states that 828 million people were hungry in 2021. Oxfam International’s Country Director, Dr Vincent Ahonsi, in a statement, said that the situation had forced children to withdraw from school,adding that many had been compelled by situations to sell their property and skip meals.
According to him, in Nigeria, pockets of droughts and conflicts are either making farming difficult or forcing arable lands to be abandoned with food prices drastically going up
preventing the poorest from access to food.
“It is deeply concerning that global hunger has been spiralling since 2019, and is now at such devastating levels around the world. This is happening not just because of a shortage of food alone, but rather as a consequence of broken food systems, supply chain disruptions occasioned by conflicts, effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and worsening climate change,” he added.
A country under siege?
For Chinaza Agu, travelling during the yuletide gives her the opportunity to bond with her family in her home state, Ebonyi. Until Monday, December 12, she was undecided about traveling to the Southeast for Christmas following the activities of kidnappers, unknown gunmen and sit-at-home orders allegedly issued by the Indigenous People of Biafra(IPOB). However, with reports of gunmen invading Abakaliki, Ebonyi State capital, forcing markets, offices and filling stations to close down on Monday, Agu’s indecision ended.
“Apart from celebrating Christmas in my village, December 26 would make it exactly a year since my husband died. I was flirting with the idea of traveling before today but the reports I’m getting from home is not encouraging. The people there even told me they wished they were not there. On a second thought, I decided to forget about traveling for now.”
In November 2022 alone, according to a report by The Cable, records showed that a total of 275 persons were killed, while 285 were abducted across Nigeria’s six geo-political zones.
According to the Institute of Economics, the Nigerian government has spent at least ₦8 trillion on security provisions without achieving the desired results, adding that Nigeria lost about ₦50.38 trillion to growing violence in 2021.
From the North to the South, IEP submits, activities of armed men have led to bloody shootouts, protracted crises, and complicated security situations, noting that in many rural communities in Nigeria, violent conflicts limit access to farmlands and disrupt livelihood sources.
“Escalating violence in the South East is hampering economic progress and social order. According to a report, every time there is a sit-at-home, the Southeast geopolitical zone loses about N10billion.
“Cities like Onitsha, Aba, and Nnewi are core manufacturing and commercial hubs that are negatively impacted by the insecurity in the region. Manufacturing accounts for 31% and 30% of businesses in Aba and Onitsha. These commercial centres are also export routes to Central and West African nations.
“Violence is a drawback to education in the region. While pupils, students, and teachers in various parts of the country attend school, their South East counterparts do not attend school on Mondays to avoid the wrath of overzealous members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB),” it added.
What Christmas isn’t about
For Pastor John Emmanuel of the World Harvest Christian Mission International, Christmas is not another time to commit atrocious acts in name of celebration. Rather, it’s a time for Christian faithful to spread the love that Christ exudes.
“For someone like me, since I have a relationship with God, my views about Christmas have changed. Ever since then, I’ve seen Christmas in another light.
Sometimes I go as far as posting it that Christmas is not a time to focus on the minor. Now, the Bible tells us that, even now, a lot of people are leaving the message and running after a message. If you look at it, even from the ordinary point of view, Christmas is a period for us to know that Christ came. And when Christ came, he came for a purpose.
“But what are we doing now, when Christmas comes,we forget that Christ came and engage in immorality and go against the reason 10Christ came. What do I mean? A lot of people use the period to engage in immorality – stealing, rituals.
All these things are rife during this period that we are supposed to remember and refrain from these things. How do I now see Christmas? It’s a time to rededicate ourselves to the reason he came,” he explained.
Despite his admonition to Christians on how Christmas should be celebrated, Pastor John Emmanuel described the celebration of Christmas as one that has no place in the Christian Holy Book,The Bible, noting that Christ never asked his followers to celebrate his birthday.
“Christmas is not 100 per cent biblical. Why people want to see it as biblical is that when you’re born, you want to celebrate your birthday. But it’s not like he asked us to celebrate his birthday. In the first place, there is controversy on when he was born. Some say it is October 14 and some say it’s December 25. And to some of us, we know that December 25 was chosen by some people. Like some of theological studies make us understand that December 25 was a day people were worshipping the sun god.
“So, they said instead of worshipping the Sun god, why don’t you fix the birth of Christ on this date, so that it will take the place of worship of the Sun god. But in my ministry, we don’t have service on Christmas day. I also see it as idolatry.I’m not saying those who want to celebrate should not. I was telling my people the other day that thank God this year’s Christmas falls on Sunday. Normally everyone is supposed to be in church on Sunday,” the cleric said.
Aligning her thoughts with Pastor Emmanuel, a Jehovah’s Witness member, Angela Ibe, said Jesus only instructed that his death be remembered.
Her words:”Jesus Christ only instructed us to remember his death. But some people do it every week or every month. Was Jesus Christ born on December 25?
How many years did Jesus live? He lived for 33 and a half years, right? Have you seen any place in the Bible where he celebrated his birthday? After his death, did you see any of his disciples celebrating his birthday anywhere in the Bible?
“Then, ask those celebrating Christmas why they’re celebrating it. The Bible says when you know the truth and it will set you free. No be so Bible talk. If you go to Catholic Church, Jesus is in the manger every year. Dem dey born am every year. All those things will not bring salvation.”
Making Christmas memorable
In chat with Sunday Telegraph, a public affairs commentator, Achike Chude, urged comfortable Nigerians to spare a thought for the needy in the spirit of the season.
According to him, money heals and makes provisions for the things that are needed. “In this season that Nigeria has been declared a country with 133 million people living in multidimensional poverty, it’s very difficult to say this season is a good one.
This is a season that people are suffering from fuel scarcity. You know the implication of that is that every aspect of life is affected negatively. So, it’s a season that many people would just go low profile. It’s expected that those who understand the meaning of Christmas would understand that it’s a period of joy, too. But not in terms of the ability to have a meaningful…But in the midst of despair, there is always a reason to be optimistic and joyful.
“One, those who are well should remember that there are people who are not. Those people who have should remember that there are people who do not. So, it’s a season of sharing. Those who have should share with those who don’t have.
That’s what will make life more meaningful. That’s what will give joy to those who give out,” he admonished.
Nigeria, he said, is a country without” a government the way we understand that a government should be.” He, however, called for Nigerians to be prayerful as the country is in a very difficult situation.