By Tope Templer OLAIYA
Christmas is here and the frenzies of the season are being felt all around. When we think about Christmas, we see so many pictures of laughing children, ear-piercing firelight, Santa Claus visits and gently falling snow. However, for a great many families, this romantic view of the season is very different from reality.
The holiday season, for many people, is the hardest time of the year, in part, because of the glaring contrast between their experience and the romanticised image of Christmas so often projected.
For millions of families, their struggles to put enough food on the table, pay utility bills are mocked by commercials urging them to buy more and more expensive gifts.
The working mother, whose energy barely seems enough for the demands of the rest of the year, grows increasingly frazzled as she tries to produce all those little extras that are expected of every good mother at Christmas time.
This was the agonising tale of Mrs. Bose Tajudeen, a trader, who had visited Idumota market in Lagos Island to shop for the season. After spending over N70,000 to replenish her stock and the family shopping list, Bose made to exit the market and pondered the long trek to the bus-stop where she would board a bus.
Already exhausted and with the absence of motorcycles due to the ban on their operations in Lagos Island, she engaged two young men to help lift her goods while she strolled behind them. After walking a distance, she lost sight of the men and frantic search to pick them out from the pool of the crowd ended negative, which left the mother of four berserk and wailing on the floor.
This is just one of the flags of the hassles of Christmas typified by traffic jams, petty thieving, high cost of goods and transport, and low patronage. However, the scarcity of petroleum products, which is a hallmark of festive periods in the country, has been surprisingly absent.
Without the long queues at filling stations, Christmas can still be full of hassles. Since the last two weeks, the city of Lagos has been a theatre of the absurd with logjams crisscrossing major roads across the state and the best way to test one’s resilience is to navigate Lagos during this period.
It was like an apocalyptic scene last Wednesday on the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway with six lanes of buses, 18-wheelers, fuel tankers and sedans, wedged bumper-to-bumper in both directions at Apapa. Curses and horn blasts pierced the diesel exhaust-choked air. Brakes screeched as vehicles inched forward and cars rocked violently back and front, with crowbar-wielding thieves prowling the traffic jam, waiting to prey on captive motorists on the gateway to the nation’s two busiest seaports – Apapa and Tin Can Island; and home to what may be the worst chronic gridlock in the world.
The Yuletide may not totally be blamed for the logjam, as some metres away, the highway abruptly disintegrated into a moonscape of deep potholes and eroded asphalt, where three lanes squeezed into one and a flatbed truck carrying a 40-foot-long container laid on its side.
AS the long weekend of festivities begins, market men and women have complained of low patronage of their goods and products. The traders, mostly attributed the development to the poor economic situation in the country. A trader at Mile 12 market, Mrs. Florence Olaleye, said buyers’ attitude was not encouraging compared to last year. She, however, appealed to government to pay workers’ salaries on time so as to feel the impact of the festivity.
Dealers in textile and allied materials at the Balogun market have also complained of low patronage in spite of preparation for Christmas and New Year festivities. They blamed the low sales on the invasion of the market by Chinese traders. They, therefore, appealed to the Federal Government to introduce measures to enhance the quality of Nigerian-made products.
Mrs. Azeez Kuburat, who deals in textile materials popularly known as Aso-oke, said the cloth, which is indigenous to Nigerians, is now being manufactured by Chinese. “It is a shame that Chinese produce better quality and varieties of aso-oke. They claimed they get aids from their home government. We still use crude methods to weave and we need to upgrade our technology to be able to protect our cultural heritage,” she said.
Mrs. Min Zue, a Chinese trader, attributed this to the superior quality of Chinese products and their lower prices. She said Nigerians like cheap things and if there was a little slash in price that was favourable to them, Nigerians were most likely to jump at it. “We make new things everyday. So, if you come to our shop, you will see something new for good prices.”
The lamentation of low patronage is also being expressed by transporters few days to Christmas. The parks are empty with very few people travelling. Some drivers at Ojota Motor Park said the patronage was low compared to what it used to be in previous years. They claimed the increased fare was not because of the season but rather bad roads.
While one may feel strongly about the hassle of Christmas – costing too much in money, time and stress trying to get things done for a befitting yearend celebration, incidentally the very first Christmas was a hassle for Joseph and Mary; the first being Mary’s pregnancy!
Joseph and Mary were engaged but not officially married when Mary learned she “was with child by the Holy Spirit”. Joseph was ready to call the whole thing off until an angel explained the situation. But the hassles are just beginning.
Not long after the wedding, the Emperor determined that every Jewish male should return to his birthplace and pay a new tax, a bill Joseph hadn’t planned on and a trip he hadn’t planned to make. They head out for Bethlehem where they met another hassle; there was no room in the inn. With his wife about to give birth, Joseph settles for the only available accommodation – a stable!
And just when they thought everything was over with, an angel brings a message to Joseph, to take Mary and the baby to Egypt, because King Herod was going to try to murder the baby.
The nativity story sure makes the hassles of Christmas a familiar story.