On the border of two years

By

Noel Ihebuzor

We will soon be bidding goodbye to 2016.
I am in my village in Naze. We tell ourselves in my village that this is the original Nazareth, the place where Christ was born. Nazareth! We lost the “reth” portion of the name when Ireti seceded and moved to the other side of Owerri town. “The loss is their’s”, we tell ourselves, “after all, the traces of the manger where the savior lay are still here by Umuoparaugo compound for all sinless ones to see”. Personally, I cannot remember when last I saw those traces but Naze is still Nazareth for us and will remain so.
You can now understand why we take the celebration of Xmas with a certain level of seriousness in my village — a child is born in my tiny village, and soon, the world will be at his feet and his fame will enlarge to fill the minds of most humans. So it has been celebrations “Ahoy” though rice and stew have been declining in quality and quantity lately. Last time things were this bad was in the 83/85 period.
But back to my story. All the towns around us have their own Christmas days, depending on their market days – Eke, Orie, Afo or Nkwo. On these market days, the spirits of the land come out of tiny ant holes in the ground to become huge masquerades that walk the streets of the town in question in huge beautiful dance steps. Far from us is that spirit of religious intolerance – animists, traditionalists and christians of shades and colors troop out to celebrate. Any AK 47s you see are toys that Rambo looking and aping security officials flash around as they make a mockery of the act of protecting politicians from the same persons who were supposed to have elected them. The whole thing is so childish that I find it best to see it as part of the celebrations, as a well conceived play within a play.
So, it is all celebrations, and in the process, we get up caught up by forgetfulness and the new year creeps in on us, as it is doing as I struggle to rush-write this mail where I wish to do two things – to wish you well and rejoice with you that you survived 2016 and to wish you Health, Wealth, Wisdom, Success, Love of God and neighbor, Peace, Prosperity and Progress in 2017.
2016 has not been an easy year for Nigerians – everything got “Mbuhari” – got thrown out of place and out of skew. Things fell apart, things have fallen apart and there are no indication that they will stop falling apart. Promises made to the electorate were not kept by government, the naira crashed, herdsmen became expert death squads, security forces appeared powerless to stop them, oil prices slumped, and being largely a one product economy the economy also slumped, recession, so ably described as a term in economics, hit us when our supposed experts were looking and padding found its place in our budgeting process. Instead of solutions, we toured other countries, we established dual and triple rates for naira exchange and chose the most inconvenient of moments to remind the world of what we thought of feminism in the now acclaimed and patented “za oda room” prescription. Scapegoatism, diversionary antics and finger pointing which may have been appropriate as electioneering tactics were stepped up by government to the discomfiture of its former supporters and the amusement of the scattered opposition. Surprise and arrest became a typical pattern till it turned out to very boring and repetitive to the public. Devoid of any forward looking economic policy and without a stimulus package that could halt the slide of the economy and the naira, recession dug deeper. Even the government anti-corruption flagship was badly managed and soon came to be perceived as a selective exercise and one targeted at persons with “wrong” political affiliations – those with the right political affiliations have nothing to fear. By thus being seen to be protecting its associates, the government was inadvertently giving a new breath of life to corruption and strangely enough was also crying loudest that corruption was fighting back. It found it convenient to ignore that selective targeting incentivizes corruption. Unemployment continues to rise and the promised social safety nets programmes have been slow in taking off. Government’s area of distinction appears to be in the blaming of its predecessor but the discerning public is beginning to see through this. Ditto for security. Ditto for energy, ditto for our roads where death stalks and steal souls every day and security agents sent out to protect the traveler look for every excuse to extort money from you. Protectors and providers have now turned exploiters and expropriators. Some state governments went one step further to creatively deepen kleptocracy by stealing the pensions of retired teachers. In 2016, Nigeria was not country for old men.
On the foreign scene, human ability to create, watch and report suffering and cruelty continues to outpace our capacity to build peace and be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. Religious and sectarian intolerance rose and intercultural dialogue/harmony appear to be expressions coined by passing martians on a short visit to planet earth. As I write, horrific and horrible images and footages from the wars in Iraq and Syria harass my mind, pictures of cruelty and devastating destructions are all around for us to see. Africans, Arabs, Asians and even Europeans “invaded” portions of Europe – initially, they came by sea, and then they swarmed overland. The “jungles of Calais”, in the end, are merely a visible projection of the inner jungle in the human heart. We have managed to outdo Kurtz, Joseph Conrad’s anti-hero in our propensity for savagery and imbecility. Short-termist economist thinking is being fanned and is desiccating human capacity for empathy. Populists and right wing politicians and demagogues in Europe and America have latched unto people’s fears of an imagined demographic make over to push xenophobia and exaggerated accusations as the best vote catching strategies. The American elections showed indeed that America remains the land of opportunities and that locker room talk does not dent any opportunity. I refuse to tear any green card or to eat my hat but the results shook me up completely. I am still struggling to work out how this magic was worked, how the polls could have been so wrong and how so many women – educated, middle class, non-educated etc could have voted the way they did. Over time, someone will come up with a study that could reveal the effect of those results on the feminist position and feminist consensus – for the moment, all appears allowed – bum pitching, groping and locker room talk for some persons!
Slowly 2016 limps out and 2017 walks in.
Looking forward to meeting you all on the other side of the new year, and soon, insha allah.
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